Transposing alto sax music to piano

• Mar 11, 2018 - 18:19

Kindly see both attachments for my two questions.

Thank you very much!


It isn't quite clear what you have done here, but normally, if you had created the music for alto sax in the first place, then it would automatically transpose for piano just by clicking Concert Pitch, or if you right click the staff, go to Staff Properties, and Change Instrument to piano. You shouldn't need to manually use Notes / Transpose at all. But if you do choose to go that route, be sure not to uncheck the option to transpose key signatures, which it seems you may have done for some reason. Or maybe you didn't use that dialog at all and just used the arrow keys? not clear what you did.

Anyhow to answer the specific questions:

1) F does transpose tio Ab. Your example doesn't have any F's, though - only F#'s. Which transpose correctly as A. Had your original contained any F's, they would have transposed as Ab, not to worry.

2) Not related to transposition, but to learn more about time signatures, beast to read up that in a book on reading music. The short version is, they are trying to suggest the fundamental "feel" of the piece is two beats per measure. So if you were to march or dance to it, the steps would coincide with half notes, not quarter notes.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

Thank you, Marc!

May I follow up on this and your other much appreciated reply?

This is what I did:
Before writing for alto sax I first went to the instrument dialog box but could not find an option for an E flat instrument. I was then going to figure out how to transpose to piano, not knowing about or understanding "concert pitch."

Not finding the option of an E flat instrument, I wrote it as written on the alto sax music and then went to the notes command on the menu bar, selected transpose, then selected "down by an interval of a major sixth" per the instructions I found on the internet on how to transpose from an alto sax to piano.

I will study up on concert pitch as you and Schoichi kindly suggested and experiment with it. Assuming that my "down by an interval of a major sixth" approach correctly transposed it from alto sax to piano, will I know I have used the concert pitch feature correctly if it gives me the same results as shown on the second (piano) line of my attachment? And, would you mind any follow-up questions once I complete my study and experiments?

After comparing the two lines of music I wrote for alto sax and then for piano, and seeing all the other notes followed the transposing formula I was using, the A natural did sound correct to my ear while the A flat did not. Because I did indeed forget that the Fs were sharped, I could not reconcile why the A natural appeared to not follow the formula. Thank you for pointing this out to me! I learn a lot from my mistakes and am confident I won't make this one again.

And thank you for also answering my time signature question.

Best wishes.

In reply to by Megan R

Although it doesn´t mention the pitch, most Alto saxes are in E flat and that is what MuseScore has in the list and if you just select the correct transposing instrument MuseScore will help you with the rest. Here´s a brief way of doing it:

Start with Concert Pitch mode turnewd off.
Select a concert-pitch instrument such as piano.
Add in your transposing instruments (you may have to select “All instruments” to see some of them).
Drag the key signature onto the concert-pitch instrument´s stave and MuseScore will change the key signatures for the transposing instruments.

Now you can either turn Concert Pitch on which can make it easier to enter notes for many different instruments OR you can leave it off if you are particularly familiar with the transposing instrument and can do the transposing in your head. You can even flip between the two modes to check for things such as playability for your transposing instruments. As with all new things, though, you will need to practise.

In reply to by Megan R

FYI, "Alto saxophone" is under the Woodwind section. It doesn't explicitly say "Eb" in the name because there are no other keys for alto saxophone, so it's commonly listed without the key.

Yes, if you create music for alto sax and press the Concert Pitch button, it transposes correctly. Better than your example, because it gets the key signature correct as well. You do have to make sure you enter the music correctly though when working with transposing instruments. Any time you go to enter notes, you want to be sure you are doing so with the Concert Pitch button in the correct position. If you want to enter the notes at sounding pitch - which is what most composers / arrangers do when entering music they are creating themselves - then be sure Concert Pitch is enabled while entering the notes. but if you are copying existing music that has already been transposed appropriately for the instrument, then be sure Concert Pitch is not pressed while entering notes.

If you've already entered music with the instrument set to piano, then you do indeed need to manually transpose with Notes / Transpose. This is also how you would correct an error like if you accidentally enter a bunch of music with the Concert Pitch button in the wrong position.

And yes, always free to ask questions here!

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

Thank you very much, Marc, for your instructions and invitation to follow-up after reading and they trying things out.

I looked for alto sax under brass instruments thinking it would be listed where I would find a trumpet. You are dealing with a student here so I sincerely appreciate yours and other responder's patience, corrections, and comments.

In reply to by mike320

My response to that is that flutes and relatives such as recorders use no reeds but are a significant portion of the woodwind family.

I'm guessing traditionally a woodwind was most commonly made of wood, until other materials became practical, such as metal flutes, saxophones, etc. Hence the name woodwind, as opposed to "brasswind" instruments.

I suppose the essential difference between a woodwind and a brass instrument is that in the former, you blow across a reed or a material edge and the airstream makes that material vibrate. With a brass instrument you blow into a mouthpiece with tension and pressure across your lips, which causes your lips to vibrate.

