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Saxophone/piano notes vs. alto sax notes


rfojr wrote at 2013-08-22 15:18:30
99% of the answers you will find on the internet will give you the standard issue answer of the "instrument is in another key and you must transpose".  In reality the instrument is not really in another key.  What has happened is the fact that the fingering chart for all types of saxophones is the same.

Because saxophones like any other instruments that use length, diameter, and a series holes to create notes, you're stuck with what that design creates.   Since the fingering chart doesnít change the instrument is said to be in a different key if what you finger does not equal what you hear.  If you create a new fingering chart for every sax (except the C Melody) and learn the unique fingerings the issue of transposition goes away.

C Melody saxophones actually play a C when you finger a C.  Altos and Baritones play an Eb when you finger a C, and Tenors and Sopranos play a Bb when you finger a C. Orchestras and bands that use sheet music have compensated for this issue of transposition by writing sheet music that is already transposed because they have assumed that you have learned traditional fingering, so you donít have to transpose on the fly.  

For those that will not be reading sheet music:  

If you haven't learned traditional fingering then simply re-write the fingering chart to make it reflect "what you hear is what you finger".  On alto and baritone re-label the traditional C fingering as Eb (3 steps up) and re-label the other notes by 3 steps up as well.  For tenor and soprano re-label C as Bb (2 steps lower) and re-label the other notes down by 2 steps as well.  This way works much better in a piano or guitar environment and eliminates the whole transposing on the fly confusion.


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Eugene Cantera


I have been a music educator for over 25 years and have taught on many levels from young children and school agers on through to college level, professional players and senior citizens. My main areas of expertise are saxophone(s) though I have taught many instruments including, guitar, bass, piano, oboe and drums to name a few. I have also done research on horns both vintage and new.


I have been in music education for 25 years and I have written and published in the subject of professional music education.

The Dallas Morning News, Dallas Business Journal, Marketing and Higher Education Newsletter.

Bachelor of Music Education, Hartt School of Music - The University of Hartford.

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