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The Trombone ForumTeaching & LearningBeginners and Returning Trombonists(Moderators: bhcordova, WaltTrombone) Why is trumpet a transposing instrument and trombone NOT?
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Author Topic: Why is trumpet a transposing instrument and trombone NOT?  (Read 3743 times)
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newbone

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« on: Jul 26, 2005, 09:50PM »

I'm sure this has been covered before (probably numerous times), but I searched both here and elsewhere and couldn't find an answer I could understand...

...But both trumpet and tenor trombone are said to be in Bb, yet music for trumpet must be written one whole step above the actual note sounded, whereas this is not true for trombone.  Why is this?    Don't know
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BGuttman
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« Reply #1 on: Jul 27, 2005, 08:51AM »

This has been covered.  Many times.

Here is my "take" on it.

The tradition is that treble clef instruments are written so that the "open" series is in C.  Many of these instruments are not pitched in C, so the parts are written with "transposed" notes.  Hence, Eb alto and baritone sax parts are written so that when they see a written C   , the note that is wanted is Eb   .  Trumpets and Horns were originally made without valves and in different root pitches.  That is why there are orchestral parts calling for "Trumpet in Eb" or "Horn in G".  Players of these instruments have to figure out how to get the right notes from their instruments (or own quite a collection  ;-) ).  The one advantage of this kind of system is a commonality of fingerings, especially among 3-valved brasses and Boehm saxophones.

The tradition of writing every part in C never caught on with bass clef instruments.  For the most part, a bass clef part is written exactly as it sounds.  You see a C    and play a C   .  One exception is Tenor Tuba parts written by (especially) Richard Strauss.  But that's another story for another day.

Does this help?
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john sandhagen
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« Reply #2 on: Jul 27, 2005, 09:22AM »

Old chromatic instrument families (trombones, strings, recorders) read clefs to keep the bulk of the notes in the staff.  The "limited" instruments like trumpet and horn had to be transposed since they were barely diatonic.  When they became chromatic they continued to transpose as well as the other "new" instruments that came out about the same time (saxes).
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newbone

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« Reply #3 on: Jul 27, 2005, 09:48AM »

So, if I understand it correctly, certain woodwind and brass instruments transpose so that their 'easier' open fingerings coincide with the (natural) key of C.  One benefit of this is that music reading is made easier by keeping more of their range on the staff.

Thanks Gentlemen, that helps!
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« Reply #4 on: Jul 27, 2005, 10:41AM »

Quote from: "newbone"
So, if I understand it correctly, certain woodwind and brass instruments transpose so that their 'easier' open fingerings coincide with the (natural) key of C.  One benefit of this is that music reading is made easier by keeping more of their range on the staff.


Close.  The point is more that players who play instruments that come in a variety of keys can use the same "fingerings" for the same written pitches.  The parts would be written transposed so that the correct sounded pitches would result.

Also, instruments don't transpose; players play from transposed parts.  There's nothing about a Bb trumpet (or a D trumpet or an Eb trumpet) that requires that you have to pretend that   is played open, it's just the convention.  Many trumpet players play parts written for many different keyed trumpets on a single instrument.
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« Reply #5 on: Jul 27, 2005, 10:48AM »

Okay, so...by writing transposed parts, arrangers standardize fingerings for woodwind and brass players who play instruments that happen to belong to 'families' that have a variety of open keys, such as soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone sax?
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« Reply #6 on: Jul 27, 2005, 10:51AM »

I don't think that you can say that saxes have "open keys", but yes, it allows for standardized fingerings.
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« Reply #7 on: Jul 27, 2005, 11:01AM »

Almost correct newbone.  Many woodwind instruments and trumpets are built in various keys.  The fingerings to go up from note '1' to note '2' are the same on the instruments in the same family (e.g. saxophones).  The actual notes sounded will vary depending upon the member of the instrument family, however the relative fingering will be the same.  The transposing the parts by the conductor is simply a convience for the player to be able to play more than one member of the instrument family (e.i.      as written will have the same fingering for the alto sax, the baritone sax, and the tenor sax, even though each instrument actually sounds a different note.)  Since the trombone and the bassoon were for many years the only instruments in the orchestra that played bass cleff music, and as the positions for each type of trombone (bass, tenor, alto, etc.) are at different distances from 1st position, there was no benefit for the composer to transpose bass cleff music (a tenor trombone player can't just pick up an alto trombone and start playing.)
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« Reply #8 on: Jul 27, 2005, 11:06AM »

This has been very informative - thanks to everyone for your responses. :)
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« Reply #9 on: Jul 27, 2005, 11:51AM »

I have a slightly different take on the subject. I agree that woodwinds (saxophone for example) transpose so that a player can use the same fingerings on his Bb tenor and his Eb alto.

