What are the transposing instruments

Transposing instruments


Transposing means shifting all notes of a piece of music by the same interval.
This is how these notes become

transposed these down by one note:
Transposing instruments are instruments that sound a different note than what is written in the notes. Reference is made here to the sound C.. With a "trumpet in B"(or also"B.-Trumpet ") sounds a B., when a C. is played; a G, when a A. is played etc.
An instrument "in C" is therefore a non-transposing instrument!

Octavings are not taken into account, i.e. the information in A can mean a sixth higher for one instrument and a third lower for the other. Instruments that only play octaves, e.g. guitar (sounds an octave lower than notated) or piccolo (sounds an octave higher than notated) do not count as transposing instruments. The reason for these octavings is solely the better legibility of the notes.

Transposing instruments are found (with very few exceptions) only among wind instruments. Typical representatives are clarinet (in A, Bb, Es, D, etc.), saxophone (in B. and It) and horn (in F. or B.).

Important: The transposition has nothing to do with the instrument itself, but is a general definition! Would you decide to transpose the treble recorder to the flute? "in F" to explain, nobody would have to buy a new recorder. Instead, all existing grades would have to be rewritten!

Why transposing instruments?

The transposing instruments have evolved with the spread of tempered tuning. This made it possible to play cleanly in keys with many accidentals.
Unfortunately, not all instruments could keep up here. The clarinet, for example (back then still without today's complicated key system) had very serious problems with a vocal correct intonation of the semitones. To avoid these problems, the clarinet was built in different sizes. Each of these clarinets could play different tones cleanly and was therefore specialized in certain keys.

If you now play the lowest note on these different clarinets (accessible by closing all finger holes and keys), each clarinet sounds a different note, i.e. you produce different notes with the same fingering and thus, conversely, have different fingerings for the same notes.
A clarinetist who has to change instruments more often is quickly confused because he has to rethink each time. By transposing it is now determined that the same notes always correspond to the same fingering and that the actual sounding note thus deviates from the notes.
Bad luck, however, if you want to play notes for a "clarinet in A" but only have one clarinet "in B" available. Then you have to transpose yourself again ...

Example: cross whistle in different moods

The Sandner pipe is an instrument that is available in different tunings and in different sizes.
The alto flute sounds a fifth lower than the soprano flute, the tenor flute an octave lower and the treble flute (not shown here) a fourth higher than the soprano flute.
The handles are the same for all flutes, regardless of the mood and size. Since the alto flute is a fifth away from the soprano flute, the tuning of the alto flute must also be a fifth lower than the tuning of the soprano flute. Tenor and soprano flutes have the same tuning, but the soprano flute sounds an octave higher. The treble flute also has the same tuning as the alto flute. Tuning B / So it means that the soprano and tenor flutes are in Bb, while the treble and treble flutes are in E flat.
In practice it looks like this:
(With "note image" is meant the tone that the player finds in his notes, next to it are the tones that actually sound. That is of course a different tone for every mood!)

As you can see, the fingering matches the notes on all instruments. This is very practical for the musician because he can switch from one flute to the other without worrying about the fingerings.

The composer / arranger has to think about it: He has to think carefully about which instruments he would like to use in which tuning. Depending on which notes are to sound, he has to transpose the voices accordingly.

For example, if you want to have all instruments play in unison (= sounding the same), it should look like this:

  It should be noted that the alto flute plays in a different key, namely in a key a fifth higher, or in the circle of fifths one key further clockwise. This means that with sharps keys the alto flute has one more shar, with B keys one B less.

The variant in which the alto instrument of an instrument family sounds a fifth lower is very common, the combination B / E flat (e.g. soprano and tenor saxophone in B flat, alto and baritone saxophone in E flat) is particularly typical.

But be careful: Instruments of different moods (e.g. Ces and B flutes) cannot easily play together despite having the same notes. Here one side has to transpose accordingly! Especially in the example mentioned this can get hairy, because it means that a group has to play exactly one semitone higher or lower and that means a lot of accidentals ...

Recorder (not transposing)

Basic mood

With brass instruments, the basic pitch is the tone that is the lowest tone of the natural tone series that can be played with this instrument by overblowing. It is unimportant whether the lowest note of the natural tone row can also be played.
What counts is the series of natural notes that sound without actuating any valves or without pulling out the trombone slide.
What is meant, of course, is the series of natural notes that actually sound, not the one that is notated.

With woodwind instruments, the basic tuning is the tone that is created by closing all normal keys or finger holes, i.e. practically the lowest playable tone.

Unfortunately, the basic tuning and the transposition of an instrument are often lumped together, as is the basic tuning "in F" or similar. Most of the instruments have the same pitch and transposition, but unfortunately not all.
Some examples:

  • the standard trombone (tenor) plays the Bb natural tone series, but is not a transposing instrument.
  • the soprano pipe transposes to B, but the basic pitch is C! (so.)
  • And unfortunately "Flute in F" is often said about the treble recorder, although it is definitely not a transposing instrument!
Which term is interpreted and how, often also depends on the point of view (i.e. on the instrument you play). A trombonist is more likely to be convinced by the designation of the basic tuning, while a clarinetist pursues the transposition idea. In case of doubt, the ears should be used.

Diatonic instruments

Diatonic instruments are instruments that cannot play all semitones, but only produce the tones of one key (or possibly a second "minor key"), such as the harmonica or the tin whistle (the other instruments are called "chromatic instruments" and are, by the way nowadays clearly in the majority).

The corresponding key is indicated by an addition, e.g. Tin Whistle "in D major". For complete confusion, some leave out the addition "major" and then it just means tin whistle in Dalthough the tin whistle is not a transposing instrument.

Page created: 18.09.2007, last change: 03.11.2010