Or you can cheat by sticking a brass mouthpiece into the neck of a saxophone and have fun with that.

In reply to by Megan R

I regretfully am still having difficulty following the instructions given so I would like to start my inquiry over. I do not know if it makes a difference but this is how my inquiry got started:

I have acquired a sheet music book and on its cover it says “for alto sax.” Since I am learning to play piano and was interested in eventually playing solo songs in this book (without an alto sax or any other instrument), I assumed I would first have to transpose the alto sax music to piano.

  1. Is this assumption correct?
  2. If the alto sax (an E flat instrument I understand it to be) is written in D major, what must it be in for me to play on my piano keyboard?

Now that I have been exposed to the concert button and the instructions provided me, I have done my best to follow them but it appears I still am not doing something correctly.

Would any of you care to look at my attached attempt and show me how the music should look for me to play it on my piano keyboard?

Thank you.

In reply to by Megan R

If you want to enter an Alto Sax song in the key of D (2 sharps) you need to enter the concert key of F (I think of adding 3 flats or subtracting 3 sharps). When you enter the key of F, with the concert pitch button off, MuseScore will automatically transpose the key to D.

At this point you can enter your song for the Alto Sax in the key of D.

When you want to change to an instrument in C (or any other key), then right click the staff, choose staff properties and click change instrument and select the proper instrument then a couple of ok's and your score will be automagically transposed for the new instrument. The only issue might be that some notes could be out of the new instruments range. You will have to decide how you want to handle that.

In reply to by Megan R

If something is written for alto sax, you don't have to transpose it in order to play it on piano. You only need to transpose it if you want to play it at the same time as someone playing the same music on alto sax. That way you'll both be in the same key. But if you don't bother to transpose, that's fine, it will still sound right, just in a different key, which won't matter if no one else is playing it along with you.

If your intent is to play on piano along with an alto sax, then you do indeed need to transpose, and this is what MuseScore does automatically for you if you let it. If the music you are copying was written for alto sax in the key of D, starting with the note F#, then you need to realize that D major for alto sax is actually F concert, so when you create your score, you need to tell it you want the key of F. Then your alto staff will show a key of D, and the piano staves will show a key of F, and Concert Pitch will be turned off. Now you can start entering your notes onto the alto staff. When you are done, simply copy and paste on the piano staff and you'll see everything is transposed automatically - you don't even need to need to press the Concert Pitch button, since piano is always at concert pitch. Or, instead of copying to the piano staff, you can press Concert Pitch, and the alto staff itself will be transposed so you can play it on piano.

In your example, though, I think you have unfortunately entered the music incorrectly. If it was written for alto sax in D, you needed to have entered it that way with concert pitch off. Since you entered it that way with concert pitch on, you need to fix this error by manually transposing it. Firs,t turn off Concert Pitch, and you'll see the music for alto changing to the key of B, while piano stays D. That's not what you want - you want D for alto, F for piano. So, now Ctrl+A to select all, then Notes / Transpose to change the key to F. Also specific you want notes transposed down (otherwise they'll be an octave too high for alto).

In the future, the manual transposition won't be necessary if you start out correctly. You just have to enter the original key and notes correctly in the first place. Since the music was already transposed for alto sax, you need to specific the correct concert key when creating the score, and make sure concert pitch is off when entering the notes.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

Dear Responders,

I have carefully read your instructions several times and attached is my understanding as to how to follow them, along with follow up questions. And thank, you, Marc, for explaining transposing isn't necessary if I will be playing solo piano. I am grateful for the guidance on how to transpose if playing with another instrument as who knows what the future may bring and I like to learn new things anyway.

I very much appreciate all this assistance and hope I have utilized this assistance correctly.

Attachment Size
Masterpiece_Theatre_Theme.mscz 11.9 KB

In reply to by Megan R

Nailed it!

To answer your third question, you have to do the math yourself I'm afraid. That is, take the key you see and transpose it in your head down a major sixth to find the concert key. Actually, that's not how most people think of it - instead they think in terms of adding three flats / subtracting three sharps from the key signature. The first note of a song has no relevance whatsoever, it could be anything. You need to know that two sharps is D major, and then do the math to figure out this is concert F, either by transposing D down a major sixth or by adding three flats to the key signature, going from two sharps (negative two flats) to one flat.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

Thanks, Marc! I am glad everyone's efforts paid off in my being able to transposing correctly. And thank you for explaining that the starting note is of no consequence.

Even though there are two different key signatures on the Masterpiece staves, they are playing in the same key when playing together? I would think so else they just would sound disjointed when playing together.

Regarding your above formula, can the Circle of Fifths be used to figure the key to which to transpose? if so, would the original key of D flat transpose to E? C would transpose to Eb? Ab to B? A to C? G to Bb?
F# to A?

Thank you.

In reply to by Megan R

The circle of fifths does nothing to help transpose an instrument. It shows the progression which note has which key signature only.

When the distance between the key of two instruments in a major 6th in an instrument such as a piano and Alto Sax, the easiest way to determine the transposition is in terms of adding 3 sharps/subtracting 3 flats to go from piano to alto sax.

