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View Full Version : Transposing at sight - How do you do it?



timbloke
15.05.2003, 14:55
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

Tim

PeterBale
15.05.2003, 15:35
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.

Yoghurt
03.09.2008, 21:04
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!

David Mann
03.09.2008, 22:58
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!


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.

mikelyons
04.09.2008, 00:02
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:

PeterBale
04.09.2008, 01:19
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:

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:

Crazysop
04.09.2008, 02:16
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!

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.

HornMaster
04.09.2008, 11:08
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!


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.

andywooler
04.09.2008, 12:41
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!)

BoBo
04.09.2008, 13:15
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.

Yoghurt
04.09.2008, 13:38
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!!

davidquinlan
04.09.2008, 14:02
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...

brassneck
04.09.2008, 14:20
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.

Yoghurt
04.09.2008, 16:00
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 :)

brassneck
04.09.2008, 17:02
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 :)

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.

brassbandmaestro
04.09.2008, 17:33
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!!

BoBo
05.09.2008, 12:58
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.

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.

Yoghurt
05.09.2008, 13:39
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

Yoghurt
05.09.2008, 13:40
(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)

lynchie
07.09.2008, 19:19
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.

TubaPete
08.09.2008, 13:58
The human brain is a pattern matching device - how we relate to the world is based on patterns of behaviour we have experienced in the past in similar situations. As a result, I always think you learn to transpose more quickly if you generally only 'calculate' the first note, maybe the last one and any tricky intervals.

I know that if I have to do a transposition I'm rusty at I'll play it at the written pitch first or sing it through in my head so I learn the shape of the music then I'll work out the starting note for the transposition and play the shape starting on that note. It can be difficult at first but it's also good for developing your ear and helping you to feel naturally at your instrument.

Your brain is a terribly clever thing and quite often concentrating on the outcome or product is more effective than concentrating on the steps you need to take to get there.

The great American tuba player and teacher, Arnold Jacobs, had a great way of demonstrating this. He used to say that if you want to move a chair from one side of the room to another, your observation and experience in walking and picking things up meant that you subconsciously know exactly what to do - if you pay extra attention to each step you're more likely to drop the chair, bump into something or fall over than if you just think about the result you want - the chair in a different place.

If you can get your subconscious handling of your instrument to the level where you hear a melody and can play the same melody on your instrument (you may need to be given the starting note) without needing to see it written down and you can sing a written melody without first hearing it (two essential skills for any good brass player) then transposition will be quick and easy to learn by concentrating on the starting point and the product you want.

Try not to analyse what you do - just do it - you know you can!

Pete

brassbandmaestro
10.09.2008, 16:16
Can this above post be nominated for the post of the year?^^^

Jerry
10.09.2008, 16:38
The great American tuba player and teacher, Arnold Jacobs, had a great way of demonstrating this. He used to say that if you want to move a chair from one side of the room to another, your observation and experience in walking and picking things up meant that you subconsciously know exactly what to do - if you pay extra attention to each step you're more likely to drop the chair, bump into something or fall over than if you just think about the result you want - the chair in a different place.

I reckon there is a test for this theory that should appeal to the Brass Band fraternity: try walking from one end of the pub to the other with a pint of your favourite brew while incurring a minimum of spillage. In my experience, the harder you concentrate and the more you try not to spill any of the valuable amber liquid, the the more you are likely to spill. Whereas, if you don't even look at the pint in your hand and just walk fairly slowly and smoothly, you will get to the other side with minimal losses! ;)

Accidental
10.09.2008, 16:56
*BOC alert* ^ Jerry's scenario is actually more about neuro-linguistic-programming.... if you think don't spill/don't split etc, your brain drops the 'don't' and latches onto the dominant action so you're more likely to end up spilling/splitting. According to NLP you increase your chances by fixing your mind on the positive outcome or not thinking about the end result at all, but we all know that's easier said than done when you're worrying about messing up!

Anyhoo, back on topic...
I believe that, like sight reading, some people find transposition easy and intuitive but others have to work much harder to be any good at it and a good grounding in theory and scales can be really helpful. As another ex-french horn player (there's definitely a case for a refugees thread BoBo :wink:) and then as a bari/trom player trying to decipher bass and tenor clefs, I learnt to work out my first note and the key signature then just follow the pattern and hope for the best.... it works MOST of the time!

Jerry
10.09.2008, 18:12
*BOC alert* ^ Jerry's scenario is actually more about neuro-linguistic-programming.... if you think don't spill/don't split etc, your brain drops the 'don't' and latches onto the dominant action so you're more likely to end up spilling/splitting. According to NLP you increase your chances by fixing your mind on the positive outcome or not thinking about the end result at all, but we all know that's easier said than done when you're worrying about messing up!

Anyhoo, back on topic...
I believe that, like sight reading, some people find transposition easy and intuitive but others have to work much harder to be any good at it and a good grounding in theory and scales can be really helpful. As another ex-french horn player (there's definitely a case for a refugees thread BoBo :wink:) and then as a bari/trom player trying to decipher bass and tenor clefs, I learnt to work out my first note and the key signature then just follow the pattern and hope for the best.... it works MOST of the time!

I reckon I'll try this out after band on Thursday: I'll try walking from one end of the pub to the other: (1) thinking "don't spill"; (2) thinking "steady goes"; and (3) just walking without concentrating on the task at hand. The volume of 'ambrosia' left in my glass at the end of each journey should be the indicator for the most successful strategy ... and the best justification I can think of for having 3 pints! :D

As a trumpeter (for whom transposing into all sorts of keys for orchestral purposes is required) I would agree with your more serious point: some are better at it than others, but practising scales in all sorts of keys and transpositions, starting from a known note and in a known key (i.e. you have worked those out at the start of the exercise) is a good way of learning this skill. Once you can do it, you may get rusty (my transposing to F skills are covered in inches of rust :() but you never quite unlearn it ... just like riding your bike.

Laserbeam bass
15.09.2008, 10:10
I would suggest learning the recorder to Grade 8 standard having studied for 10 years and played all different shapes and forms of the instrument. Half of the instruments have C as there fundamental, and the other half have a fundamental of F. For these you can read Eb and Bb. Take this to the brass scenario and for brass band scores and parts it's second nature. I only play in Bb or Eb, and this process is not ideal for all transposition but gives you a good grounding in what is required to become a competent transposer at sight.

I find that transposing up or down to a fourth is within my sightreading capabilities, but 5th's and beyond are quite difficult, and do require some brain time to get around the various pitfalls.