#1
My friend, who knows little to no music theory, is thinking of purchasing a saxophone. The other day, he started to ask me about theory and stuff, so I informed him of my knowledge of woodwind and brass instruments, but I don't know much about them, because I only play guitar and piano.
I was trying to tell him how some instruments need to be transposed from what is written, but then I realized I didn't really know what I was talking about.

So, why is music for some instruments written differently then how it's played?
And how difficult would the saxophone be to learn, likely without lessons?
#2
i think saxophone would be tough to learn on your own. maybe he can find lessons somewhere in his area? i have a friend who plays sax and he told me why you transpose from how it's written, but i dont remember what he said. i'll ask him again when I see him.
#4
I've played sax for the last 9-10 years and i think it would be pretty tough to learn without a teacher. But not impossible.
#5
Ok, thanks. Can someone (briefly, if possible), explain the transposition bit? Is it as simple as transposing what's written up or down to a different key to play it?
Yeah, I think there would be sax lessons around town, he just doesn't seem like he'd want them. I'm sure he'd end up taking them though.
#6
Transposition is there for the ease of reading the music. Take, for example, the Alto Sax. It's an Eb instrument, which means when it plays a C, a piano would be playing an Eb. It's written a minor third down from where it plays. If it wasn't, it would be difficult reading and playing notes in the higher end of the range, because it would either be partially written with 8va over it, or with quite a few ledger lines, which can be a pain to sight read.

EDIT: Also, this means that for an alto sax to be playing in the same key as a C instrument (guitar, piano, flute, etc.), you would have to transpose. So if the sax is playing in the key of D, the guitar would be playing in the key of F.
Last edited by timeconsumer09 at Jun 30, 2009,
#7
Alto Sax is written a major sixth up from where it plays, not a minor third down. If you transpose it a minor third down, you'll end up an octave off.
"I love music, it's not like math. In music, 2+2 can equal 5, if it's a pretty enough 5." -Samuel R. Hazo

"Alle menschen werden bruder- all men become brothers"
-Ludwig Van Beethoven, from his 9th Symphony.

-John
#8
Quote by timeconsumer09
Transposition is there for the ease of reading the music. Take, for example, the Alto Sax. It's an Eb instrument, which means when it plays a C, a piano would be playing an Eb. It's written a minor third down from where it plays. If it wasn't, it would be difficult reading and playing notes in the higher end of the range, because it would either be partially written with 8va over it, or with quite a few ledger lines, which can be a pain to sight read.

EDIT: Also, this means that for an alto sax to be playing in the same key as a C instrument (guitar, piano, flute, etc.), you would have to transpose. So if the sax is playing in the key of D, the guitar would be playing in the key of F.

i think its stupid honestly, and so did my high school music teachers actually. because you would still run into a "hard" key to read and play even with transposing. it doesnt really change anything. i bought a sax but havent been able to play it much. but i wrote out the scales and notes to what they actually are. i dont plan on reading and sheet music, i just want to play some blues and such.
#9
There are several reasons why there are transposing instruments, hence the wikipedia link in my last post. Its not just for ease of reading - some are for historical reasons, some are to enable families of instruments to maintain the same fingering, some brass instruments can be adapted to different keys by changing the length of the tubing using 'crooks' but the fundamental pitch of teh instrument is still notated as 'C'...
#10
Quote by zhilla
There are several reasons why there are transposing instruments, hence the wikipedia link in my last post. Its not just for ease of reading - some are for historical reasons, some are to enable families of instruments to maintain the same fingering, some brass instruments can be adapted to different keys by changing the length of the tubing using 'crooks' but the fundamental pitch of teh instrument is still notated as 'C'...


Noooobody uses crooks anymore lol. The whole transposing thing is a big deal for us horn players, because, as you said, back in the Classical Era and right up until the middle of the Romantic Era horns were written in whatever key the song was in. So Beethoven's Symphony No. 3 in Eb is written for horn in Eb. There are obviously a bunch of exceptions, but that's the general trend.

See, the horn, and all brass instruments, without valves, is limited to a "harmonic series." So, on my horn, when I hold no valves, I get the C harmonic series, which is C E G A C D E F G A B C D. And when I push down my second valve, it lowers a half-step, so I get B D# F# G# B etc etc etc. Well, horn players, as you may have noticed, play with their hand in the bell. The historical reason for this is because somebody in the 1700s developed a method known as "hand horn" in which, by manipulating your hand around in the bell, you could get a complete scale, and fill in those missing notes in the harmonic series. But, you were still somewhat limited by what key your horn was in, because there were still a bunch of notes that were impossible to play. And every time you wanted to switch keys, as you said, you had to yank out one crook and put in another. So people would show up to these concerts with their horn and literally like 10 or 11 crooks hanging off their arm. Major orchestras would actually pay kids to sit next to the horn player and manage the crooks for him, so that the player could focus on his playing.

Another issue is that all these crooks had completely different sounds. Horn in Eb sounded with a completely different timbre to horn in B or H. SO eventually, around the middle of the 19th century, somebody came up with an idea to remove the crooks altogether, and came up with the valve. Interestingly enough, though, the valve was not ultimately designed to enable fully chromatic playing. Its purpose was that the performer could hold down the valve combination corresponding to the key that the horn was pitched in, and then continue with his hand-horn technique. This way, instead of carrying all those crooks, the crooks were just part of the horn. Well, somebody was thinking and was like "Guys, this is stupid, if I just continually switch fingerings, I can play all the notes." And he did, and ultimately, the valve horn caught on.

