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Note: I am not that good in general music theory but I will try to get my point across as best as I can.

I am currently in charge of writing/transposing the scores of a little hobby band.

I got the scores written for singing and now I need to transpose it for an Alto-Saxophone. The singing has one ♭ so it is either D-Minor or F-Major.

What accidentals (I hope that is the right word) do I have to use when rewriting it for Saxophone and where can I look up which instruments have what signature?

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TL;DR (the specific answer)

Your voice part's key signature has one flat. The corresponding alto saxophone key signature will have two sharps.


The general answer

Voice is written in what is called "concert pitch". Concert pitch means that when you write an "A" (specifically, the "A" above "middle C") it is tuned to 440Hz. Instruments like voice, piano, and flute — so-called "C instruments" — are all written in concert pitch.

The alto saxophone is an "Eb instrument". This means that its written music and the "concert pitch" sound that results are not the same. When "C" is written in an alto saxophone part, the resulting concert pitch — the note a singer would sing to match the alto saxophone's "C" — is the Eb below.

Put another way, concert pitch — the actual sound produced in response to a written saxophone part — is a "major sixth" lower than the written note. And to produce a given concert pitch, the saxophone part must be written a major sixth higher.

Thus: D minor / F major becomes B minor / D major.

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  • If I change the key, do I also need to change the pitch the notes are at? So e.g. a C from concert pitch becomes an E♭ for the Saxophon or is that completely wrong?
    – gurkensaas
    Sep 15 at 20:10
  • The OP is not asking what reading F major sounds like when played on alto, rather how to write alto sax to GET it to sound in F major.
    – nuggethead
    Sep 15 at 23:24
  • 1
    @gurkensaas Other way around: A written "C" for alto sax produces an "Eb" concert pitch. A "C" concert pitch would be a written "A" on the alto. (My answer before editing got the language backwards. My apologies for the confusion.)
    – Aaron
    Sep 15 at 23:36
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    @nuggethead Thanks. I got my "highers" and "lowers" swapped around halfway through the answer. Gets me every time.
    – Aaron
    Sep 15 at 23:36
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    @gurkensaas Yes. A concert Eb sounding pitch would be written as a C in the saxophone part. Said another way, if the singer is singing an Eb, then the alto sax would play its written C to match the singer.
    – Aaron
    Sep 16 at 15:56
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The alto sax part needs to be written in the key of D Major (2 sharps). The alto transposes, and It's sounding pitch is a major sixth below its written pitch. When the vocals sing do-re-mi in F (notes F-G-A), the alto player must see this in D. He/she will read D-E-F# and they will sound in F major. To verify this, look at any concert band score. The altos will always have three sharps more/three flats less than the flutes, which are in the "concert key."

Look at this score, in Bb with altos showing key of G.

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  • Thanks a lot for your answer. I hope you're not too offended if I don't accept your answer since Aaron's answer is formatted more nicely and also came first.
    – gurkensaas
    Sep 16 at 15:01
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    Glad it proved to be helpful to you. I'm not easily offended - lest I doubt I'd post on SE!!!
    – nuggethead
    Sep 16 at 19:23
  • Beginning your answer with "Sorry folks, but ..." doesn't make a lot of sense. Who are you apologizing to and why? Your answer would be better and clearer if you got rid of the preamble. Sep 17 at 13:12
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    @David Conrad good point thank you! I'll edit it. I began with that because at the time of posting there were three upvoted answers, all incorrect.
    – nuggethead
    Sep 17 at 14:01
  • I think it's helpful that you gave the example of transposing DO RE MI. Sep 21 at 13:58
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Aaron's answer is correct. To simplify any future writing, the simple formula for E♭ alto is to add 3 sharps to the existing key signature. That's what happens writing for concert F major - add 3 sharps to become D major.

So, if the original concert key is 1 sharp, adding 3 sharps will take the key to that of 4 sharps. Original key 4 flats becomes 1 flat (adding a sharp = subtracting a flat).

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  • 2
    FYI: I got turned around in my original answer. It's corrected now, but yours will need an update as well. Add 3 sharps, not flats.
    – Aaron
    Sep 16 at 0:59
  • @Aaron - thanks so much. I'd just got back from a gig, and spent a bit of time pondering if I'd gone the right way. Obviously not. Would you like to proof-read again? Hope it makes sense. Don't know how it got uv, and dv didn't give a reason...
    – Tim
    Sep 16 at 8:02
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If you are going to do this a lot, I strongly suggest you shell out the cash for a music writing software. I won't recommend one, I haven't done this for years.

A good one can scan your sheet music, then you can grab the notes with the mouse and transpose them by just pushing, or use the built in functions. You still have to adjust it by hand, but it will save you an awful lot of time, and it also formats and prints the music nicely for you.

It is not too much money, and I see the licence for mine is still valid, so it gets updated now and then.

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  • 3
    Most music software will transpose automatically, and there are a variety of very good free programs. I use MuseScore and have been very happy with it.
    – Aaron
    Sep 16 at 8:08
  • Oh, that's good. Maybe I need a new one. but I haven't used it for so long. These days I manage to transpose in my head...
    – RedSonja
    Sep 16 at 10:47
  • I already have Logic Pro X(200$), where I already learned most of the score UI. I have no real interest in spending more money on something that can do the job a little better and then I have to relearn its UI.
    – gurkensaas
    Sep 16 at 15:05

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