A Survey of Music Theory for the College Classroom: Chromatic Harmony 2 and 20th Century Music

Transposing Instruments

Overview

Transposing instruments produce pitches that sound different from what is notated in the score. There are several reasons for the existence of transposing instruments, including the following:

  • Ease of notation because of extremely high or low range.
  • Player’s convenience, fingering systems, and families of instruments
  • History and tradition.
  • Sound quality and intonation.

Transposition Examples

The following examples consist of C major scales and show how transpositions appear for the most common wind, brass, and string instruments in the band and orchestra. The sounding (concert) pitch is indicated below each tonic note. Observe how the key signatures are different for the transposing instruments. For example, the clarinet in B sounds a M2 lower than written, so must be written up a M2 to match a given concert pitch or key. This means that to play in concert C major, the clarinet in B must be written in the key of D major.

High Woodwinds

high woodwinds

Low Woodwinds

low woodwinds

High Brass

high brass

Low Brass

low brass

Strings

strings

Transpositions for Common Band and Orchestral Instruments

Instrument                                        

Written Pitch in relation to the concert/sounding pitch

Clef

Piccolo

Down a Perfect Octave

Treble

Flute (C flute) 

Non-transposing

Treble

Alto Flute (in G)

Up a Perfect 4th

Treble

Oboe

Non-transposing

Treble

English Horn

Up a Perfect 5th

Treble

Bassoon 

Non-transposing

Bass and Tenor

Contrabassoon 

Up a Perfect Octave

Bass

E Clarinet

Down a minor 3rd

Treble

A Clarinet 

Up a minor 3rd

Treble

B Clarinet 

Up a Major 2nd

Treble

E Alto Clarinet 

Up a Major 6th

Treble

B Bass Clarinet 

Up a Major 9th

Treble

E Contra Alto Clarinet

Up a Perfect Octave and a Major 6th

Treble

B Contrabass Clarinet 

Up 2 Perfect Octaves and a Major 2nd

Treble

B Soprano Saxophone

Up a Major 2nd

Treble

E Alto Saxophone 

Up a Major 6th

Treble

B Tenor Saxophone 

Up a Major 9th

Treble

E Baritone Saxophone 

Up a Perfect Octave and a Major 6th

Treble

C Trumpet 

Non-transposing

Treble

B Trumpet 

Up a Major 2nd

Treble

Flügelhorn 

Up a Major 2nd

Treble

Horn in F (French Horn) 

Up a Perfect 5th

Treble and Bass

F Alto Horn, Mellophonium 

Up a Perfect 5th

Treble

Baritone (Treble Clef) 

Up a Major 9th

Treble

Baritone (Bass Clef)

Non-transposing

Bass

Tenor Trombone 

Non-transposing

Bass and Tenor

Bass Trombone 

Non-transposing

Bass

Euphonium 

Non-transposing

Bass

Tuba 

Non-transposing

Bass

Sousaphone 

Non-transposing

Bass

Orchestral Bells (Glockenspiel) 

Down 2 Perfect Octaves

Treble

Chimes (Tubular Bells) 

Non-transposing

Treble

Xylophone 

Down a Perfect Octave

Treble

Marimba 

Non-transposing

Treble and Bass

Timpani 

Non-transposing

Bass

Piano 

Non-transposing

Treble and Bass

Harp

Non-transposing

Bass and Treble

Violin 

Non-transposing

Treble

Viola 

Non-transposing

Alto and Treble

Violoncello 

Non-transposing

Bass, Tenor and Treble

Contrabass 

Non-transposing

Bass

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