Have you ever noticed how some instruments read and play a C but it doesn’t match the C in the piano? Concert pitch vs playing pitch can be a challenge to understand, but don’t worry: today we are unveiling the mystery for you.
Ok, what do I need to know first?
First, we need to understand what a transposing instrument is. To put it simply, it is an instrument that produces a higher or lower pitch than indicated in music written for it. For example, the clarinet. If you read a C playing a Bb clarinet, the note that will sound will be a Bb.
Got it! What else then?
We also need to distinguish between the written and sounding notes of a transposing instrument. Music for those instruments is transposed into the key from the non-transposing ones. For example, playing a written C on clarinet or trumpet produces a non-transposing instrument’s Bb. This pitch would be called concert Bb.
Here we can see it graphically:
Notice that instruments in C do not need to transpose. Its concert pitch and playing pitch coincide.
Alright, I’m beginning to see the light.
You may be asking, why this complexity!? Well, imagine you play different types of saxophones and have to transpose every note in your head during a performance when you switch instruments. What a nightmare, right? If the sheet music is already transposed for your instruments, you can just play the written fingering that you are used to. Then, the transposing instrument does the rest. When you play a transposing instrument make sure you are reading the playing pitch score, not the concert pitch. Otherwise, it’ll sound off-key and you will get a nasty look from your band.
Now it all makes sense, thank you!
Happy to help!