I am trying to learn to play the clarinet and was doing fairly well until I tried to play a tune with my granddaughters on flute and piano. My clarinet was not in tune with their instruments. I have a "Teach yourself" type of book that includes fingering. When the music indicates a "C" and I set my fingers to what the book says is a "C" it actually plays a "Bb". Why doesn't the music show a "Bb" for that fingering? Do I need to transpose all my music to enable me to play with other people on other instruments? Why did my book tell me that a certain fingering plays a "C" when it actually plays a "Bb"?

  • You may start with this question and its answer to learning about transposing instruments.
    – guidot
    Jun 2 '21 at 9:45
  • If you teach yourself book about clarinet doesn't mention it's a transposing instrument, get another book. It may take some time to wrap your head around the concept, but a descent book about clarinet definitely needs to explain it. Jun 2 '21 at 16:21

Pretty sure this is a dupe, but - the clarinet, like several other instruments, is a transposing instrument. Yours makes the sound a whole tone lower than the music says. So when you see and play a C note, a B♭ comes out. There are other clarinets, but the 'B♭' is the most common.

You'll have to either learn to play by transposing up a tone from your music, (like I did with trumpet - a similar idea), or get the piano music transposed down a tone, either physically, with a good reader - or, these days, by hitting the transpose button on the keyboard.


The reason is about professional play of similar instruments of different sizes (and therefore pitches).

Think of "C" as a finger position: you read a C, you put your fingers in that position. If you pick up a B-flat instrument or whatever, then the same finger position will play a B-flat.

It's up to the COMPOSER to figure out the right transpositions, so you don't have to transpose in your head while you're playing your part from sheet music. I mean, some pieces even have multiple instruments played by the same person!

  • In fact, this is the whole motivation for having transposing instruments at all. The entire business of notating X as Y would be totally pointless if there weren't a large number of people who routinely play different instruments of the same class and can profit from it. Jun 2 '21 at 13:04
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    This starts out on the right track and then gets lost, failing to explain anything relevant. For one thing, there are Bb, C, Eb, and A clarinets (and I think a rare D as well) Jun 2 '21 at 17:03
  • I'm not sure what the disconnect is for you. Maybe you can explain what you think I neglected to mention? Jun 2 '21 at 19:52

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