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Second waltz by Shostakovich

I would like to transpose parts of Shostakovich's second waltz for the Bb clarinet. However, I have had no formal instruction in music theory, and the resources online are somewhat unclear.

Could someone describe the method to transpose this piece? Some guides online describe how to transpose a piece written in the treble clef (e.g. raise each note by two semitones), but none have said how to transpose the part written in the bass clef.

I would appreciate a detailed description of how the transposition should be done, including how to treat accidentals, etc.

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Did you already transpose these few measures? Because Wikipedia and a recording I just checked tell me the piece in C minor and Eb major, and this is in D minor/F major. –  Édouard Feb 23 at 20:15

6 Answers 6

Every note for the Bb clarinet should be written a major second higher than the sounding pitch. You're correct that that is two semitones. This is true regardless of whether there are accidentals or not, every single note needs to be two semitones higher. (A nice little rhyme that might help you is, "A transposing instrument sees a C, but plays it's key.") So when a Bb clarinet sees a C, it plays a Bb. Clef doesnt change any of this, since it only establishes a relative range of the same ultimate collection of notes, but the clarinet should never be written in bass clef, even when this means ledger lines beneath the treble clef. So that first note in the bass clef in your example, D, should be written as an E, three ledger lines and a space below the treble clef. Unfortunately, that's the lowest note the clarinet can play, so some notes will have to be brought up an octave.

However, the part you've copied here can't really be made for clarinet, because you have to play many notes at the same time, and outside of the specialized and strange sounding world of multiphonics, that isn't possible. Of course, you could certainly have a clarinet play the melody line, but you've only copied the accompaniment here.

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I upvoted this for being concise and clear, but I think the answer could be improved by including the information that transpositions are independent of clef - i.e. a Bb instrument would treat notes written in the treble and bass clefs the exact same way. –  MunchyWilly Feb 23 at 20:29
Ok, I tried being clearer about that. –  Pat Muchmore Feb 23 at 20:36
Thank you for your answer. The piece I uploaded is in D minor/F major; how would that change? Also, I realize I'd need several clarinets, so I'm thinking to just transpose the melody for one clarinet, and the bass clef part for another clarinet. –  AnonymousPhysicist Feb 23 at 21:20
It's in D minor, not F major, at least in the beginning. It's still the same principle, you go up two semitones, so instead of D minor, you should use E minor (1 sharp). So you'll just have a melody line and a bass line? You might want to get some arepggiations of the harmony sometimes in the second clarinet (and, like I said, some of it goes too low, unless you use bass clarinet.) –  Pat Muchmore Feb 23 at 21:46

In order to play the musical example you have posted, you will need to arrange for at least four clarinets - likely 3 Bb Clarinets and 1 Bass Clarinet

Bb Clarinets are written a Major-Second above sounding pitch. Therefore, in the left hand of the original piano part, you would need to write "E-B-E" in order for it to sound as "D-A-D". This applies to the key as well, if there is a key in the composition. In the musical example you provided, the key appears to be D minor. Therefore, when written for Bb clarinets it should be transposed to E minor.

To answer your question directly, transpositions are the same regardless of the clef in which they're originally written. That said, you need to be cognizant of instrument ranges. For example, the first note of your excerpt (D3) is the lowest sounding pitch for a Bb Soprano Clarinet. The A2 in the next measure is out of that instrument's range. However, a Bass Clarinet would work just fine (and transposes one octave below the Soprano clarinet) as it is written a Major-Ninth above sounding pitch.

Accidentals work the same way, though there are some good rules to follow:

  • Use sharps in sharp keys; flats in flat keys.
  • Sharps if the line(s) are going up; flats if they're going down.
  • Use accidentals the produce the smoothest looking line.
  • Use common accidentals over uncommon ones (A# vs Bb)
  • Use accidentals that make sense for the instrument (such as sharps for violins and flats for brass.)

Hope that helps.

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Nota: I could write here about the circle of fifths and practical methods to transpose from any tonality to any other, but I think it’s beside the scope here. So the following concerns only playing a score written for instruments in C with an instrument in Bb. It’s complicated enough as it is.

