1. This site uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. Learn More.
  2. Hi Guest, welcome to the TES Community!

    Connect with like-minded education professionals and have your say on the issues that matter to you.

    Don't forget to look at the how to guide.

    Dismiss Notice

Writing music for Saxophone

Discussion in 'Music' started by musiclover1, Apr 25, 2013.

  1. musiclover1

    musiclover1 New commenter

    Hi! I've recently started helping at my son's school orchestra. There was a new girl there - she had a saxophone but there was no music for her. So I volunteered to organise or write some.
    The problem is, I've got myself confused regarding what key she's meant to be playing in. The mum told me that her teacher said a trombone part would be appropriate for her. How can this be? I looked on the internet (as I'm a violinist myself) and it said that trombones play in Bflat, and saxophones in Eflat. I know there are different types, but in a primary school orchestra, I'm assuming that the saxes are alto and the trombones tenor??

    If the rest of the orchestra is playing in G-major,then wouldn't the saxophone part need to be in Bflat major? And when the orchestra plays in Aminor, the saxophone would have to be in Cminor?

    Also, presumably a beginner can't play sharps and flats yet, right?

    Thanks for helping.
     
  2. musiclover1

    musiclover1 New commenter

    Hi! I've recently started helping at my son's school orchestra. There was a new girl there - she had a saxophone but there was no music for her. So I volunteered to organise or write some.
    The problem is, I've got myself confused regarding what key she's meant to be playing in. The mum told me that her teacher said a trombone part would be appropriate for her. How can this be? I looked on the internet (as I'm a violinist myself) and it said that trombones play in Bflat, and saxophones in Eflat. I know there are different types, but in a primary school orchestra, I'm assuming that the saxes are alto and the trombones tenor??

    If the rest of the orchestra is playing in G-major,then wouldn't the saxophone part need to be in Bflat major? And when the orchestra plays in Aminor, the saxophone would have to be in Cminor?

    Also, presumably a beginner can't play sharps and flats yet, right?

    Thanks for helping.
     
  3. florian gassmann

    florian gassmann Star commenter

    The tenor trombone is NOT a transposing instrument, except when written in the treble clef (which sometimes occurs in brass band music, but not in orchestral music).
    It is likely that the saxophone will be an alto in Eb, so its part needs to be written a major 6th higher than it sounds (Eb sounds when C is written and, almost all transposing instruments sound lower than notated pitch).
    So, if the orchestra are playing in G, I'm afraid the alto sax part will need to be in E major. And when they are playing in A minor, the sax will need to be in F# minor.
    A beginner may well manage F# and Bb, but I'm afraid they are likely to struggle with E major and F# minor. The general rule for beginner ensembles with clarinets, trumpets and saxes is to choose music in flat keys for simplicity (although this is not so good for string players, as you will undoubtedly know!).
     
  4. marlin

    marlin Star commenter

    Perhaps she meant that the trombone part could be transposed for her rather than a melody line that might be written with a flute or violin in mind - she would be better with a harmony part possibly. Just a thought.
    If you know what grade the girl is working towards, you could always look at the scales required for that grade (and the ones before) to see what keys she is used to playing in. You can view the requirements for grades 1-8 here:
    http://gb.abrsm.org/en/our-exams/woodwind-exams/saxophone-exams/
     
  5. musiclover1

    musiclover1 New commenter

    Thank you for your help, that's really useful. I'll have another look at the music and try my best.
     
  6. musiclover1

    musiclover1 New commenter

    Maybe the trombones were bass trombones then? It definetely said 'Bflat trombone' on the part.
     
  7. marlin

    marlin Star commenter

    A tenor trombone (the most commonly played in schools) is sometimes called a Bb trombone I believe. A tenor trombone is non-transposing and usually plays in the bass clef.
     
  8. florian gassmann

    florian gassmann Star commenter

    Yes, the tenor trombone is sometimes called a Bb trombone, but that is because its fundamental note (with slide in first position, fully closed) is Bb. It is not "<u>in</u> Bb" in the sense that it is a transposing instrument (except, as I mentioned, when notated in the treble clef as a brass band instrument).
     
  9. Red wine fan

    Red wine fan New commenter

    It could be that they meant a bass clef instrument, rather than a tenor or Bb trombone. Saxophones can read bass clef parts but they have to either add 3 sharps or 3 flats to play as treble, can't remember which, sorry, but my username tells you why!


    DD1 plays both alto sax and cello and can perform from the same written parts on either instrument. When she first started sax she struggled like mad with the transposition to C/ concert pitch until I pointed it out. Now she is amazing at it!
     
  10. lilachardy

    lilachardy Star commenter

    Your best bet is to write it at pitch in Sibelius, which will then transpose it for you.
     
  11. florian gassmann

    florian gassmann Star commenter

    The normal clef for a tenor (or Bb) trombone IS the bass clef, especially at junior orchestra level. But you are quite right about the short cut - imagine the part in the treble clef and add 3 sharps (as I said earlier, if the sounding pitch is G, the alto sax part would need to be in E - i.e. 3 sharps added).
    Phew!
    If I was arranging the part, I think I'd do what I once heard Britten doing when he took part as a Violist in Purcell's fantasia at Aldeburgh - stick to one note throughout! I remember him looking very happy and not in the least put out that his part was not more adventurous!
     
  12. There are a couple of low tech short cuts you could try; one is to give the tenor sax player the Trombone or Baritone Part in T.C. (Treble clef), many arrangements have this. FOr some strange reason, trombones and baritones play Bb, not concert parts when they're in Treble clef...so tenor sax can play that part too, no transposition needed, and not too difficult either.

    They could also play trumpet parts, maybe a 3rd ***.

    On Altos and Bari Sax, you could use a bass clef part and add 3#s to the key signature, tell the student to read it as if its in Treble clef.
     

Share This Page