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I know what transposing is, but I'm not sure about something. If I have some sheet music for tenor sax in A major, is that a transposed A major, or concert A major?

If the sheet music for tenor is concert C, and it's the only instrument transposing, doesn't that mess up the chord progression? Don't I then play A major transposed to Bb sax over an A major chord progression?

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If the sheets are intended for the same instrument you have, then they were presumably written with that fact in mind.

The part for each instrument should be written in such way that they sound in the same key. If it means that they need to be written in different keys because one instrument transposes and another doesn't, so be it.

Tenor sax is a B flat transposing instrument, transposing down a ninth, so if the sheet music is written in A major, it will sound in concert G major. So the chords for guitar to accompany this should be denoted in G major - or in whatever the guitarist is supposed to play "as if" if using a capo.

If you have sheet music for tenor sax and you try to play it as written on another instrument, then the whole song will sound in a different key than it was meant to (most likely the one denoted, unless you play an instrument that transposes in a different way). This is not really a problem if you play the sax line solo, but if you play together with someone else (or combine parts that were written for sax and e. g. guitar together - say, to play both on a piano), you'll need to account for it and transpose one of the parts accordingly.

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If I have some sheet music for tenor sax in A major, is that a transposed A major, or concert A major?

It depends on what you mean by "I have some sheet music for tenor sax in A major." If you are playing a piece in a major key and the saxophone part has three sharps in the key signature then the piece is in (concert) G major, so I guess you could say that the saxophone part is in "written A major" or "transposed A major." If your band is playing a piece in A major then the saxophone part will be written in B major.

If the sheet music for tenor is concert C ...

This is very unlikely. If the sheet music is written in concert pitch then it wasn't written for tenor sax. In that case, you'll have to transpose it yourself. Or, if the piece is in C then the tenor saxophone part will be written in D.

(There is an exception to the above statement "If the sheet music is written in concert pitch then it wasn't written for tenor sax." Sometimes, the conductor's score will have all the transposing instruments written in their sounding pitch, often called a concert score. If someone created a set of parts by cutting and pasting from a copy of such a score -- and by "cut and paste" I mean "using scissors and transparent tape or paper glue" -- then the result would include a part that is specifically for tenor sax but written in concert pitch. In this case you would also need to transpose the part yourself, of course.)

... and it's the only instrument transposing, doesn't that mess up the chord progression?

Not if it's done correctly. But the explanation depends on what you mean by "sheet music for tenor is concert C." I suppose you mean that you're playing tenor sax in a group and everyone is playing from the same lead sheet. This means that you have to transpose the part yourself. When you see a G, you have to play an A. If you are using the chord symbols to decide what notes to play in an improvisation, you have to transpose the chord symbol. When you see "Fm7" you have to play something that fits with a Gm7 chord.

On the other hand, if it's a band arrangement for a piece in concert C then the tenor sax part will be written in D and won't normally have chord symbols. When the tenor sax is playing the fifth of a concert A minor chord, the note will be written as F♯. This won't mess up the chord because all the non-transposing instruments will have A, C, or E.

Don't I then play A major transposed to Bb sax over an A major chord progression?

If the piece is in concert C then the tenor sax will be written in D major. The alto (and baritone) sax will be written in A major.

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So ok guys, if I understand you guys correctly. If the score has sentence saying written for tenor sax, it's written for Bb.

And if that score goes in A major then it means im really playing in G major

So when sheet music is written for Bb, it's transposed a whole step really.

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  • This section is for answers - please don't write as if it's an answer - use comment instead.
    – Tim
    Aug 25, 2023 at 12:38
  • @Tim Actually it seems to me it is a valid self-answer. music5475, there might be some confusion remaining around what kinds of transposed or non-transposed parts one might encounter—but yes, you've got the right idea here: What the audience hears is a whole step lower than what the music says. Aug 25, 2023 at 16:30
  • Yes it was a nice summary by me. I answer as an answer coz before when I edit or just comment something people don't seem to see I do. My only question left is, are the chords on a tenor sheet also in Bb? Or are they in c which is transposed a whole step up
    – music5475
    Aug 26, 2023 at 0:17
  • @music5475 - only you have the clues to that, without showing us the actual sheet music. If there are many C chords - that part is in C, many Bb chords - that part is in Bb. Simple!
    – Tim
    Aug 26, 2023 at 8:28
  • I mean in general, and not on a specific sheet
    – music5475
    Aug 26, 2023 at 10:18
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The answer depends on context. If you have something like "concerto in A major for tenor saxophone and orchestra", then the music is in concert pitch and the saxophone part will have 5 sharps (B major). If somebody hands you a piece of paper and says "this music is the tenor sax part; it is in A major", then the music will sound in G major, the piano part will be in G major and so on.

Your statement could be understood in either way, and you would need to look at the music to tell. If it is written in A major and is marked as being for the tenor sax to play, then it will sound in G major. Otherwise if it is written in A major the answer will depend on which instrument is to play from that sheet of paper.

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Paragraph 1 of your question: A part written for tenor sax is supposed to be and assumed to be transposed correctly. If the tenor sax part is in the key of A major that means the song itself is in the key of G major, a whole step down. That means that the written part will sound not only a whole step lower but also an octave lower because tenor sax sounds an octave and a whole step (M9) lower than written.

Paragraph 2: If you give a tenor sax player a chart in concert C (which is NOT a tenor sax part BTW) he has to transpose up a whole step and an octave to the key of D while playing in order to play in the correct key and register. The octave transposition is not as important as playing in the correct key. If the chart has chord changes and he is improvising he will also have to transpose the chord changes up a whole step in order to play in the correct key, for example, he will play a Dm chord as if it were an Em chord, etc. If he doesn’t transpose then EVERYTHING he plays will be messed up, he will be playing in Bb and everyone else will be in C.

I don’t know where you get A major from unless you are thinking of an Eb alto sax which transposes to A major for a song in C major.

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In keys like A and E concert, which are so comfortable for beginners on the guitar, the tenor sax has to play in B and F# respectively; the alto in F# and C#.

If your music is all written in the treble clef it has been transposed and all you have to do is play what you see.

If much of your music is in the bass clef: it hasn't been transposed. You will need to transpose it up an octave and a tone, including any chord symbols.

If your part is in A, any non-transposing instruments will be in G.

The expressions "concert", "concert pitch" and "guitar part" might be useful. Do you know if it's a guitar part you're looking at?

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'Sheet music for tenor in A major' - doesn't make a lot of sense. Tenor sax is always 'in B♭'. Clarinet is sometimes 'in A'. Because they're transposing instruments, and the dots need to reflect this, by being written in the appropriately different key so as to be in tune with others.

However, if the music itself is in key A (with 3 sharps) then the rest of the players will be in key G - easy to check. If the whole band is playing in key A, then the sax part would be in 5♯ - again, easy to check.

But, rest assured, if the sax part is written in the exact same key as all the other parts, the resulting playing will sound awful..!

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If a sheet has been specifically prepared to be played by Tenor Sax, it will have been transposed up a whole step from the actual (concert pitch) key. (Well, actually an octave plus a whole step, but we can let that pass for now.)

If the song is in G major, the sax part will be written in A major. The rest of the band will be thinking in G major, the sax player will be thinking in A major. That's OK. It works.

Just to confuse the issue, in some jazz circles players of transposing instruments like to see transposed notation but with untransposed chord symbols on top. Yes, it mystifies me too.

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