Music theory > Lessons > Pitch of sounds > Transposition > Transposing instruments

Transposing instruments

A transposing instrument is an instrument for which the written music notes sound differently from the notes heard.

The rule to remember

When an instrument in [XXX] plays a C then we hear a [XXX] in concert pitch.

- When a clarinet in B♭ plays a DO then we hear a B♭ in concert pitch.
- When a E♭ saxophone plays a DO then we hear a E♭ in concert pitch.
- When a horn in F plays a DO then we hear a F in concert pitch.

The term concert pitch is used to distinguish between the written, and the sounding notes of a transposing instrument.

Example of transposing instruments

Below are one non-transposing instrument (flute) and tree transposing instruments (Clarinet in B♭, alto saxophone in E♭ and horn in F). All these 4 parts sound exactly the same but are written differently:

List of most common transposing instruments

Here is a list of most common transposing instruments and of none-transposing instruments:

Transposing instruments in C

Sounding 2 octaves upper than written

C4 sounding C6

- Glockenspiel
- Crotales

Sounding 1 octave upper than written

C4 sounding C5

- Piccolo
- Sopranino recorder
- Soprano recorder
- Bass recorder
- Celesta
- Xylophone

Non-transposing instruments (sounding as written)

C4 sounding C4

- Violin
- Viola
- Cello
- Harp
- Piano
- Harpsichord
- Flute
- Tenor recorder
- Oboe
- Bassoon
- Trombone
- C trumpet

Sounding 1 octave lower than written

C4 sounding C3

- Tenor (voice) (if octave clef is not used)
- Guitar (if octave clef is not used)
- Bass guitar
- Banjo
- Double bass
- Bass flute
- Contrabassoon
- Double bass

Transposing instruments in E♭

Written C4, sounding E♭4

C4 sounding Eb4

- E♭ clarinet
- E♭ trumpet
- Soprano cornet
- Sopranino saxophone

Written C4, sounding E♭3

C4 sounding Eb3

- Alto saxophone
- Tenor horn

Written C4, sounding E♭2

C4 sounding Eb2

- Baritone saxophone

Transposing instruments in F

Written C4, sounding F3

C4 sounding F3

- English horn
- Horn (new notation)
- Wagner tuba (new notation)
- Basset horn

Transposing instruments in G

Written C4, sounding G4

C4 sounding G4

- Treble flute

Written C4, sounding G3

C4 sounding G3

- Alto flute

Transposing instruments in A

Written C4, sounding A3

C4 sounding A3

- Soprano clarinet (clarinet in A)

Transposing instruments in B♭

Written C4, sounding B♭3

C4 sounding Bb3

- B♭ clarinet
- Soprano saxophone
- B♭ Trumpet
- Cornet
- Flugelhorn
- Bass clarinet (when bass clef is used for German notation)
- B♭ marching horn

Written C4, sounding B♭2

C4 sounding Bb2

- Bass clarinet (when treble clef is used in French notation)
- Tenor saxophone
- Euphonium (when written in treble clef)

Written C4, sounding B♭1

C4 sounding Bb1

- Bass saxophone

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