View Full Version : understanding converting between Piano and Alto Sax
Please help me understand this puzzle for me.
I know that the Alto is an "E flat" instrument and the Piano is a "C" instrument.
I am told (I say this because I don't understand why) when you play the "C" key on the Piano/Keyboard, you will have to play the "B flat" key on the Alto sax to produce the same sound.
First off, I though the "C" note sounded the same on all instruments as did the "D", "E", etc. Am I wrong to assume this? Or the "C" sound is just relative to the instrument being played and it is not necessarily tied to a sound.
Here is more. I went to the piano and tried to play some melody, wrote down the notes and tried them on my sax. I tried this two three times and I was able to play it on my Alto sax without any conversion. How could this happen when the keys are not suppose to be the same?
In my case, most of the music I want to play is played using Tenor sax and there are no sheet music.
10-29-2004, 08:33 PM
Here's a link to a chart that may help you understand transposing better.
10-29-2004, 11:25 PM
"I know that the Alto is an "E flat" instrument and the Piano is a "C" instrument. "
"I am told (I say this because I don't understand why) when you play the "C" key on the Piano/Keyboard, you will have to play the "B flat" key on the Alto sax to produce the same sound. "
Not correct. you need to play "A" on the alto sax, to sound C on the piano.
"First off, I though the "C" note sounded the same on all instruments as did the "D", "E", etc. Am I wrong to assume this?"
Correct. (You are indeed wrong.) There are two quite separate systems for using the note names. Confusion arises because of the use of these two separate systems alongside eachother, often with the context being used to determine which system is meant.
In one of them, called "Concert Pitch" , (or "on the piano"), each name refers to a particular frequency, a particular pitch, e.g. A refers to something vibrating at 440 cycles per second.
In the other system, the note names refer to particular (or very similar FINGERINGS." The fingering, more or less the same on different instruments, that we call "C" will produce a different pitch depending on the size of the instrument. This system is for the convenience of people who may be playing, possibly in quick succession, several instrumnets in different pitches, say a flute (in C) a clarinet (in Bb or A), an alto sax (in Eb) or even an alto fltue (in G). The player can read a note called "C" in the music, apply a fingering that is similar on every instrument, and not have to think about a diferent fingering on every instrument.
"Here is more. I went to the piano and tried to play some melody, wrote down the notes and tried them on my sax. I tried this two three times and I was able to play it on my Alto sax without any conversion. How could this happen when the keys are not suppose to be the same?"
Perhpas you are mixing up the two systems. Say you play a C on the piano. You write this down as a C on the stave. If you what is known as the fingering for C on the (any) sax, then the (concert pitch) note actually produced is Eb. Perhaps you are actually doing a fingering known as the one for "A". This would produce a concert pitch C.
"In my case, most of the music I want to play is played using Tenor sax and there are no sheet music. "
If the piano and singers are singing what they call C, and you are playing the same note, then the name for the FINGERING for the note you are playing is called D. If you did have some sheet music labeled "Tenor Sax", then that note would also be PRINTED as a D. (And an alto sax player would have the same concert pitch note printed on ALTO SAX music as an A). All this alteration of what is written is so that all players END UP playing the same note, no matter what they call the fingerings on their particular instruments.
I hope that clarifies more than it confuses!
10-29-2004, 11:26 PM
Lela: That chart is a good one. If you are still confused, please know that many instruments are called "transposing instruments" because they are pitched differently than a piano (or "concert" pitch). Most saxophones, clarinets, and trumpets are transposing instruments.
Hence, all saxophones have the same fingerings (basically), but they all don't sound the same tone with the same fingering. For instance, a Bb tenor/soprano's fingered C sounds a piano's Bb, while an Eb baritone or alto's fingered C sounds a piano's Eb.
So, to play along with a piano using the same score as a piano, you need to have music especially written for your instrument (unless you are playing a C-melody saxophone - then you can read right off the piano music). Or, you can do as many of us do, and play it by ear, knowing that when a piano plays a tune in Bb, you must play by ear in your Eb saxophone's G scale (or C scale if you are playing a Bb saxophone). I know this topic is clear as mud to beginners. DAVE
10-30-2004, 02:25 PM
The issue arises because "they" want to make it easier to read the printed music for any given instrument by placing the printed music more or less in the center of the staff. It's actually the printed music which is transposed to make it easier for a sax player to read it. Transposing the printed music has an additional advantage of making the fingerings for all the printed notes the same. In other words a 4th line D will always be fingered the same on any sax, but the pitch that comes our of the horn will be different. I believe the "register" of a Baritone Sax is actually in the bass clef, however the printed music for it is written in the treble clef to make "read" the same as any other sax. Again the advantage is you can switch saxes without have to adjust for different fingers for a given written note which would most likely result in a lot of confusion. It is the composer or arranger of the music that has to adjust the printed music for the various instruments of the orchestra so that what they play comes out at the right pitch and range of their particular instrument.
10-30-2004, 02:39 PM
Here's a link to a chart that may help you understand transposing better.
Believe it or not, I'm confused by the chart even though I got an A in scoring and arranging when I was in college.
Here's another side to the story. When I was in college, I played drums in a sextet which was fashioned after the Paul Winter Sextet, The leader of the band was a very fine classical clarinet player, but his jazz saxophone playing left something to be desired. After he got his Bachelor's Degree, he started on his Master's degree. He had to take a music theory test to show his proficiency. He didn't pass the test, but he was a good talker, and he told the professors that he was just rusty, and that if they would give him some theory exercises to take home, he would be able to complete them successfully and thus be able to skip whatever courses they were going to make him take. He then paid me $20.00 to do the exercises which he then copied in his own hand writing and submitted. This time he passed. He went on to get a Doctorate, and became a professor at the Eastman School of Music. I always get a big kick out of the fact that I'm the one who actually did his theory exams.
I hope posting this story doesn't get him into trouble. I think the statute of limitations has expired anyway.
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