Trumpets and horn were once valveless instruments. If you wanted to play trumpet in the key of C you put in the C crook and you could wail on the C major triad. In the key of D you put in the D crook, etc. You played notes that were not in the harmonic series by forcing them with strong chops. It made some sense to write all music for natural trumpet or horn as if in the key of C and just annotate which crook to plug in.

That was the original system and musicians appear to be stuck with it forever.

Trombone, on the other hand, was fully chromatic from the beginning so transposition was never an issue. I think tuba is a recent invention, so it always had the benefit of valves.

I think trombones are built in Bb because that gives a good compromise between a low-pitched instrument and the length of an adult human's arm.
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« Reply #10 on: Jul 27, 2005, 02:16PM »

Quote from: "David Gross"

...

Trombone, on the other hand, was fully chromatic from the beginning so transposition was never an issue. I think tuba is a recent invention, so it always had the benefit of valves.

I think trombones are built in Bb because that gives a good compromise between a low-pitched instrument and the length of an adult human's arm.


Not quite sure I agree with Dave on the last point.  The length of a trombone would put it in A in the older "high pitch" tuning used in some areas of Germany in the late Renaissance.  An instrument in A would fit with the standard strings much better than one in Bb.  These instruments did not have tuning slides, so when the pitch standard changed the instrument suddenly became "Bb".  Not intentional.

One other point.  In British Brass Band music the tenor trombone is written in transposing treble clef just like the trumpet (bass trombone is always written in bass clef, non-transposed).  That tradition is maintained even today in some scores, where parts are available for trombone in either Bass Clef non-transposed, and treble clef transposed.

To add some more confusion, there is no reason you can't learn to read all of these odd transposed treble clef parts on a trombone (albeit in a different octave many times).  

Some of the more common "transposed" parts are:

Db piccolo (rare.  Most flute and piccolo parts are not transposed any more)
Eb, Bb, A clarinet
Eb alto clarinet
Bb bass clarinet
Eb and Bb saxophones (almost all saxophones are either in Bb or Eb, except the C-melody)
Trumpets (many keys; Bb, C, Eb being the most common)
Horns (F is most common, but Eb and many others, too)
Treble clef Trombone and Baritone.

I have also seen some parts labeled "World Music" that are transposed bass clef Euphonium and Eb Tuba.  They are very hard to play; turn them back to your librarian if you get one.  In these parts when you see a C     , the Euphonium plays Bb     and tuba plays Eb      Eeek!
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Bruce Guttman
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« Reply #11 on: Jul 27, 2005, 03:04PM »

Eeek! Eeek! Eeek!

Well, thanks for confirming my wisdom in choosing 'bone over tenor sax!

Grin
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« Reply #12 on: Jul 27, 2005, 05:04PM »

Quote from: "BFW"
I don't think that you can say that saxes have "open keys"...


Sort of, in that when in the key of C one's fingers operate more or less in a straight line.  That is, if I start on a low C I finger 123-1234, and as I ascend I lift one finger at a time until I reach the high C...only then do I put down my LH2 finger.  No "chromatic" fingerings are necessary.  On clarinet, the same deal works if you start on low F (chalumeau) or middle C (clarion).

What the heck forum am I on, anyway? Amazed
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« Reply #13 on: Jul 27, 2005, 08:10PM »

Everybody explained quite well.

One of my college teachers did a 'virtual' smack on the side of my head, and said. "that's the way it is. Just live with it." IOW, musically be able to speak all the languages that instruments are written in.

We got it easy. Horns and trumpets have to transpose parts all the time. Whenever I ask them about it, they shrug and smile and say, "That's just the way it is."
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