An Introduction to Transposition
It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that transposition might be a skill that is a bit too difficult for you at the moment, or is something that you can just take a look at later. The thing is that transposition is a skill that can be learned with a little bit of time and patience and learning to transpose will help you to improve your understanding of music and how it works. The ability to transpose will also provide you with so many more musical opportunities and allow a greater musical freedom. If you have ever wanted to be able to play along with a piano but didn’t have the right music written out for you, being able to transpose quickly will give you the chance to play straight away!
The trumpet is pitched in B flat (Bb) and this makes it a transposing instrument. This means that the notes it plays will sound at a different pitch to the actual written notes. A Bb trumpet is pitched one tone lower than concert pitch. Concert pitch instruments are those that have the notes sound at the same pitch as the ones that are written on the page. (A flute, violin or piano are all written in concert pitch).
All of the notes that the trumpet will play will make a sound that is a tone lower than the note written on the page. This means if you are playing music with an instrument that is at concert pitch, you will need to play a tone higher than the music is written. So every note you play should be a tone (2 semitones) higher than the written note.
The first to check is your key signature and see how many sharps or flats you have to deal with. Just as a quick note (get more Information about this here) the keys for flats and sharps are shown below.
0 flats or sharps is C major or A minor
1 flat will be F major or D minor
2 flats will be Bb major or G minor
3 flats will be Eb major or C minor
4 flats will be Ab major or F minor
5 flats will be Db major or Bb minor
6 flats will be Gb major or Eb minor
7 flats will be Cb major or Ab minor
1 sharp will be G major or E minor
2 sharps will be D major or B minor
3 sharps will be A major or F# minor
4 sharps will be E major or C# minor
5 sharps will be B major or G# minor
6 sharps will be F# major or D# minor
7 sharps will be C# major or A# minor
This information can help quite a lot. For example, if the piece is in F Major or D minor (written with one flat) you will need to play each note a tone higher and have the key of G major or E minor.
If the piece is written with one sharp (G major or E minor) you will need to play each note a tone higher and have the key signature of 3 sharps (F, C & G sharp) which would be the key of A major or F sharp minor.
Working on this skill
You will now be able to work out what key the piece will be in, and you will know that each note will need to be played one tone higher than written. There are a number of ways of working on this, and you may find your own combination of the following ideas will help you to develop the skill.
The first thing to do is find a short tune, probably just about twelve bars or so, that you know very well and has no sharps or flats, accidental or tricky intervals. It should also stay within an octave so that there are no additional challenges presented with higher register playing. A tune like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star in the key of C major is a good first choice.
Play the tune at the written pitch and listen to how it sounds, pay attention to the intervals between each of the notes and what they sound like. This will be really helpful when you transpose the tune in a moment.
Now read each note and say them out loud with a steady rhythm in this way:
Crotchet C, then, crotchet C, then crotchet G then crotchet G then crotchet A then crotchet A then minim G etc.
When you have done that and can do this accurately without any mistakes at all, try saying the note that is a tone higher than the one that is written. Like this:
Crotchet D, then, crotchet D, then crotchet A then crotchet A then crotchet B then crotchet B then crotchet A etc.
Once you have done this and can say this pattern through slowly but accurately, and without hesitation try to play the piece in its transposed key. You should find that you have been able to complete the task fairly well. Try this method through with some other pieces and see how the technique works. If you complete the exercise carefully you should find that the whole process starts to become more familiar. Now try this out with slightly longer pieces, but make sure that the music is not too technically demanding and that you know the piece well. (By this I mean, something that is not sight-reading).
The ideas here, although not intended purely for developing sight-reading, will enable you to develop that skill. In fact, the approach described here is taken from an idea created by a musician called Len Collins that will really develop and improve the way in which you approach and think about sight-reading.
To improve your general sight-reading I recommend looking at a wonderful new and innovative system called Stave Breakthrough by Len Collins. For more information on his amazing sight-reading system, called Stave Breakthrough just click here.
Try this technique out for a few weeks, or until the whole process starts to become more familiar. When you feel confident that things are working well, try this out with a simple piece (look at something around grade 1 or pre-grade 1 in standard) that you have never played before.
Try the piece through once as written and really listen to how the piece sounds. Take care to notice the intervals and how each of the gaps between the notes feel. Look at the key signature and work out which key you are in, what the key will be one tone higher and make a mental note of the sharps and flats you will need to consider. When you have done this, play the music up a tone! For a little more information, and some examples to try just click here for another article on this site.
Thanks for reading and until next time – happy practising!