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Topic: I'm confused, how do I transpose for Bari sax and Alto sax (Read 9009 times) previous topic - next topic

I'm confused, how do I transpose for Bari sax and Alto sax
Ok, I'm writing a jazz arrangement. It's a meledy of Birdland, segueing into Everybody Loves The Blues by Maynard Ferguson. Anyway, I can write music for Trumpet, Trombone, Tenor Sax, Bass and Guitar, basically anything in Concert of Bb pitches, but I'm seriously getting weirded out by Eb pitches. It's even worse for Bari sax, because it's in Bass clef and it's all weird. Can someone please help.

Re: I'm confused, how do I transpose for Bari sax and Alto sax
Reply #1
If the Baritone is written in Bass clef then I assume you are writing in Concert Score.

The Alto part when printed for performance should be transposed up 9 semitones (+9 - major 6th).
C below the concert Treble staff becomes the Treble A space in the written Alto part.

The Baritone part should be transposed up 21 semitones (+21 - major 6th + an octave) for print out from Bass to Treble clef.
(When tranposed the Treble part should  look very similar to the Bass clef concert part with only changes to the accidentals and key signature).
C space in the Bass clef concert becomes the Baritones A space in the written Treble staff.

Tenor is transposed up 14 semitones (+14) for printout but you say you've got that figured.

When transposing don't forget to check the Update for Playback box so that NWC adjusts the playback pitch of the transposed notes.

When complete I'd like a copy of your score if possible.

Re: I'm confused, how do I transpose for Bari sax and Alto sax
Reply #2
I'm so stupid, I'm still a bit confused. What is the point of raising the Tenor sax? I don't want them in concert pitch. Noteworthy's default is concert pitch. AAAHHHH!!!!!!

Re: I'm confused, how do I transpose for Bari sax and Alto sax
Reply #3
If, as appears to be the case from your post, you are using a Bb scale as your default, then to show the correct transposition for alto sax, you should transpose the scale by 7 semitones, not 9. Also, the standard that I am used to writes bari. music in the treble clef, for which you would need a transposition of 21 semitones from concert pitch, or 19 if you are using a Bb scale as your default.

Re: I'm confused, how do I transpose for Bari sax and Alto sax
Reply #4
I think GMS needs to understand why some instruments are transposing instruments. I'll try to explain it, then walk through the process step by step.

Simply put, because the instruments of a type (say, the sax family) are different sizes, the identical finger position on each instrument will produce sound of a different pitch. To make it easier to double (i.e., play all of the saxes), it's easier for the player to use the same fingering every time she or he sees a particular note on the page, than it is to remember different fingerings for each pitch you want to play.

So there's a "disconnect."  A non-transposing instrument like the piano plays a note that is the true sound of the note written on the sheet of music.  A transposing instrument does not.

When a Bb instrument plays a written C, the true sound is that of Bb, a whole tone (or two semitones) below the written note.

When an Eb instrument plays a written C, the true sound is Eb, nine semitones below what is written.

When you first create a staff in Noteworthy, it is pitched in concert pitch - what you enter on the staff is what you hear.  If you're copying parts from a score, the score may be written either in concert pitch or it may be transposed.  The quickest way to tell is to compare the key signatures of all the instrument parts.  If the key signatures are the same, the score is in concert pitch; if not, it's transposed.

Bb instruments will always be transposed to a key signature that has two less flats or two more sharps than nontransposing instruments such as flutes or trombones.  Eb instruments will always have three less flats or three more sharps than C instruments, and one less flat or one more sharp than Bb instruments.

So you're copying your parts out...  If you're copying from a concert pitch score, just enter each staff, and use the transpose function afterwords.  When you do that, NWC will move the notes up or down the appropriate distance, but will make an adjustment (which you can override) to keep the pitch from changing.  If you're copying from a transposed score, you can adjust staff properties for each staff to change the pitch to concert pitch without altering the position of each note on the staff.

So, doing it both ways:
Starting from concert pitch, I want to transpose a trumpet or clarinet part so I can print it for the musician.  I'll enter the notes, then Alt-T, Transpose, +2 semitones.

