I have been reading regular sheet music ("in C" I think it is called) when playing guitar (i.e. with both the F clef and the G clef) since the sheet music was for piano or cello. Now I found out that guitar "is a transposing instrument" on this site so I wonder how to see if the music is transposed or not. Does every composer mean "this is transposed" if they write "Guitar", and where is 440Hz positioned on the transposed version?

3 Answers 3


Perhaps part of the confusion comes from the fact that you've been playing from music that wasn't notated specifically for guitar. Here's an example of some that is. Note the clef:

enter image description here

The little "8" at the bottom is the indication that what we see on the staff should come out sounding an octave lower. You've been reading from piano scores, which use two staves per line, using treble and bass clefs at the same time. Guitar manages to avoid this and just stick to one staff. This octave-lower-treble-clef is a good compromise for fitting the whole range in. Take this measure for example:

enter image description here

We need three ledger lines both on the top and on the bottom. But if we took away the "octave-down" transposition, that low E would either have to be in bass clef—forcing us to use a "grand staff" like a piano—or have four more ledger lines. (I think. I lost count.)

It's also possible that you've already been transposing the whole time without realizing it. When you look at piano music and see an "A=440," do you play, for example, the fifth fret on the highest string? If you have instead been playing the third-highest string, second fret, then you've actually been sounding an octave lower without realizing it. Which maybe isn't a big deal; basses do it all the time! If it works for your purposes, don't worry about it.

  • Grand staff would not be required as long as the notes are neatly grouped in high and low sections, since then a clef change would be sufficient. This does not help, if the player is not accustomed to the involved other clef, however.
    – guidot
    Commented Feb 11, 2022 at 14:16
  • @guidot And, as the clipped image shows, sometimes both happen at once. I guess the issue is that guitar is a polyphonic instrument, but not given to playing as many notes at once across as wide a range as piano. And of course it really has more to do with history and evolution, the piano evolving from a sort of "two-handed tablature." Commented Feb 11, 2022 at 14:44

As you have discovered, guitar is an octave transposing instrument. It sounds one octave below where the music is written. If you play music written for any non transposing instrument such as piano, violin, cello, your guitar will sound one octave lower than those instruments playing the same part.

You want to know this: “…I wonder how to see if the music is transposed or not.” A composer or arranger should be 100% aware of the fact that guitar is an octave transposing instrument, just like they should know that a Bb trumpet or clarinet should be transposed up a step. If you are given a part that says “Guitar” at the top you should make the assumption that the part is transposed. Sometimes (but not always alas) they will include the small “8” below the G clef to indicate that it is a transposed part. Unfortunately unless you are with the composer or arranger you cannot be absolutely certain the part was transposed or not. What you can do is play it and see if it seems to be in what you consider to be a normal register for the guitar and also see if it blends in well with the other instruments that are playing along with you.

One side note: if you are playing in a pop/rock context and are given a “master rhythm” part you will have to play any written melody lines up an octave if you want to be in unison with the piano/keys

Regarding your question about A=440, on a regular treble clef it is the A in the staff, second space from the bottom. On a guitar part it is the A one ledger line above the staff.


The guitar is indeed a transposing instrument - using standard treble clef to produce sounds one octave lower than the same music would sound on, say, piano.

So, to make music not written specially for guitar, we have to play that guitar one octave higher than the music says. That's often no big deal - the guitar can play high notes. It's just that its lower notes are (almost) contained within the treble clef, so that's a comfortable place to write and read the music. There's no need to use any C-clef positioning, a good thing, as far more players are used to treble clef than any other. Listening to the played results is a good criterion.

  • I don't understand "we have to play that guitar one octave higher than the music says". It is perfectly possible to play the A that would be 440Hz on piano as 440Hz on guitar, this is what I have been doing the last month.
    – Emil
    Commented Feb 11, 2022 at 12:14
  • Of course, there's nothing to stop a French horn from looking at piano music containing an A 440 and playing an A either. It's just that they're used to playing their own music in which they see what "looks like an A" and what comes out is a D, so to play from "concert-pitch" music, they have to think differently. You're already getting used to the concert-pitch notation, but if you were to play from an actual guitar part, you'd have to get used to seeing an A=440 and playing an A=880 (third-highest string, second fret). Commented Feb 11, 2022 at 13:43
  • @AndyBonner - Do you mean see an A440 and play an A220 (i.e. see the A above Middle C, play the A below Middle C)?
    – Dekkadeci
    Commented Feb 11, 2022 at 14:05
  • @Dekkadeci Lol, indeed I do. I keep confusing myself. Commented Feb 11, 2022 at 14:42

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