When you get closer to C it is often easier to think in terms of notes only such as any instrument in Bb such as most clarinets, trumpets and tenor sax. The transposition (for the key) is always 1 step up going from piano to these instruments. So concert C is the key of D.

The most important thing for me to transposing all instruments is that if the key of the instrument tells which concert pitch causes the instrument to play C. So Concert Eb tells an alto sax to play C. Concert Bb tells a Bb instrument to play C. I can use this knowledge to transpose any instrument to or from C. This is of course necessary if you are writing a solo for a non C instrument.

In reply to by mike320

Thank you, Mike.
:-( I thought looking at a Circle of Fifths that included all the sharps and flats would help me visualize the adding and/or subtracting of sharps and flats. So, the examples I gave in my previous post (i.e., original key of
D flat would transpose to E; C would transpose to Eb; Ab to B; A to C; G to Bb; and F# to A) are all incorrect?

Regarding this formula of adding 3 sharps or subtracting 3 flats mentioned by you and Marc (I believe his instructions were to subtract 3 sharps and add 3 flats) and about lowering by a major sixth, does this formula ONLY apply if transposing from an E flat instrument to a C instrument? Would the formula be different for a
B flat or other non-E flat instrument transposing to a C instrument?

Thank you!

In reply to by Megan R

I hinted at the formula in my previous post. To make sure we have terminology clear, C is the key of a concert pitch instrument. Now to find out what key the instrument is in such as Bb means. This tells you that when a C instrument plays Bb, the Bb instrument will play C. So to get from Bb on the concert pitched instrument (2 flats in the key signature) add 2 sharps or subtract 2 flats to get the transposed pitch. To determine concert pitch you do the opposite - add 2 flats or subtract 2 sharps from the played pitch of the instrument. So for example, when a Bb trumpet plays an E (4 sharps) it is actually playing a concert D (4 sharps in E minus 2 sharps = 2 sharps = D). The same principle works for every instrument. An instrument in the key of A (3 sharps like some clarinets) will have you add 3 sharps or subtract 3 flats to get the concert pitch. This just happens to be the opposite of transposing an Eb instrument.

In reply to by mike320

I find that explanation confusing. I'm sure it makes sense to Mike, but I'd like to simplify.

Assume a Bb trumpet plays a C. The piano will match that pitch by playing a Bb.

So the Bb tumpet reads and plays the note C and the audience hears a Bb. Taken further, the Bb trumpet plays a piece written in the key of C and the audience hears a piece written in Bb. If a piano accompanies the trumpet, the piano's music will be written in the key of Bb (two flats), and all notes are written 1 step down from the trumpet's notes.

The key of C is the "reference" key signature. So it is logical to say that the Bb trumpet is "in" the key of Bb because when the musician reads music written in C, she is really playing in the key of Bb as heard by the audience.

An Eb alto saxophone plays a "C" and the equivalent concert (real) pitch is "Eb".

Here's a chart that shows each key and how to transpose to another for C, Eb, or Bb instruments

Attachment Size
Saxaxeman-Transposition-Chart.png 92.07 KB

In reply to by jim.weisgram

A very helpful chart, Jweisgram, thank you for attaching it.

Applying this chart to my posted question/examples:

to transpose from an Eb to C instrument would the original key of D flat transpose to E?; C would transpose to Eb?; Ab to B?; A to C?; G to Bb?; F# to A?,

it appears the answer to all of them is, yes, i.e., all correctly transposed. I invite anyone to confirm or correct this conclusion. To get these I used the Circle of Fifths, inspired to do so by Marc's previous instruction to add 3 flats and subtract 3 sharps.

In reply to by Megan R

The circle of fifths is indeed perfectly relevant in thinking about the key relationships, maybe not so much for the pitch relationships. Saying "add three flats" is basically the same as saying "move three notches on the circle of descending fifths". If picturing the circle helps with that, great!

Just to clarify about the direction: if you have the concert key and you want to calculate the key for alto sax, you add three sharps. That's the calculation that most people need to perform more often, so it is how the conversion is usually described (eg, "add three sharps for alto sax"). But in your case, you already had the alto sax key and needed to calculate the concert key - that's why you need to go the other way, and add three flats.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

Thank you, Marc, for confirming that using the Circle of Fifths is applicable when attempting to find the concert key. If this had not been the case, I would have remained puzzled. It was also helpful to me that you clarified the direction when adding or subtracting sharps or flats. I believe I understand all this now thanks to the patience and generosity of you and all the other respondents. I have learned a great deal through these exchanges. Hail, musescore!

If instead of manually entering the notes on musescore (as I did for my previously attached Masterpiece Theme sample, having first added both instrument staves, selecting the key of F with the concert pitch button turned off, and then manually entering the notes), but instead import the score as a PDF in the alto sax's D, could I still be able to add the piano staff in F and have both instruments transpose correctly? And what of the concert pitch button......on or off?

Thank you.

Do you still have an unanswered question? Please log in first to post your question.