my real goal is to pick a brass instrument to pick up, but I don't know the right words to research what I want.

I have a strong ear, so certain instruments are easier than others for me.

So one example of an "easy" instrument is the bass guitar. Every string is a 4th apart, and every fret is a half step apart. So this means with a little knowledge of music theory, it is very easy to play a song in any key (especially if you play closed position fingerings)

An example of a harder instrument is the piano. The distance between the white keys and black keys is different, which makes playing in different keys feel very different. This would be "fixed" if you removed all the black keys, and tuned the white keys a half step apart.

Is there a brass instrument that has this sort of regularity or close to it? I imagine it is harder because when you blow harder you go up the harmonic series, so that goes up a 5th then a 4th then a 3rd...

Is there a resource for brass instruments that explains the function of the buttons in terms of intervals? When I try to Google this the beginner content just shows me the fingering for different notes and it's hard to find the pattern.

Is trombone the best?

  • music.stackexchange.com/questions/84172/… this was helpful for me to understand how a trumpet works. Right now I am leaning towards trumpet Jul 1 at 14:09
  • 2
    Aside from the trombone, all brass instruments have their notes laid out in essentially the same way. French horn introduces some complications, but the principles are the same. You won’t find any instrument as easy to transpose on as bass guitar. It’s the easiest. Jul 1 at 15:06
  • 2
    What you've written has little to do with transposition. Your description of a halftone piano is absurd and unusable. And in any case, the difficulty of playing an instrument well depends on a dozen factors far more important than whether you can transpose. Jul 1 at 18:30
  • One thing I don't see mentioned in the answers is the overtone series. A natural horn (imagine a straight medieval-y trumpet) can play only these notes. In some ways it's the least transposable instrument! All valves, buttons, and slides invented since then are about changing the length of the tube to let you play "the notes in between." I wonder whether the question you really want is a different one, like "which brass instruments are easier to learn." Jul 3 at 18:33

3 Answers 3


I don't believe any brass instrument is suitable for easy transposing, like your bass (or even guitar). But it appears that a lot of trombonists can and do transpose with their instruments, mainly from the dots.

To transpose by ear, one would need a good grasp of theory, to guide them through - knowledge of keys and intervals would be a good start point. The actual layout of a trumpet makes playing the notes fairly easily understood, if not performed, for a beginner. A lot of players (myself included, a long time ago) will learn the one tone transpose trick, as trumpets in B♭ will have the music written in a key a tone higher than it sounds, so as to compensate for the fact that a B♭ trumpet will play 'a tone low', so learning to play a tone higher than the dots say allows one to play from the same music as others who play in concert pitch, if that makes sense.

But, as far as picking up any brass instrument and being capable of transposing a tune 'by ear', well, nothing will work like a bass guitar.

  • except for open-string notes... Jul 1 at 18:31
  • 1
    Even that works for bass. I'm surprised you haven't dv'd ... Do you save your quota?
    – Tim
    Jul 1 at 18:47
  • Do please explain how you intend to (sans capo) pick a different fret for an open string to play a step lower. And, Mr. Sarcastic, I save DVs for answers that are wrong. Jul 1 at 19:50
  • @CarlWitthoft - as a bass player, one would play the whole lot an octave higher - unless like me, one played a 5/6 string. 'Answers that are wrong '- in my opinion. Not sarcastic - realistic....
    – Tim
    Jul 1 at 19:56
  • Playing in the wrong octave is strictly verboten. What next, a soprano singing the baritone's part? Jul 1 at 23:35

At a very superficial level, the trombone fits your criteria best.

But playing a brass instrument isn't like that. You very quickly learn 'to get THIS note, put the slide HERE, do THIS with your lips'. Then the choice of which note to play becomes a purely mental procedure. I'm a trombonist. Trust me, when transposing, the mental process just ISN'T 'one position up/down from what it says'.

  • OK, but you provide no reasoning to support your recommendation here Jul 1 at 18:30

If you’re looking for a logical layout my vote would be for the trombone. It has a slide with seven chromatic positions available similar to the fretboard on a bass guitar. It is not tempered so you do have to physically learn where the positions are, so think “fretless bass”.

You will have to deal with the overtone series when starting to expand your register upwards as each position offers multiple notes but that is the case on any brass instrument.

  • slide positions map quite nicely to valve combinations on valved brass instruments. Jul 1 at 18:32
  • @CarlWitthoft Let’s see, trombone partial chromatic scale: 7,6,5,4,3,2,1 trumpet partial chromatic scale: 0, 123, 13, 23, 12,1,2,0 Sorry, I don’t see it. Jul 1 at 21:42
  • There is a mapping. That means 1:1 relationship, not "oh my god a trivially easy thing to learn." Jul 1 at 23:34
  • The mapping of slide positions to valves makes a lot more sense if you think about the extra tubing that each valve adds. The first valve is 2 semitones worth of tubing, the second valve is 1 semitone and the third valve is 3 semitones. Therefore you can think of combinations of valves as equal to trombone slide positions that drop a note by the same number of semitones. For example, pressing valves 1 and 2 would drop a note by 2+1=3 semitones, which is the same as 4th position on the trombone. (This is complicated by the fact that 1st position is dropping a note by 0 semitones)
    – Andy
    Jul 3 at 10:08

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.