The point of this (much longer than I intended) story is that, still, when you read horn music, you'll read parts that say "Horn in H basso" or "Horn in Eb." And, since our instrument is pitched in F, we have to transpose it on the fly, while reading. It makes for some very interesting sight-reading, because we'll frequently transpose a note off by a half-step and ruin the chord for the ensemble.

The End.
"I love music, it's not like math. In music, 2+2 can equal 5, if it's a pretty enough 5." -Samuel R. Hazo

"Alle menschen werden bruder- all men become brothers"
-Ludwig Van Beethoven, from his 9th Symphony.

-John
#11
Quote by jslick07
....us horn players...
You play french horn?!

Blows any 'guitar vs bass which is the hardest' discussion out of the water and into the next county!
#12
Yes sir! Have for 8 years now, and I love it.
"I love music, it's not like math. In music, 2+2 can equal 5, if it's a pretty enough 5." -Samuel R. Hazo

"Alle menschen werden bruder- all men become brothers"
-Ludwig Van Beethoven, from his 9th Symphony.

-John
#13
Quote by jslick07
The point of this (much longer than I intended) story is that, still, when you read horn music, you'll read parts that say "Horn in H basso" or "Horn in Eb." And, since our instrument is pitched in F, we have to transpose it on the fly, while reading. It makes for some very interesting sight-reading, because we'll frequently transpose a note off by a half-step and ruin the chord for the ensemble.


If your almost always transposing, then why not write all the music for "Horn in C" and always have to transpose the same amount?
#14
Well the problem isn't new music. It's old music. When you play, like, a Beethoven Symphony, you play the original parts, which were written for horn in whatever key. All NEW music is written for horn in F. The problem is the stuff that's left over.
"I love music, it's not like math. In music, 2+2 can equal 5, if it's a pretty enough 5." -Samuel R. Hazo

"Alle menschen werden bruder- all men become brothers"
-Ludwig Van Beethoven, from his 9th Symphony.

-John
#15
I disagree that sax would be hard to learn. As long as you get a lesson book (usually available at local music shops, or online) you can teach yourself. I'm getting lessons right now, but i bet i could get just as far (if not farther) in the book by myself.
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#16
dont worry about transposition just yet, if he's just learning than he needs to concentrate on the basics (tone and proper technique, bla bla bla). The rest will come with time i assure you.
"Forget the rules. If it sounds good, it is good."
-Eddie Van Halen
#17
Quote by Skully12
dont worry about transposition just yet, if he's just learning than he needs to concentrate on the basics (tone and proper technique, bla bla bla). The rest will come with time i assure you.


Transposition is a completely mental thing, whereas "the basics" are physical things. Seeing a D and playing a B is easy to do if your accustomed to theory, and doesn't make the learning of technique any harder, unless of course the key your transposing to requires more challenging fingerings.
#18
One reason saxophones are transposed is so that you can use the same fingering on every sax for the same written note on the staff. Since every step down switches between Eb and Bb (Alto, Tenor, Bari, etc.). If they wrote them all in the same key, you would have to learn different sets of fingerings and couldn't just switch between them all with ease.

Edit: I play horn in band also.
Last edited by Anteaterking at Jul 2, 2009,
#19
Quote by Anteaterking
One reason saxophones are transposed is so that you can use the same fingering on every sax for the same written note on the staff. Since every step down switches between Eb and Bb (Alto, Tenor, Bari, etc.). If they wrote them all in the same key, you would have to learn different sets of fingerings and couldn't just switch between them all with ease.

Edit: I play horn in band also.


Yet string players all play in C, while having different tunings, and using different clefs. Why should they get things easier?
#20
Firstly, strings have various ways to play the same notated notes. I can play an open E, or fourth finger on the A if I'm in regular position, etc.

Secondly, the technique required to play the string family isn't as close as it is for saxes. Besides the extreme ranges, from what I have heard from saxophone players, each instrument is the exact "same". Whereas look at the switch from Violin/Viola to Cello.
#21
Quote by Anteaterking
Firstly, strings have various ways to play the same notated notes. I can play an open E, or fourth finger on the A if I'm in regular position, etc.

Secondly, the technique required to play the string family isn't as close as it is for saxes. Besides the extreme ranges, from what I have heard from saxophone players, each instrument is the exact "same". Whereas look at the switch from Violin/Viola to Cello.


I know. I know. It just seems kind of ridiculous that sax players should get that convenience, while we don't. I don't need a cello tuned in fourths that sounds an octave or fifth above a bass, while using the same notation.
#22
Again, the reasons for that are largely historical. The saxophone was developed MUCH later than string instruments, and considerations were much different at the time strings were developed than when the sax was.
"I love music, it's not like math. In music, 2+2 can equal 5, if it's a pretty enough 5." -Samuel R. Hazo

"Alle menschen werden bruder- all men become brothers"
-Ludwig Van Beethoven, from his 9th Symphony.

-John