Your clarinet being in Bb just means that, when you play what you (the clarinetist) call a C, a Bb (absolute, on the piano if you will) is heard. Your clarinet sounds two semitones lower than it is written.

Thus, if you want to play a piano C, you have to play a clarinet D,; if you want to play a piano E, you have to play a clarinet F#. The clef has nothing to do with it. If you want to play a part written for instrument in C, you have to read it as if the music were written two semitones above.

Now, in practice, that’s not how you should proceed, because your brain can’t keep up with adding two semitones to each note while reading the music at the same time.

But the “good” news is: you can read the piece as if the piece were written in another clef. If your piece is written with a treble clef, read it as if it were written in an third-line C clef1. If it is written with a bass clef, read it as if it were written with a second-line C clef1.2

But now, you still have an issue with alterations. Because there’s only one semitone between B (resp. E) and C (resp. F), if you want to play an piano B (resp. E), you’ve got to play a clarinet C# (resp. F#). Similarly, piano Bb means you play clarinet C natural, etc.

In your piece, each B is flat “by default” because of the key signature. But you read the piano Bb as clarinet C flat, so you have to mentally remove the (clarinet) Cb from the signature. Similarly, each E is natural by default, thus you have to play a clarinet F# each time. You need to mentally add a (clarinet) F# to your signature. The piece is in D minor which is (clarinet) E minor.

The only things remaining are accidentals. By applying the “two semitones higher”, you can deduce a simple rule: before (clarinet) C and F, accidentals are read as if one alteration higher. Flats become naturals, naturals become sharps, sharps become double sharps.

  1. Well, you might want to pay some attention to the octave.
  2. If you don’t know your C clefs (I know I don’t), well, just read it slowly until either you can or you remember the piece well enough that it is no longer a problem. In the long run, learning your clef is probably a good idea.
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Your comments are wrong. Two semitones means concert Bb is Clarinet C, not Cb. It badly confuses the issue to assum there's a semitone between B and C and then re-correct the incorrect correction. –  Carl Witthoft Feb 23 at 22:42
@CarlWitthoft I guess my comment on key signature isn’t quite clear. What I meant to say is that, is you dumbly read you piece in a different key, your signature is [Cb]. Which, obviously, is not correct. I’ll sleep on it and correct this tomorrow morning, tired as I am I’ll only make it worse. –  Édouard Feb 23 at 23:21

I would talk w/ a clarinetist first. For one thing, most decent players can sight-transpose from C to Bb in the first place.

The real question is: are you arranging this piece for new instrumentation? One clarinet can't play all that, so how do you intend for the remainder of the structure to be performed? Piano backup? If you're not familiar w/ simple things like transposition, how likely are you to properly "extract" the melody from the body of the music?

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Whilst endorsing most of the comments made previously, with the exception of some of Edouard's, I wonder where the mileage is. Assuming any tune that you wish to transpose is already in a key playable on that instrument, it is easily possible just to leave it in the original key. In this case, as long as the melody does not drop below E, it will be playable on Bb clarinet.

However, if the object is to play it with other instruments at the same time, the dots will have to be changed, in the ways quoted.

If it's played as written, in F/Dm, it will sound a tone down to its intended key. I don't feel it will be detrimental to the tune to do this - most listeners will have trouble telling it's lower, without prior reference.As stated above, it needs several clarinets to achieve a similar sound, as several notes need to be played simultaneously. Arpeggiating will not be that successful.

The simplest, then, would be to leave it as writ., and play it, bearing in mind it will sound a tone lower than it should, but this will not be detrimental, I feel.

Should there be a situation where the played key differs greatly from original ( as in maybe half an octave), this may well be a good case for transposing.

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Just put each note 1 whole note up. Use a tool like musescore to do this. Try if you can find the sheet online at musescore.com and use the software on your desktop to transpose it. You can just click the voice, select instrument -> Bb clarinet. The advantage of doing it this way is that if you press the play button, it will still sound correct (so C instead of Bb).

Other possible way to do it in musescore; ctrl-A to select all and 2 arrow ups. Done.

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