For tenor sax, I transpose +14 semitones but I have to do it in two steps, 12 semitones (the limit) and transpose the result 2 more semitones.

I now want to transpose a part for alto sax - same thing, except transpose +9 semitones. Bari sax, it's 21 semitones, but in 2 (12 + 9) steps because of the limitation of the program.

If I want to transpose the tenor sax part for alto sax, I just transpose the tenor part down by the difference in the number of steps (14-9=12)from concert pitch.

All of that is based on first entering the notes in concert pitch and transposing them.  If you enter the notes that are already transposed in the score you're working from, you won't make any change to the appearance, but if you want to play them back, either in NWC or as a midi file, you have to adjust the pitch.  Staff properties, midi tab, transposition box, and enter the number of steps.  Then the playback will adjust.  You need to check this for yourself, in case I'm getting the logic wrong at this time of night, but I think the idea is to enter a positive value in the transposition box, not a negative one.  Try it - if it sounds wrong, just go back into the staff properties and try it with a negative value.

In the big band world, the more common Bb transposing instruments are clarinet, bass clarinet, soprano sax, tenor sax, cornet, trumpet and flugelhorn.

The Eb instruments are usually just the alto and bari saxes.

The bari sax part may appear in the score in bass clef, but it is ALWAYS printed out in treble clef.  If you've notated in bass clef and want to change, it's easy.  Change the clef at the beginning of the staff, then highlight the entire staff to select it.  Hold the control and shift keys, then press the down arrow 12 times.

"Colour" instruments such as flutes are non-transposing, as are the trombones, piano, bass, and various percussion toys such as chimes.

As a final comment, low brass instruments may be named Bb or B-doubleflat, or Eb whatevers.  Nevertheless they are not transposing instruments, they just get their name from the lowest note they can play.

Confused yet?  A good reference book, with examples and a CDRom, is Sammy Nestico's The Complete Arranger (Fenwick Music, 1993).  If you're going to be doing a lot of big band arranging, I'd recommend getting it.  It's user-friendly.

Re: I'm confused, how do I transpose for Bari sax and Alto sax
Reply #5
Sorry, 14-9=5 semitones.  I read the bari line from my chart instead of the tenor line, caught that error, and changed 21-9 to 14-9.  Forgot to change the remainder, though.

Mentioned it's late at night now, eh?  Stupid mistake time.

Re: I'm confused, how do I transpose for Bari sax and Alto sax
Reply #6
Take a look at the Play and Sound section of FAQ's.  Number 95 "transposing a staff" says this more elegantly.  Also #44.

Re: I'm confused, how do I transpose for Bari sax and Alto sax
Reply #7
ok, i have a alto and am experinced with it, but i dont think i can help you with trying to figure out how to write music for E flat instruments. But im just a kid... i shouldent be talking. but i have had three year experince and im currently in the 8th grade. whatever. im off subject. if any one knows were to find music you can print out to practice with, please tell me!!!
ps never give someone a computer and hi suggered(is that a word?) food at once.

Re: I'm confused, how do I transpose for Bari sax and Alto sax
Reply #8
Hello David and others- I'm new to this, and I see you've posted on the 17th.  I'm sitting here at 3:17 am on Sunday, looking for answers on why we transpose.  Just a curious percussionist.  I got that different instrument families have different sizes, and the same fingerings makes it easy for people switching axes, and that bad singers need help from the pianist from time to time, but I'm still not sure I get why a Bb instrument is called a Bb instrument.  Who decided that Bb would be the best note to write out as sounding like Middle C?

Thanks anyone awake.

Re: I'm confused, how do I transpose for Bari sax and Alto sax
Reply #9
[sorry, I guess that's C on the Bb sounding like Bb on a piano]

Re: I'm confused, how do I transpose for Bari sax and Alto sax
Reply #10
To my knowledge, the most extensive (and useful) discussion of this is in forum thread Be sure to read through, since the individual responses vary from very useful to totally useless.

