Saxophone Forum


by edward.biged
(1 post)
2 years ago

transposition

ok so in my school days I played a g on my alto sax and that was a concert b flat. I keep forgetting why we call the alto sax an e flat instrument. An e flat is 5 half steps up from a b flat (e flat,d,d flat,c,b,b flat) and an e flat is 7 going the opposite way (e,f,g flat,g,a flat,a,b flat), so where does this e flat instrument terminology come from when we only transpose down 3 half steps to reach concert pitch?
 

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  1. by GFC
    (359 posts)

    2 years ago

    Re: transposition

    C on an alto is concert E flat, hence the designation E flat instrument.

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    1. by scm2012
      (9 posts)

      2 years ago

      Re: transposition

      While we are on the topic....   Why?
      Why is an alto sax and E flat instrument?  Wouldn't it be better to construct it as a C instrument -- and end the transposing required to play sheet music?

      As it is, if I want to play sax with a piano-- I have to find music written for both so they sound in the same key, or get piano music and transpose to get sax notation.

      Stephen.
       

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      1. by Saxquest
        (317 posts)

        2 years ago

        Re: transposition

        This is done for the benefit of the performer, mostly because of fingering and secondly due to how the music is written on the page. Adolphe Sax recognized this and understood that a saxophonist would have the need to play the entire family of saxophones and not just specialize on one instrument.

        The way it is now, a "middle C" on a saxophone is fingered the same regardless of what version of the saxophone you are playing. This is only because of the way the instrument transposes. If everything was written so that we could read piano music despite the instrument we were playing, then each instrument would have a different fingering system and it would be extremely confusing to the performer. Remember, Adolphe Sax made C, Bb, F and Eb instruments in multiple octaves and if music were written so it would match the piano, then each would have its own unique set of finerings. To keep the music on the staff and easily readable, arrangers would need to write in treble and bass clef, maybe even alto and/or tenor clef, depending on the instrument. 

        Believe me, Adolphe Sax got it right! His goal was to produce a projecting woodwind instrument that used the same fingerings on each of its varieties (sopranino, c-soprano, Bb soprano, f-mezzo, alto, c-melody, tenor, bari, and bass). Each member of the saxophone family of instruments has to be made a precisely different size in order to reach the upper and lower octaves. Thus, they are manufactured in different keys and the music transposed in order to accomidate a single fingering system.  

        Cheers,
             Mark Overton
             www.saxquest.com

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        1. by scm2012
          (9 posts)

          2 years ago

          Re: transposition

          I still don't get it.  Even though they have the same fingerings -- they will sound different-- and not just up or down an octave -- they will be in totally differnt keys.

          When you play a "C" on an Alto -- it sounds like an Eb
          When you play a "C" on a Tenor -- it sounds like a Bb

          I realize that all music is relative -- you could pick any pitch as a standard.   But it took a while to get over the fact that when the teacher says "Play a C"   I hear an Eb.   Call me crazy... I had to start calling it "Alto Sax C"

          But the fingering is only the same between Alto and Tenor if you don't care what key you are playing in when you switch from one to the other.

          Once you care about the actual absolute key (according to a standard)-- you are going to have to use different fingerings.(Well 2 fingerings because Soprano matches Tenor and Alto matches Baritone)

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        2. by Saxquest
          (317 posts)

          2 years ago

          Re: transposition

          You are correct in that it gets a bit confusing at first for the musician with perfect pitch. However, even for the musician with perfect pitch, that's a very temporary thing and once you become accustom to the instrument and the sounds it makes, you're exactly right in that you will begin to think of it as "Alto Sax C", or more precisely you'll think of it as "Eb as played on an alto sax".

          Because the instruments are transposable, when you say "Play a C" on the saxophone, you're invoking both a visual and a muscle memory to the saxophone player to press the second to the bottom pearl of the left hand. If the instruments were not conceived as transposable instruments, this would not be the case. This would make it much more difficult to switch between alto and tenor, especially for younger musicians. If the instruments were not transposable, if I saw a "C" on the page, I'd have two different fingerings for it depending on weather I was playing alto or tenor (or 4 fingerings back in Adolphe Sax's day when this invention was adopted). If I were playing tenor, I'd have to press all of the stack pearl keys down (fingering what we think of as "tenor D") whereas if I was playing alto, I'd have to press down top two pearls on upper stack (fingering what we think of as "alto A"). C and F saxophonoes would have their own set of fingerings. In other words, the musician would have to be transposing all of the time. As it is, the instrument does the transposing for us. It's nice on saxophone, but be especially thankful for this invention when switching between Eb, Bb and A clarinet. Yikes!!!

          That being said, simple transposing in order to read concert pitch is not that big of a deal to the trained musician. I have to transpose all of the time, especially when playing in church or playing a session where parts are being written on the fly. So, when you're reading a concert score or piano music on tenor, just think of it as taking it up a step or if you're playing it on alto, just think of it as playing down a minor third. With just a bit of practice, it will become very easy for you to do this.

          Cheers,

               Mark Overton
               www.saxquest.com

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