Transposing Music: How many sharps?

My son is transposing trombone music to trumpet. The trumpet part is in F Concert.
He asks: How many sharps for the trumpet score, and what concert notes are they on?

I have no idea what any of this means, but I’ll relay any questions or responsess to him.

(This isn’t an assignment, really–he’s working on a piece for his jazz combo.)

Thanks for any help, MusicDopers!


I assume you mean the trombone part is in F? Anyway, trombones are in C (bass clef, important to remember when he’s transposing) and trumpets are in Bb - you add 2 sharps when going from C to Bb.

If the trombone part is in F, which is one flat, then the trumpet part would have one sharp in the key signature, and therefore be in the key of G.

As a general rule, to transpose from concert to Bb (trumpet key), you play one whole-step higher and add 2 sharps. A sharp cancels a flat, so if you’re in Eb (3 flats) you end up in 1 flat (F). With a bit of practice, it can be done on the fly, while sight reading. Bass clef I never learned, but it can be done…I’ve seen it!

If bodypoet says “The trumpet part is in F concert” that means it sounds in the key of F. In this context, “concert” refers to the actual pitch, not the notated pitch. The score the trumpeter looks at has one sharp and seems to be in the key of G. The trombone part, which is nontransposing, when it says F it really means F. So to get from transposing trumpet part’s G to nontransposing trombone part’s F, just lose a sharp, add a flat, and drop everything down one whole step. That’s apart from having to switch from treble clef to bass clef. (Musical geek note: in symphony orchestra scores, trombones traditionally read from the “tenor clef”… but for school bands nowadays they use the bass clef.)

I played trombone in a brass band, and learned to play using the treble clef. 1st position (open) would be written as C, and sound as Bb.

Later I joined an orchestra, where the trombone part was in bass clef. 1st position was written as Bb, and sounded as Bb.

I found this really hard - my brain could not easily keep track of the one position representing two (notated) notes. How does everyone else do this? Dynamic sight reading?

Marcus, I could be wrong, but I think it’s just a convention. I’ve read a lot of brass band and orchestra scores (thank you, Grandpa) and in the band scores, some non-transposing instruments are written as if they were. I think it may be because, as compared to an orchestra, with fewer transposing instruments, a brass band is nearly all transposing instruments. So a composer could write most of the instruments in the same key, to make it easier on the director and players.

Marcus: I play trombone in my university’s symphony orchestra and have to swap back & forth between bass, tenor, and alto clefs on a regular basis. Yes, it’s difficult at first to remember that “that note’s a C, not an F”; but tenor clef is second nature to me now. (After six years of playing in orchestras, granted.) Alto clef is less common, and very easy to confuse with tenor clef; if I’m given such a part I still find it necessary to write in note-names from time to time.

Added bonus comment: a transposed trombone part written in treble clef as you describe (or, for that matter, a trumpet part) can be read almost immediately by a trombone player familiar with tenor clef, since the notes are all in the same positions on the staff. For example, a written B on a treble clef part, on the third line of the staff, corresponds to a played A, which in on the third line of a tenor clef part. (Of course, you do have to worry about key signature, accidentals, etc.)

Comment on bonus comment: You can do the same thing with Eb instruments reading C bass clef - I used to read tuba music in high school when I played bari sax and we were short on tubas.

It’s been a while, but I think the general routine was: add 3 sharps to the key signature, then play the notes as written; if you come across an accidental, consider a flat as a natural and a natural as a sharp. Stupid music tricks!

Thanks for the replies, av8rmike and MikeS.

Unfortunately, I learned in the brass band, so treble clef was the first thing I learned. I remember the first time I played in an orchestra, with bass clef, I played a C or whatever, and it came out a tone below. The conductor glanced at me, but the glance became a glare after a phrase or two. I was thinking to myself, “Who wrote this garbage?” Much laughter later on though :slight_smile:

I’ve never used tenor clef, but it seems from what you’re saying that the secret is just to become good at it, but in your head only have one note name for each position. So in my example above, the open position is always Bb, regardless of clef. However, when coming up against a C in treble clef, I should transpose it a tone down in my head, and play it as a Bb. Sound right?