I am totally blind, and I read music Braille. I also use a MIDI keyboard to make musical tracks using a sequencer.

Recently, I had a piece, October by Eric Whitacre, transcribed into Braille music.

I noticed that the bass clarinet and the tenor sax parts have octave markings for third or fourth octave when they probably go outside their range. I transposed them -12 semitones and it sounds about right, but I just want to make sure.

I also noticed this type of arrangement with barbershop music.

Why do they make systems like this?

  • Given that both instruments are transposing b-flat instruments, I neither can see what an octave transposition (from the question title) has to do with it, nor the relation to the "duplicate" question given (which is very specific about an exact octave, not simply something similar).
    – guidot
    Jun 15, 2018 at 13:18
  • Measure 12 BC 3b. 3/4. Third octave B Quarter slurred to C half. Measure 13. Common Fourth octave D quarter, slured, cresc, fourth octave E dotted half. Based on this, it was transposed two half steps in the notation, but I had to transpose it one octave below. Jun 15, 2018 at 14:37

2 Answers 2


Yes, bass clarinet and tenor sax are notated a ninth higher than they sound. So the written middle C (C4) sounds the B♭ a 9th below (B♭2). The point is not to make life difficult for transcribers, but to make it easier for players who play multiple kinds of clarinet or saxophone. This recent question discusses the reasons further.

  • 1
    When you say a ninth,do you mean major ninth from Concert C? So, transpose C4 to C3, and then Bb3? Jun 15, 2018 at 7:08
  • 1
    Just to complicate matters, if you ever encounter a bass clarinet part in the bass clef (a.k.a. German notation), the transposition is a major second. Jun 15, 2018 at 7:19
  • @HeavenlyHarmony Yes, C to Bb means a major ninth downward. Jun 15, 2018 at 7:25
  • 1
    @DeanRansevycz Note that "German" notation is an abomination unto the lord and should be banned from the planet (and I say this a German, mind you). The entire point of transposing notation is to let players reuse the fingerings they know, and German notation does not achieve that. Jun 15, 2018 at 7:29
  • 1
    Sorry, I meant Bb2 not Bb3. So, C4 to C3, and down to Bb2. Jun 15, 2018 at 7:53

Keeping the dots within a stave is helpful when reading (and writing) for instruments which use only one stave. It helps by the fact that most of the notes are within the 5 lines, 4 spaces, and not put onto loads of little leger lines, which are more difficult to read. Given that a tenor sax is already a transposing instrument may put the dots out of the stave, keeping most inside is a big boon.

  • More to the point, shifting by an octave as well as the second (C to Bb) allows a sax player to use the same fingerings on soprano and tenor for the same written note. Jun 15, 2018 at 11:42
  • @CarlWitthoft - I assumed that was a given - that's one reason why saxes are Bb and Eb, with appropriately placed dots.
    – Tim
    Jun 15, 2018 at 11:49

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