Transposing instrument

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A transposing instrument is a musical instrument for which music notation is not written at concert pitch (concert pitch is the pitch on a non-transposing instrument such as the piano). Transposing instrument_sentence_0

For example, playing a written middle C on a transposing instrument produces a pitch other than middle C — that sounding pitch identifies the interval of transposition when describing the instrument. Transposing instrument_sentence_1

Playing a written C on clarinet or soprano saxophone produces a concert B♭ (i.e. B♭ at concert pitch), so these are referred to as B♭ instruments. Transposing instrument_sentence_2

Providing transposed music for these instruments is a convention of musical notation. Transposing instrument_sentence_3

The instruments do not transpose the music, rather their music is written at a transposed pitch. Transposing instrument_sentence_4

An instrument's transposition must be taken into account when that instrument is used in an ensemble. Transposing instrument_sentence_5

Even in improvisation, where specific notes are not written out, the chords and harmony are written in the appropriate transposed form. Transposing instrument_sentence_6

For some instruments, a written C sounds as a C, but is in a different octave; these instruments are said to transpose "at the octave". Transposing instrument_sentence_7

Pitches on the piccolo sound an octave higher than written while those on the double bass sound an octave lower. Transposing instrument_sentence_8

Reasons for transposing Transposing instrument_section_0

Ease of switching instruments Transposing instrument_section_1

Some instruments are constructed in a variety of sizes, with the larger versions having a lower range than the smaller ones. Transposing instrument_sentence_9

Common examples are clarinets, saxophones, and trumpets. Transposing instrument_sentence_10

Music is often written in transposed form for these groups of instruments so that the fingerings correspond to the same written notes for any instrument in the family, even though the sounding pitches will differ. Transposing instrument_sentence_11

A musician who plays several instruments in a family can thus read music in the same way regardless of which particular instrument is being used. Transposing instrument_sentence_12

Instruments that transpose this way are often said to be in a certain "key" (e.g., the "B♭ clarinet" or "clarinet in B♭"). Transposing instrument_sentence_13

This refers to the concert pitch that sounds when the player plays a written C. A written C played on a B♭ clarinet produces a concert B♭, a written C on an A clarinet produces a concert A, and a written C on the C clarinet produces a concert C (this last example is a non-transposing instrument). Transposing instrument_sentence_14

Horn crooks Transposing instrument_section_2

Reconciling pitch standards Transposing instrument_section_3

In the music of Germany during the Baroque period, and notably in the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, instruments used for different purposes were often tuned to different pitch standards, called Chorton ("choir pitch") and Kammerton ("chamber [music] pitch"). Transposing instrument_sentence_15

When they played together in an ensemble, the parts of some instruments would then have to be transposed to compensate. Transposing instrument_sentence_16

In many of Bach's cantatas the organ part is notated a full step lower than the other instruments. Transposing instrument_sentence_17

See pitch inflation. Transposing instrument_sentence_18

A few early-music ensembles of the present day must do something similar if they comprise some instruments tuned to A415 and others to A440, approximately a semitone apart. Transposing instrument_sentence_19

Modern builders of continuo instruments sometimes include moveable keyboards which can play with either pitch standard. Transposing instrument_sentence_20

The harpsichord has a single string for each note, plucked by a plectrum and the difference in pitch between the Baroque A at 415 Hz and the "modern" A at 440 Hz is one half step. Transposing instrument_sentence_21

Moving the keyboard mechanism right or left causes the A key to play the next string, namely the A♯ at 440 Hz or the A♭ at 392 Hz respectively. Transposing instrument_sentence_22

Movement of the keyboard allows one to play higher or lower, though the topmost or bottommost key will not produce sound unless the builder has provided extra strings to accommodate the transposition feature. Transposing instrument_sentence_23

Transposition at the octave Transposing instrument_section_4

See also: Clef § Octave clefs Transposing instrument_sentence_24

If an instrument has a range that does not fit on the staff well when using one of the common clefs its music may be written on treble or bass clef, with the pitches sounding an octave higher or an octave lower than written. Transposing instrument_sentence_25

This avoids the use of excessive ledger lines. Transposing instrument_sentence_26

