I will apologize in advance for my lack of music theory. I play guitar but self taught with no real theory. My son has been playing alto saxophone for about 6 months and has come along quite nice. His school does not have a band and he wants to jam with two other friends who play trumpet and french horn. I have watched many videos on the concept of a transposing instrument...but it's still very unclear to me. I do know that the instruments are as follows: Eb sax, Bb trumpet, F horn.

What I would like to do is get some blues backing tracks for them to jam with. There is an endless supply of blues backing tracks in lots of different keys. I was looking at YouTube videos of various blues scales for the sax. But I have no idea how to put it all together and find the right key of a backing track to match with a scale to jam with. And to complicate it further...I assume all instruments will be jamming in different key signatures.

I'm a computer person...I think I need to see this all in a spreadsheet...there has to be some kind of algorithm to figure it all out.

So to recap: If I find a blues backing track in say Em - what would be a nice blues scale for each of the kids to play on their respective instruments?

Thank you for any advice.


1 Answer 1


The blues is a largely guitar-based style, and there are characteristic blues things involving open strings that work best in E and A major (there ARE minor key blues, but I suggest you start off with the more common major variety) so players of Bb and Eb instruments in a blues band get rapidly accustomed to playing in lots of sharps! E major, (4 sharps) translates to C#major (7 sharps) for Eb Alto sax, to F# major (6 sharps) for Bb Trumpet and B major (5 sharps) for F Horn - not a common jazz/blues instrument, but that's no reason he can't join in.

It might be kinder to choose more friendly keys for a start though! Try tracks in F, Bb or Eb. That's G, C, F for the trumpet, C, F, Bb for the horn, D, G, C for the alto sax.

The blues may be the basis of much jazz, but can encourage formulaic scale-dominated improvisation. Give them some songs too. Improvise on the melody as well as just the chords.

Investigate Band-in-a-Box. It's much more musically useful than you'd expect from a computer program. And you can use its GUI as an object lesson in terrible design :-)


  • Thank you very much for the quick response. I watched an hour of videos yesterday on BIAB...I will definitely get it. I think I understand your explanations. We will give it a try next week. Thank you again. ER Feb 3, 2018 at 1:30
  • Completely agree about starting them out in F, B♭, E♭. Note that there is tons of blues played in these keys by horns in jazz. Also, for the french horn player, Miles Davis had a french horn in his famous nonet which recorded The Birth of the Cool.
    – user39614
    Feb 3, 2018 at 2:10
  • Thank you. If you are in a position to check this out please do. I took the pattern of a Maj scale W W H W W W H steps...I created a master notes grid and worked out the logic to compute the Maj scale..then mapped the horns into that shifting them up or down to map out the relation of the instruments to a guitar. Can you please look at this mapping and let me know if it looks right. I know the flats and sharps are a little off...but I think it's pretty close: docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/… Thank you. ER Feb 3, 2018 at 2:20
  • That looks right. Use Ab rather than G#. Don't know why you repeated the second column in each section? Don't forget that the PLAYERS will know what scale on their instrument corresponds with a particular (concert pitch) key, and if they don't, they'll soon find their way in aurally. You can over-think this sort of thing. 'Jazz by numbers' is all very well, but I suspect it was more fun pre-Berklee when we listened to our heros, imitated, and bought books containing 'hot licks'!
    – Laurence
    Feb 3, 2018 at 11:07

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