Last week, it suddently occured to me that in ordinary vocal music (men and women singing unison), the male voice is a "transposing instrument." That is, the melody is written as women sing it, on the treble clef (G-clef). But men transpose the notes one octave down.

Re: I'm confused, how do I transpose for Bari sax and Alto sax
Reply #11
Here is what I replied to a similar question in the Beginner's section of the forum at Sax On The Web,  Specifically, he asked about transposing within the sax family, but this is should help answer you:
The instruments of the sax, clarinet, and saxhorn family (cornet, alto horn, baritone horn, tuba, etc) overlap in their ranges in such a way that it makes for easier arranging of the voices without putting any one instrument at the extreme of its range.

There were two basic families of saxes planned by A. Sax. One was the orchestral family, those in C and F: F sopranino, C soprano, F mezzosoprano (a little smaller than the Eb alto), C tenor (more commonly called the "C Melody Sax"), F baritone (never made), and C bass. The C bass was the very first saxophone, followed by the C soprano.

The other family was the military band family, pitched in Bb and Eb: Eb sopranino, Bb soprano, Eb alto, Bb tenor, Eb baritone, Bb bass, and Eb contrabass.

Between these two familys, the Bb-Eb family of instruments generally have a deeper, richer tone, for practically the same range. They were more comparable to the common Bb instruments already in use in military bands, the Bb clarinet and Bb trumpet, etc. The saxophone was accepted into the bands as standard instruments much sooner than the orchestra, where it is still an "on call" instrument, for the occasional performances of Bolero, Pictures At An Exhibition, An American In Paris, etc.

BTW, Adolf Sax also designed what is now the modern Bass Clarinet and improved many other instruments.
I will expand on this some for you.  Some instruments were developed BEFORE there was such a thing as a standard pitch, and the standard orchestra as we know it today.  The Clarinet in A is a good example, as well as the slighly smaller Clarinet in Bb.  Their "C" is a concert A and Bb respectively.  That is the way the fingering system is set up.

The Bb trumpet, when no valves are pressed, produces it overtone series based on a very low concert Bb.  It is Bb instrument.  But so is the trombone!  If the slide is in 1st position (comparable to the trumpet with no valves pressed) it also produces it overtone series based on a Bb an octave below the trumpet.  Likewise the Euphonium (and similar "baritone horn") are Bb instruments, as well as the BBb tuba.

But what has happened is, the players of these bass clef instuments have learned a fingering system whereby they read their music at concert pitch.

IF there were only instruments built in C, the symphonic band and orchestra would have a much thinner sound, and it would be more difficult to write for the instruments, trying to not put them in difficult ranges.

If we left the instruments as they are now, but wrote for all of them in concert pitch, it would be very difficult for a clarinetist to double on the low clarinets.  Each would have a different fingering system for the written note.  Same problem for the sax family, flutes (doubling the alto flute), an oboe player who doubles on English Horn.

That is the long answer.  The short one is, "that is just how it is, live with it!"  I didn't want to be rude and to have to say that to you, so you just had to put up with my complex, long winded explanation.  Hah!

I assume you are interested in writing for symphonic band or jazz band.  I have an article and a series you may be interested in:

Common Transpositions

and this four part (so far) series, Orchestration for Saxophones:

If I can help you in any way, using NWC, or how to transpose or write for any of the winds, write me at

Paul Coats
Featured Columnist
Sax On The Web

Re: I'm confused, how do I transpose for Bari sax and Alto sax
Reply #12
Now, let's get down to the nitty gritty.

You want to make a bass clef part into a bari sax part.  It just so happens that, there are two changes...

The clef is changed from bass to treble clef, and the key sig is changed to subtract three flats or add three sharps.  BUT, the notes stay right where they are on the staff.

Let me explain.  If a note is written on the second line of the bass clef, in concert pitch, and in this example, the key signature is two flats, for concert Bb, that note is a concert Bb, right?

