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I have a famous song written for piano that I want to transpose for tenor sax. Is that the correct term? It will be put on a piece of art as a gift so its very important I do this correctly. I am very new to music (I'm learning the flute) but know nothing of transposing. I could just put the piano music as is and let him transpose it himself (right?), but I want to show my thought and effort. Any advice would be great!

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Transposing (yes, that's the right word) from piano to tenor sax means moving each piano note up one whole step. For example, if middle C is written for the piano, a D should be written for the tenor.

The tenor will sound one octave lower than the actual written note. For instance, the D mentioned above would be written on the space above middle C, but the actual sound is the C in the second space of the bass clef. That's how the tenor is written, and you need not make adjustments for it — it's expected.

There are a few things to be careful of:

  1. The lowest note the tenor can play is the Ab below middle C (Bb when written for the tenor). (The highest note — F above the treble staff — shouldn't be a concern.)
  2. Sharps, flats, and naturals can get confusing when transposing from piano to tenor, because they can change depending on what key you're in.

Example:

  • Piano part is in F major. This means the tenor part will be in G major. So in the key signature, the piano part will have one flat, but the tenor part will have one sharp. Any written Bbs in the piano part will become C naturals in the tenor part. Similarly, Es in the piano part will become F#s in the tenor part. If the piano part happens to have an Eb in it, that will become an F natural in the tenor part (because Eb is a half-step lower than E, and F natural is a half-step lower than F#).
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    I think it’s better to give the actual tenor sax written transposition, a M9, rather than a M2 and saying it will sound an octave lower. Other than that good answer, Nov 29, 2022 at 2:59
  • The sax can play far above written F. Check out, e.g., the study book "Top-Tones" by Sigurd Rascher Nov 29, 2022 at 18:14
  • @CarlWitthoft Interesting. Is that including the "squeal" range of the instrument?
    – Aaron
    Nov 29, 2022 at 18:35
  • @Aaron - they are overtones, same as a flute does to get the 3rd octave. I wouldn't call them "squeals" such as R.R. Kirk used to toss in. Nov 29, 2022 at 20:33
  • @CarlWitthoft Yes "overtones". I understand your comment now.
    – Aaron
    Nov 29, 2022 at 20:35

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