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Transposing instruments

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Doing some reading as part of yet another attempt at becoming slightly less musically inept with regard to theory. Couple of things I don’t get with relation to transposing instruments, firstly- why? Why would you want an instrument to play an A when a C is written? Is it some sort of trick for composers to get a fuller sound by instruments at different intervals? And secondly the article said a bass guitar is a transposing instruments, well that’s the first I have heard of that, so is it or isn’t it? Thanks in advance for helping me in my stupidness.

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Posted (edited)

Some old instruments could only play some notes; e.g. a bugle.  To play in other keys, the only option was to use a larger or smaller bugle.  They decided that notes which were the same to play physically should have the same named name on each instrument, even though they sound different; otherwise they would have to learn a new system for each instrument.

Yes, bass guitar is a transposing instrument - they sound an octave lower than the written notation would suggest.  If you wrote it at pitch, there would be too many ledger lines.

Edited by jrixn1

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19 minutes ago, jrixn1 said:

Some old instruments could only play some notes; e.g. a bugle.  To play in other keys, the only option was to use a larger or smaller bugle.  They decided that notes which were the same to play physically should have the same named name on each instrument, even though they sound different; otherwise they would have to learn a new system for each instrument.

Yes, bass guitar is a transposing instrument - they sound an octave lower than the written notation would suggest.  If you wrote it at pitch, there would be too many ledger lines.

The bass makes sense, but if different instruments play different notes wouldn’t there be the possibility of it sounding terrible? Or is the interval such that it’s always ok? I think,I must be missing something really obvious here but just can’t quite get my head around it.

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Posted (edited)
50 minutes ago, T-Bay said:

The bass makes sense, but if different instruments play different notes wouldn’t there be the possibility of it sounding terrible? Or is the interval such that it’s always ok? I think,I must be missing something really obvious here but just can’t quite get my head around it.

If for example a tenor sax plays a C (position),  you'll hear a Bb. So, if you write for tenor sax ( a Bb instrument), transpose the score up a major 2nd and all will sound fine.
practical example. A song is in C

- Piano reads in C
- Bass reads in C  (sounds octave lower than written)
- Tenor sax reads in D (sounds major 2nd lower than written)
Quiz: Alto sax is an Eb instruments, so the score needs to be transposed by what interval? Up or down?

Edited by ChrisDev

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Yes, exactly this.  So if the actual correct notes of your song are: C, D, E, you must in fact tell the saxophonist the "wrong" notes: D, E, F#.  Then when you play together, it will sound correct.

 

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Posted (edited)

Apologies if this is a stupid question, and it probably is, but what is the benefit to that? Is it purely the ability to move finger positions across instruments?

Edited by T-Bay

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It is complicated isn't it? Some of this is about the fact that instruments are physical instruments that have a range the is different depeniding on the physical characteristics of the artefact itself. A tenor saxophone is bigger than an alto which is bigger than a soprano. A tenor and soprano are both Bb instrunents whereas an alto is Eb. The way that the written note deals with this is to make the C on a tenor the same as a C on an alto. This means a sax player only has to learn to read one clef rather than two different ones depending on which horn he or she is playing. In short, whenever anyone reads a tenor clef, the C is in the same place. In short, the instrument changes not the written note. Theoretically, a pianist can read a saxophone part if he is playing a saxophone and a saxophonist can read a piano part if he is playing a piano. I guess whichever way around you do it, you will have the same problem in reverse.

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1 minute ago, Bilbo said:

It is complicated isn't it? Some of this is about the fact that instruments are physical instruments that have a range the is different depeniding on the physical characteristics of the artefact itself. A tenor saxophone is bigger than an alto which is bigger than a soprano. A tenor and soprano are both Bb instrunents whereas an alto is Eb. The way that the written note deals with this is to make the C on a tenor the same as a C on an alto. This means a sax player only has to learn to read one clef rather than two different ones depending on which horn he or she is playing. In short, whenever anyone reads a tenor clef, the C is in the same place. In short, the instrument changes not the written note. Theoretically, a pianist can read a saxophone part if he is playing a saxophone and a saxophonist can read a piano part if he is playing a piano. I guess whichever way around you do it, you will have the same problem in reverse.

Thanks, that clears it up a little. I sometimes think my mind is too scientific for music as I struggle if I can’t find the ‘why’ as opposed to just accepting that is just the way it is. As I was hoping to mess around playing bass to accompany my fledgling sax playing (the reason the subject came up) I think I need to study this all a bit more!

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