I don't know a better way to say it other than "technically contrasting."

My starting point is piano.

Sometimes when practicing piano I want a quick "technically contrasting" key - meaning the fingerings are very different - and so I have a few typical changes I use: transpose up/down a half step, switch from three sharps to three flats, or alternate tonics B & Bb to get root and fifth on opposite key colors. That's my quick and dirty substitute for practicing in all keys when I don't have lots of time. By comparison changing between A and D major, for example, doesn't provide much "technical contrast", topographically they are nearly the same.

Is there something like this for sax and trumpet? A way to contrast keys for maximum "technical contrast." In terms of fingering maybe there isn't a lot of difference between keys on brass instruments. I just don't know.

3 Answers 3


What you are doing on piano is going to work the same way on wind instruments: transposing a semitone or a tritone gives you all the technical contrast you could want.
What you can do on wind instruments, that doesn't make the same sense on piano, is transpose things an octave, or even multiple octaves. Playing something in another octave mostly provides a new set of technical challenges. In general, the more extreme the register, the harder it is to play.

  • Would the semitone/tritone thing be a challenge on both sax and trumpet? Nov 19, 2020 at 22:50
  • Honestly, transposing an octave may be harder than transposing a semitone on wind instruments. I know I never could reach those high notes on clarinet or bass clarinet (notated F above the C above Middle C and higher) without squeaking. And then there are trumpet embouchure changes....
    – Dekkadeci
    Nov 20, 2020 at 12:58
  • @MichaelCurtis It would be on any wind instrument.
    – PiedPiper
    Nov 20, 2020 at 14:08

Most keys on the trumpet are heavy on combinations of the first two valves (including "open" valves). So when I want the contract you're talking about, I either choose the low range of the trumpet, which requires the third valve more frequently, or a key that includes G#/Ab, which is one of the few third-valve pitches in the middle and upper register. Some favorites of mine for "technical contrast":

Major keys

  • Concert E Major (Trumpet F# Major) in low or middle octave
  • Concert D Major (Trumpet E Major) in middle octave (low octave requires a pedal tone)
  • Convert Gb Major (Trumpet Ab Major) in low or middle octave

Minor keys

  • Concert A Minor (Trumpet B Minor) in low or middle octave
  • Concert B Minor (Trumpet C# Minor) in low or middle octave
  • Concert F# Minor (Trumpet Ab Minor) in low or middle octave
  • So, you do consciously think about this kind of technical contrast of keys? I'm not nutty thinking about this for winds. Nov 19, 2020 at 22:52
  • @MichaelCurtis I wasn't aware of it until reading your question. It led me to reflect on how I practice, and I do from time to time specifically pick keys based on their valve combinations.
    – Aaron
    Nov 19, 2020 at 22:54

On keyboard you have to rethink the fingering scheme according to 'where the thumb goes' right down to the basic of whether the tonic is a black or white.

There's no real equivalent on trumpet or sax. All the notes are 'under your fingers' in the same way. I suppose, for a beginner at least, there are 'hard' and 'easy' keys with lots of sharps/flats in the key signature or few. But (outside the walled garden of a wind band or similar at least) the player is going to be very accustomed to 'heavy' key signatures, particularly ones with lots of sharps. Probably the nastiest you could get would be to present the exercise in two keys a semitone apart - C and C♯, F and F♯.

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