These instruments are said to "transpose at the octave" — they are not playing in a different key from concert pitch instruments, but sound an octave higher or lower than written. Transposing instrument_sentence_27

Music for the double bass sounds an octave lower than written, music for the piccolo sounds an octave higher. Transposing instrument_sentence_28

Guitars, like double basses, sound an octave below the written note in typical notation. Transposing instrument_sentence_29

sopranino, soprano, bass and sometimes alto recorder, xylophone, and celesta sound an octave above the written note. Transposing instrument_sentence_30

Glockenspiel and garklein recorder sound two octaves above the written note. Transposing instrument_sentence_31

Most authorities include this type of notation under the umbrella "transposing instruments", although it is a special case in the sense that these instruments remain in the same key as non-transposing instruments. Transposing instrument_sentence_32

Mechanical and physical considerations Transposing instrument_section_5

Most woodwind instruments have one major scale whose execution involves lifting the fingers more or less sequentially from the bottom to top. Transposing instrument_sentence_33

This scale is usually the one notated as a C scale (from C to C, with no sharps or flats) for that instrument. Transposing instrument_sentence_34

The note written as C sounds as the note of the instrument's transposition: on an E♭ alto saxophone, that note sounds as a concert E♭, while on an A clarinet, that note sounds as a concert A. Clarinets are one exception, in that they actually have two different scales in the first and second registers, nominally an F scale and a C scale, but treated by the performer as sounding "at pitch" for a C clarinet. Transposing instrument_sentence_35

The bassoon is another exception; it is not a transposing instrument, yet its "home" scale is F (like the low register of the C clarinet). Transposing instrument_sentence_36

Exceptions are some diatonic instruments, such as the harmonica and tin whistle, which essentially play only one scale. Transposing instrument_sentence_37

A harmonica player or whistle player typically owns several instruments in different keys, and will choose one to match the song being played. Transposing instrument_sentence_38

A "D harmonica" or "D whistle" plays the D major scale, but they are not "in the key of D" in the manner of the previous paragraph. Transposing instrument_sentence_39

In fact the "D whistle", which is the most common type of tin whistle, would be said to be "in the key of C" by the logic of the previous paragraph, but this phrase is not used. Transposing instrument_sentence_40

(The note produced with six fingers down is D, matching the C flute, C oboe, and C saxophone.) Transposing instrument_sentence_41

The D whistle and the D harmonica play the D major scale but are not "in the key of D." Transposing instrument_sentence_42

Brass instruments, when played with no valves engaged (or, for trombones, with the slide all the way in), play a series of notes that form the overtone series based on some fundamental pitch, e.g., the B♭ trumpet, when played with no valves engaged, can play the overtones based on B♭. Transposing instrument_sentence_43

Usually, that pitch is the note that indicates the transposition of that brass instrument. Transposing instrument_sentence_44

Trombones are an exception: they read at concert pitch, although tenor and bass trombones are pitched in B♭, alto trombone in E♭. Transposing instrument_sentence_45

Double horns are another exception, in that they combine two different sets of tubing into a single instrument, most characteristically in F and B♭. Transposing instrument_sentence_46

The horn part is nevertheless transposed uniformly in F (and indeed seldom if ever specifies whether a double or single horn is to be used), with the player deciding when to switch from one side of the instrument to the other. Transposing instrument_sentence_47

Single B♭ horns also normally read from parts transposed in F. Transposing instrument_sentence_48

In general, for these instruments there is some reason to consider a certain pitch the "home" note of an instrument, and that pitch is usually written as C for that instrument. Transposing instrument_sentence_49

The concert pitch of that note is what determines how we refer to the transposition of that instrument. Transposing instrument_sentence_50

Conductor's score Transposing instrument_section_6

In conductors' scores and other full scores, music for transposing instruments is generally written in transposed form, just as in the players' parts. Transposing instrument_sentence_51

Some composers from the beginning of the 20th century onward have written orchestral scores entirely in concert pitch, e.g. the score of Sergei Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. Transposing instrument_sentence_52 1 in D♭. Transposing instrument_sentence_53

See also Transposing instrument_section_7

Transposing instrument_unordered_list_0

Credits to the contents of this page go to the authors of the corresponding Wikipedia page: instrument.