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Old 12-07-2008, 08:22 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Default Transposing instruments

I've been playing guitar and bass for about two years now, and recently picked up the trumpet. After comparing the notes on trumpet and guitar, I realized that trumpet is a step lower than guitar. So "C" on the guitar and piano really isn't universally a "C". As I've thought that notes were completely solid and never changed in this way for the past few years, the concept of these "transposing instruments" really caught me of guard. What is the purpose of transposing instruments and why is the music system even set up this way? I'm just confused, could someone shed a little light on this for me?
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Old 12-07-2008, 11:49 AM   #2 (permalink)
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The reasoning is twofold

In the case of instruments that transpose in octaves (Like guitar, which actually transposes an octave up from written), the transposing convention began so that instruments with high ranges didn't have to read notes constantly on multiple ledger lines above the stave. It makes it much easier to read.

In the case of instruments transposing between keys and semitones and stuff, they transpose so that players who are used to one instrument in that family, don't have to learn new fingerings to play the same notes on other instruments in the family. (IE A bassoon player playing an Oboe part doesn't have to learn a new fingering to play a note written as C, he can use the same fingering for both, and the composers transposition within the score will make sure he's playing the right pitch.)

This allowed composers to use the same musicians for multiple instruments easily, rather than having to bring in a new musician for each new instrument. The composer just compensates for the transposition within the score. Its much easier for a composer to do this, than it is for him to bring in multiple new musicians, or for instrumentalists to learn new ways of playing their instrument.
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Old 12-11-2008, 12:27 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Haha, killed the thread with the first reply. Maybe I should wait before chipping in with answers next time? I was hoping for some discussion.
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Old 12-11-2008, 02:40 PM   #4 (permalink)
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I have some input, I suppose.

It's the make, also.

Sometimes the instruments just CAN'T be played another way.
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Old 12-11-2008, 04:48 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Haha, killed the thread with the first reply. Maybe I should wait before chipping in with answers next time? I was hoping for some discussion.
i think it's because you pretty much covered all the bases as to why it happens with your first reply hehe.

i noticed the discrepancy myself a while back when i tried learning piano. the whole idea of the 'middle C' and how my father's traditional method of considering notes 'do re mi fa so la ti' where 'do' is 'C', as opposed to 'A B C D E F G' made me recognize that E wasn't the universal root even though it's the impression guitars give you.

it's one of the reasons i keep a guitar tuned to C. i'm basically trying to unlearn the idea of chords being A B C etc. and just knowing them as shapes 1st, 2nd, 3rd etc. where a guitar is traditionally played with E as the dominant chord, that shape becomes 1st, but with the guitar tuned down to C that 1st chord shape comes out as the universal 'do'. plus tuning down to C sounds awesome hehe
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Old 12-11-2008, 04:58 PM   #6 (permalink)
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I don't get this because a 'C' should be the same on any instrument you go to. Notes are universal, aren't they?
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Old 12-11-2008, 05:28 PM   #7 (permalink)
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yeah i think i'm just explaining myself poorly (sorry, my brain thinks in french).

my mash up of broken theory only applies to guitar.

basically when i tune to C i still play as if it's tuned to standard E. so when i play an E chord shape it sounds like C. that's what i'm getting at with the whole 1st shape thing, it's guitar specific.
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Old 12-12-2008, 10:40 AM   #8 (permalink)
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I don't get this because a 'C' should be the same on any instrument you go to. Notes are universal, aren't they?
yeah, that's what got me. I thought that they were
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Old 12-12-2008, 12:41 PM   #9 (permalink)
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The notes themselves never change. The 'A' above middle C for example, is always, 100% of the time, 440Hz

But if you ask a clarinetist playing a Bb clarinet, to play a note written on the stave AS a C, the actual pitch you heard would be a Bb.

This is because the clarinetist is playing a transposing instrument, which means if you want the clarinetist to play what is known as a 'concert' C, you have to write the music itself a tone higher on the score. This way, when the clarinetist plays what is actually a written D, the resulting sound is a concert C (I.E. The absolute pitch known as a note of C)


As I noted above, the reason for this is so that if you ask a person who plays an instrument, to play another instrument of the same type or family, they don't have to learn new fingerings. The transposition makes it so that a written C is always fingered the same way on each instrument in the family, but will produce different pitches.

The composer writes the piece taking this into account, so he'll write a written C when he actually wants a Bb to be played. This means the instrumentalist can read a written C, play a C fingering, and always be playing the right note, because the composer has done the transposing beforehand.

Without this, the instrumentalist would have to either learn different fingerings for every instrument in the family, in order to know how to produce each pitch, or he would have to transpose in his head, on the fly while playing or learning the piece. Obviously both of these methods are far more impractical and difficult than the transposing system we have today.
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Old 12-12-2008, 09:57 PM   #10 (permalink)
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Agreed. The actual notes are the same when read.

Just not played.

They're just the rules of music.

It doesn't make you any less of a musician if you play a transposing instrument.
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