Saturday, November 21, 2015
Transposing from saxophone to piano can be confusing. This time I answer a readers question about transposition, and share a few tips that will make
the process easier to understand.
My daughter (11yrs) is learning the trumpet (currently on Grade 3). I am trying to learn the alto sax. We like to play together - it helps to encourage
her to practice.
She gets sheet music from her teacher but it is of course in the wrong key for me to play along. My musical ability is not up to transposing the score
and I am still a bit confused about keys etc. anyway.
Can you suggest how to transpose from the trumpet score to the correct key for the alto sax?
This is a great question but unfortunately there isn't a really easy shortcut to transposing between instruments. Here are some tips though that may help.
Firstly, it's important to be aware of what "key" your instrument is in.
Alto sax is in the "key" of Eb, whereas Tenor is in the "key" of Bb. It's easy to get confused pretty quickly when you start thinking about it, but an
easy way to remember this is that an Eb on piano sounds the same as a C on Alto, whereas a Bb on piano sounds the same as C on tenor.
So really the "key" of the sax is related to what note on piano sounds the same as a C on your sax. Make sense?
Once you have that clear, then it's just a case of working out how many semitones you need to move the music in order to get it in your key.
Transposing from piano music
It's a good idea to start by understanding how to transpose to/from piano key, or what we call "concert pitch". Going from piano to alto for example, you
will need to move the music down 3 semi-tones (remember Eb on piano = C on Alto = 3 semi-tones down).
Going from piano to tenor, you need to move the music up two semi-tones (Bb on piano = C on tenor = 2 semi-tones).
Transposing from other instruments
Things get a lot more complicated when transposing from a Bb instrument (i.e. trumpet) to an Eb instrument ( like alto). Now, you'll need to move the music
down 2 semi-tones first to get to concert pitch (or piano key), then down a further 3 semi-tones to get to Alto key. So now we are moving the music
down 5 semi-tones.
Of course if you're transposing in the other direction (i.e. from alto to tenor or trumpet) then you would have to move UP 5 semi-tones.
Just in case I haven't confused you enough, here are a couple of "cheats" you can use:
Transposing from piano to alto:
If the piano note is on a line, just read the line below. If it's on a space, read the space below. So, B becomes G, C becomes A. You'll also need to change
the key signature by adding 3 sharps (that means if you have 2 flats in the key signature, you'll end up with 1 sharp as sharps cancel out flats!)
Transposing from piano to tenor:
Simply read the space or line above the note. So, C becomes D, F becomes G etc. For the key signature, add two sharps (again if you have 4 flats in the
piano key, you'll end up with just 2 flats for tenor!)
And finally, transposing from trumpet (or tenor) to alto:
If the trumpet/tenor note is on a line, read the line below, then go down to the space below that. The same applies for notes on a space. So, D becomes
A, C becomes G.
Another way to think about this if you're a mathematician, is to take the trumpet/tenor note up a fifth, then drop that note an octave. So, D becomes A,
E becomes B etc. If you've been practicing your arpeggios then this can be an easier solution.
For Alto to trumpet or tenor, the process is reversed. This time, if the alto note is on a line, go to the next line up, then your note is the space above
that. For notes on spaces, take the alto note to the next space up, then your note is the line above that.
With practice you will become much faster at transposing and eventually be able to do it at speed, but when you're starting out it's a good idea to actually
just write out your part.