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really stupid questions about transcription

Posted By: dsch

really stupid questions about transcription - 11/28/12 11:01 PM

I am ashamed to be asking this but I never knew.

I've been asked to accompany an E flat alto sax player and he pointed out that his score does not show the same notes as the full score.

As a former flute player this was surprising to me--my notes were always the same as in the accompanist scores. My questions are

1. Why do some instruments have shifted notes?


2. Where can I find classical transcriptions of nice sonatas or lieder so that we can play more than what is widely published for his instrument? I am really more of a Beethoven/Schubert person so I'd like to do that sort of thing with him.

Posted By: BDB

Re: really stupid questions about transcription - 11/28/12 11:19 PM

A flute is pitched in C (although a piccolo is in D), and so its music is sounds as written. An E-flat saxophone is pitched so that its C sounds E-flat, so its music is transposed. These are conventions that arose from natural instruments, mainly brass without valves, and because music was written that way, and it was too difficult to write them out again, they have been universally adopted.

Most people who play transposing instruments learn to play in a variety of keys. So you can always tell your horn player he has to learn to do that. Of course, you can learn to transpose on the piano, which is a good skill to learn. But a lot of music has been transposed. You just have to look for it.
Posted By: dsch

Re: really stupid questions about transcription - 11/29/12 12:22 AM

Thanks. It's been 30-something years since I was in band.

So you are telling me that if I want Im Dorfe, I'll have to transcribe the solo part by myself? Blech.
Posted By: BDB

Re: really stupid questions about transcription - 11/29/12 12:54 AM

I do not know. There are catalogs of music that might tell you if a particular piece is available in a suitable transposition.
Posted By: Minnesota Marty

Re: really stupid questions about transcription - 11/29/12 01:18 AM

I need to correct something here.

Transcription is rewriting music to be performed on an instrument (or instruments) for which it was not originally composed. An example would be a string quartet played by a wind quartet.

Transposition is playing in a different key than was originally composed. An example would be the changing of the written key to accomodate the particular range of a vocalist. The use of a phrase such as "take it down a step" would be transposition.

It gets confusing when instruments are sounding pitches which do not conform to the tonal center of the written key in the conductor/piano score. As was mentioned, this is due to the historic evolution of various instruments. Clarinet in Bb and Horn in F are the most common examples.

BTW - Piccolo was never in D. Some old piccolos were voiced in Db and haven't been built for generations. They are now in C, as is the flute, but sound an octave higher than the flute using the same notation.
Posted By: Vid

Re: really stupid questions about transcription - 11/29/12 01:25 AM

There are a lot of famous pieces for various instruments (like violin, trumpet, etc.) that have been transcribed/arranged for saxophone and other wind instruments. It would be easier to search for these first before attempting to transcribe the solo and/or accompaniment part yourself.

One problem you will probably come across is that the range for one instrument or voice may be out of range for your target instrument. So retaining a piano part (in C) and transposing the solo for E-flat could put the melody line too high or too low for the alto saxophone. Not to mention the transcribed solo part may be awkward for that particular instrument and could possibly work better at different registers.

More often its the pianist who is required to transpose their part rather than the soloist. I think you would hard pressed to find a wind player would could easily transpose a melody up a third etc. (there are exceptions I'm sure). Also for the reasons above requiring the soloist to transpose wouldn't always be very practical.

I think the best place to start looking would be a music store. I don't know what you would find online. On the other hand you could learn a lot working out your own transcriptions.
Posted By: BDB

Re: really stupid questions about transcription - 11/29/12 01:41 AM

Well, I have plenty of band music lying around with piccolo parts in D-flat, including some I bought recently. The notation is still used.
Posted By: Minnesota Marty

Re: really stupid questions about transcription - 11/29/12 01:58 AM


There is plenty of music published with notation for piccolo in Db. However, that is a remnant from the turn of the 19th century and into the 20th. My point was that the piccolo was never pitched in D. When playing from music of the era, the modern piccolo player will simply transpose for the contemporary piccolo.

It is interesting to note that the famous piccolo solo from "Stars and Stripes" is much less of a finger twister on a Db piccolo than it is on a C instrument.
Posted By: jmcintyre

Re: really stupid questions about transcription - 11/29/12 02:33 AM

The sixth Bach flute sonata (BWV 1035, E Major) works pretty well for alto sax. The solo part is played as written, and the accompaniment is transposed up a minor third. I performed this in college (on sax) and if I remember correctly the printed music was available for purchase so you don't have to go through the work of transposing it. If you're interested and can't locate it, PM me.
Posted By: BDB

Re: really stupid questions about transcription - 11/29/12 05:02 AM

I was writing off the top of my head. I do not play a band instrument, so it did not sink into my mind that the piccolo parts were D-flat, rather than D. I stand corrected, it is D-flat, but piccolo parts are still transposed for a D-flat instrument, rather than C.
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