Leave the note alone, delete the clef and key signature, and re-enter there a treble clef and a new key signature.  The other key had two flats, so we add subtract three flats or add three sharps.  It has two flats, so the new key has one sharp.  If it had been three flats, the new key would be no sharps/flats.  If the key had been one flat, the new key would be two sharps.  If the key had been no sharps/flats, the new key would be three sharps, etc.  So, in this case, we are going from two flats to one sharp... concert Bb to the bari sax's key of G.

You need to go through and fix a few things, checking the accidentals.

(This can be done in NWC with a little more complex process, if interested, write me at

That note on the second line that WAS a Bb in the bass clef is now the corred G for the bari sax!  Wow!  Isn't THAT cool!  Makes it easy for a player to read a bass clef part.

For alto sax, move the notes up a major sixth from where they are written.  If transposing in NWC, +9 semitones.

Re: I'm confused, how do I transpose for Bari sax and Alto sax
Reply #13
Checking for accidentals in that method can be a bear of a problem.  Even though the notes appear in the same position on the staff, it makes more sense to let NWC handle the transposition, even if you have to move the notes back to where they were.

First be sure the piece has a key signature before you transpose.  (C maj or A min will appear with a greyed out F natural if you need to insert it.)  In the "Tools" menu, select "Transpose staff" and transpose +9 semitones.  This will handle the accidentals.  Now you can change the clef, select the whole staff and move the notes back to where they used to be (cntl/shift and 5 down arrows should do it).
Since 1998

Re: I'm confused, how do I transpose for Bari sax and Alto sax
Reply #14
A bit OT, but I thought you guys would like this: musical instrument gallery

You can even hear it played

Re: I'm confused, how do I transpose for Bari sax and Alto sax
Reply #15
Warren is exactly right.  I just did not go that far.

Re: I'm confused, how do I transpose for Bari sax and Alto sax
Reply #16
It's treble ceft. Make shure to give it a good solo.

Re: I'm confused, how do I transpose for Bari sax and Alto sax
Reply #17
<Hello I'm transposing music from piano to saxophone.
I hardly know anything about music, I just know how to read it and play my saxophone. I don't know what minor major scales means etc...
Can you explain to me in the simplist way how to transpose the key from the piano to the sax like say for example that you say that you have to play an A in order to match the concert C. Ok? Do you also have to change the flats and sharps? How do you do it?

Re: I'm confused, how do I transpose for Bari sax and Alto sax
Reply #18
PLease answer fast I'm in a hurry to transpose the music

Re: I'm confused, how do I transpose for Bari sax and Alto sax
Reply #19
Alto sax - Transpose +9

Bari sax - Transpose +21 but you may have to do it in 2 steps, +12 and +9

Soprano sax - Transpose +2

Tenor sax - Transpose +14

So if you need to transpose from a Tenor part to Bari, Transpose +7

For a visual check, the Eb instruments (Alto and Bari) will always have one more sharp or one less flat in their key signatures than the Bb instruments (Soprano and Tenor)

Re: I'm confused, how do I transpose for Bari sax and Alto sax
Reply #20
QUICK AND DIRTY INSTRUCTIONS from Concert Pitch to Saxophone

If anything goes wrong, <CONTROL-Z> will undo it.

1. Make sure there is a key signature, even if it's just C.  If there isn't one, <HOME> then <RIGHT ARROW> until you're between the clef and the time signature, then <K> <C> <ENTER>

2. Make sure you're in treble clef.  If you're in bass clef, do this:  <HOME> <SHIFT-END> then <SHIFT-CONTROL-DOWN ARROW> 12 times.  <HOME>. Highlight the bass clef (<SHIFT-RIGHT ARROW> will probably do it).  <SHIFT-CONTROL-UP ARROW>.  Un-highlight: <HOME>

2. Force accidentals: <ALT> <T> <F>.

3a. Transpose for alto AND bari: <ALT> <T> <T> 9 <ENTER>
3b. Transpose for tenor AND soprano: <ALT> <T> <T> 2 <ENTER>

4. Extra transpose for tenor AND bari: <ALT> <T> <F> <ALT> <T> <T> 12

The music should now be ready for your instrument.  Don't forget to save.