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What does transposing mean for playing a scale?

I play the flute and bass guitar, but have always wanted to learn saxophone. The flute and bass are in the C key, but I know saxophones are transposing and different between them. I know that musical scores are written differently to "correct" this but what does that mean for just playing a major or minor scale? Is that scale also transposed so that a c scale for me on flute is different written notes for a sax?
 

saxhound

Moderator
Staff member
CE/Moderator
Yes. On a Bb instrument (tenor or soprano sax), a concert C major scale would be a D major scale. On an Eb instrument (alto or baritone sax), a concert C major scale would be an A major scale.
 
Got it. Do most sax players just stick with one type of sax, or at least ones in the same key (like tenor and soprano)? Seems like otherwise it would become a lot to memorize in your head and also buying a lot of sheet music, unless you are transposing your own.
 

saxhound

Moderator
Staff member
CE/Moderator
It depends. If you are playing in a group that has charts for each horn, you just read the music. Some folks do stick with one horn exclusively, but many will play multiple horns. I play alto, tenor, and baritone sax as well as clarinet, bass clarinet and flute (poorly). Most of my work is on tenor, but if I get a call to fill in on another horn, I am there. If you want to do musical theater, you need to play multiple horns to cover the book. In some cases that can expand to playing the double reeds (oboe, English horn and bassoon) and other exotica as well. The last show that I played was Nine to Five. The book I played (the second part) required tenor & baritone sax, clarinet, bass clarinet and flute. The first sax book was alto sax, clarinet, flute and piccolo. The woman who covered the part didn't have a piccolo, so she covered those parts on the flute, playing it up an octave where possible.

If you are playing from lead sheets or fake books in concert key, you quickly learn to transpose on the fly. This is (to me) easier on a Bb horn since you are playing one step above the written notes. On an Eb horn, you need to play a minor third below or a sixth above the written notes. That's a bit more difficult, although many pros do it all the time.
 
Thanks for that information! That's awesome that you play so many instruments. On the same line there what is your strategy for practicing so many instruments? At the moment I mainly play bass, but that's mainly cause acoustically it's quiet compared to the flute, but want to figure out a good way to practice both and eventually the sax.
 

Gandalfe

Admin and all around good guy.
Staff member
Administrator
For the different saxes, we often just pick an instrument and practice that as the fingering is the same for the most part. Not many people can transpose on the fly, kudos if you can. On the clarinets, it's pretty much the same. If I have a bass clarinet solo and I am playing primarily the bari sax, for example, I will practice the transitions to get the timing right for switch from one instrument to another. Understand I have long ago figured out the voicing for different instruments so your practice my vary. My hardest transitions voice-wise is from tenor sax to soprano clarinet. The tenor requires a looser embouchure and warmer air than the clarinet.
 
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