Transposing at sight - How do you do it?

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by timbloke, May 15, 2003.

  1. timbloke

    timbloke Member

    Just read an earlier post about transposing from Treble Eb into Bass Clef. I originally learnt trombone in Bass Clef, having previously learnt Bas and treble in C on piano. Since then I joined a band and was introduced to Treble in Bb. Obviously, being a trombonist, I can play every clef and key I could have thrown at me. 8)

    But I noticed when I read Bb treble, I actually read the notes in C, hence when the MD says "what note have you got in the second bar" my answer will be in C in my head, then I spend about half an hour working out what it is to all the other people in the band!! As in I know that 1st position on a Trombone is Bb,F,Bb,D,F,flat Ab,Bb,C and sqeeze your buttocks for the rest. No matter what key I'm playing in.

    I've now completely confused myself when trying to play EEb in training band and now have given up on note names, and just play the notes!! :?

    Questions.... Having recently started teaching beginner trombone, is it better to teach bass or treble clef to start with?

    Why doesn't everyone learn note names in C and make life easier for me!! Lazy fools. :D

  2. PeterBale

    PeterBale Moderator Staff Member

    The short answer to the question of how to transpose at sight is a simple one - lots of practice! Depending on what the transposition is, and how familiar you are with various clefs, there may be different systems that may help to a greater or lesser extent, but sometimes you can just get yourself tied up in knots trying to remember what transposition you're doing at the time. One of my most vivid memories is of sitting with my alto saxophone in front of an Eb treble clef copy and trying to work out what I should be playing - I had been doing so much transposition it did not seem right to be simply reading it straight off the page.

    As to the question of whether you should start your beginner in treble or bass clef I would say it would depend on what playing they are likely to be doing. If they are likely to be playing in consort with other players fairly soon, then choose whichever the group will be using. I would suggest, however, encouraging the learning of both clefs in due course, so as to keep all playing options open.
  3. Yoghurt

    Yoghurt New Member

    how to learn sight reading?

    i'm also trying to learn sight transposing (various intervals, but for now mainly transposing a fifth up), i know practising a lot is the trick, but what method do you think i can use best to learn?

    would it be:

    a) visualising the notes higher on the staff
    (for example: if the piece is in treble clef the easiest would probably be reading the notes as if they where in bass clef and then visualising them two steps higher. plus keeping the flats/sharps of the new key in mind)

    b) learning to be very quick in adding a fifth to the notes in my head
    (for example: reading a D sharp and then thinking: oh that needs to become a A sharp)

    c) using the intervals between the notes
    (for example: original melody goes from B to D, that means it goes up a third, so if i was playing an F sharp, next note should be a third higher which is (quick counting/much experience)a A.

    i'm using method a) at the moment, but i'm not sure it's the best.
    which of these methods is used by people who sight-transpose and which ones will work best eventually?
    i would be very thankful if you could help me out!
  4. David Mann

    David Mann Member

    I use a combination of visualising the notes higher or lower and intervals between the notes. The ones I do most often are:

    Concert pitch on Bb trumpet - only a tone up but nasty in sharps:redface:
    Concert pitch on Eb cornet - down a third - even worse in sharps!!
    Bb cornet part on Eb cornet - down a 4th.

    I think what I do is visualise for most notes but use intervals if a group of notes obviously make part of a scale or arpeggio. If I think too hard it can all go wrong!

    Mostly I learned by having to do it - a good start is to go and "help" the training band and try to put in (say) a missing horn part in on a trombone.
  5. mikelyons

    mikelyons Supporting Member

    I read Bass and Treble clef on tuba and bass and treble clef on euph. This thread has made me think about what I do to read. If it is a BB part, then I just think of it in BB pitch - a duck is a duck.

    If I'm reading concert pitch parts in whatever key I,think I just think of the concert pitch note and then mentally transpose that to Bb or Eb pitch as appropriate - it's the fingers I think of, not the note. I think I used to do it differently when the brain was younger and more agile, but now I can't remember that far back!

    I think there's also pattern recognition going on as well, because it is easier once I know what the key is and what the first few notes are. I'm stuffed on atonal music, though! :rolleyes:
  6. PeterBale

    PeterBale Moderator Staff Member

    I know what you mean there: step-wise movement or passages in recognisable keys are relatively easy, but awkward leaps keep you on your toes ;)

    It's hard to explain exactly what process I use - unless it is the obvious "Eb reading bass clef as treble" etc. When I played in the Coventry School of Music Concert Band under Len Pepper, it was not unusual to have oboe (C concert), horn (F) and trumpet (usually Bb but occasionally A) parts on the stand, as well as my usual alto sax (or occasional bassoon:eek:), switching from one to the other as required.

    Worst one I ever had to get my head round was a cornet solo which I was transposing on alto: all went fine in rehearsal, but when we got to the hall, the piano was so out of tune that the nearest we could get was for me to push in as far as I could and shift the transposition by another semitone :mad:
  7. Crazysop

    Crazysop Member

    I began transposing Bb to Eb when I started working with the youth band by working out the start note using method B, then using method C and a good deal of flannel to fill in the gaps. i then started to memorise a few notes eg E becomes B, C becomes G. Like Mike, I guess now my brain thinks in terms of the fingers I use and has remembered the patterns. It does get easier with practice and I can now transpose most of the youth band front row repertoire on sight (give or take the odd key signature/accidental clanger:eek:) without really thinking about it, it just happens. I'd be absolubtely stuffed if I had to transpose into a different key/ different intervals!

    I used method A in my youth when trying to play a bass crumhorn in an early music group before I could read bass clef properly, and before I had mastered the fingering of the thing by pretending it was treble clef, pretending I was playing a descant recorder and visualising the note down a tone i think!,or it might have been up, i can't remember it was a long time ago. I do remember I didn't have very much success with it but then I was quite young and out of my depth at the time!

    I would go with what ever method works best for you.
  8. HornMaster

    HornMaster Member

    Several years ago, I played with a quintet in which many of the horn parts were in F so I quickly had to learn how to transpose on sight.

    One way is to just spend time effectively re-learning the position of notes on the stave. For example, when someone learns to play an instrument from scratch (assuming treble clef) then you learn that the note in the middle of the stave is a C. You don't question why - it just is.

    The same 'beginner' approach can be taking to transposing. Start by learning, and memorising, the position on the stave of what you would play as a C and then regularly write out scales etc so that you can gradually learn the position of the rest of the notes. Over time you can then just develop a different way of reading music in your head.
  9. andywooler

    andywooler Supporting Member

    I'm probably in the "visualisation" group on this one - it works well for me when on a Bb and playing trumpet in F parts or Eb parts (although depending on the piece, I'd use an Eb anyway)
    Slightly different for playing tmpt/cornet in A on a Bb and for that, its a mental key change.
    The one I hate is trumpet in E! (that generally gets the D tmpt out for a simpler transposition!)
  10. BoBo

    BoBo Member

    The best way is the one that works for you, the challenge is being open to trying different ways.

    Which ever way you choose, it becomes automatic when you have done it enough.
  11. Yoghurt

    Yoghurt New Member

    hi! thank you so much for all the replies already!! helps me out a lot :)

    one more question: are you guys always aware of the relation of the notes you're playing to the tonica?

    personally i am when playing very easy children songs (then i know: starts with tonica, then goes up to fourth, to fifth, to seventh and back to tonica again, for example. it's not that i'm actually thinking this out loud when i play, but it's kind of in the back of my head.)

    when i'm reading more complicated music from sheet, i don't seem (yet) to have any awareness of the position of the notes in relation to the tonica.
    (for example: when i'm playing an C in the key of F, i am not aware that i'm playing the fifth note in the key of F... unless i stop and think about it, like i do now ;))

    but would this be desirable to sight transpose? should i learn it? and if so, how?

    thanks for replying!!
  12. davidquinlan

    davidquinlan Member

    Start off with easy tunes.. from a learners book (tune a day 1 or 2 or similar, e.g. early grade exam peices), play in the key printed .. then pick a key to transpose to out of a hat! and work from there...
    as you get better with the easy tunes... move on to the more tricky tunes...
  13. brassneck

    brassneck Active Member

    The thing is to enjoy playing new music. The more you cover, novel and more complex patterns/phrases will be easier to remember and use to your advantage. Always a good thing to read ahead to anticipate what's coming next.
  14. Yoghurt

    Yoghurt New Member

    thanks. i know it is always desirable to have more understanding of the music, but it is necesarry for sight transposing to know the relationship of the played notes to the tonica?

    also... still curious about others' answers on my post on yesterday 19:04 :)
  15. brassneck

    brassneck Active Member

    If I can remember back to my french horn playing days what I did to speed-learn was to transpose up or down the interval required whilst remembering new transposing key signature and accidentals. I always read ahead of what I was playing at the time. So it was a case of visualising the relative changes and executing them.
  16. brassbandmaestro

    brassbandmaestro Active Member

    Ive been transposing from Bb to Eb for years now. Just second nature to me. Although we were play English Folksongs suite the other day, and coming to Folksongs from Somerset, I had real trouble. whether because the music was quick or my brain was'nt in gear, thats another matter!!
  17. BoBo

    BoBo Member

    As another ex French Horn player (potential new thread here?), transposing french horn parts tends to be relatively easy as they are predominantly Eb horn parts (ie transposing only a tone) or natural horn parts, so only playing on a limited harmonic series which (on a double horn) there is one fingering which will play all notes. In this case it is useful to be aware of where you are relative to the tonic. I don't think I could recommend it for chromatic parts though.
  18. Yoghurt

    Yoghurt New Member

    yes, the 'playing one note lower' goes pretty well actually now... i'm playing in a big band now and there i have to double quite some trombone parts (written in C)

    thank you folks so much for helping me out so far :) i really appreciate it
  19. Yoghurt

    Yoghurt New Member

    (forgot to mention: my french horn is in F so that means sight transposing one fifth up to be able to play the trombone parts)
  20. lynchie

    lynchie Active Member

    I just read treble, tenor and bass naturally these days, but for alto I do still imagine shoving the notes up a line. Then again, I also think writing trombone parts in alto is the first sign of an evil soul.

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