I play in a community brass band and have just taken up the trombone. I'd like to use my tenor trombone (in b flat) to play bass trombone parts where necessary. A lot of the bass trombone parts are in a different key. Eg: Bandology (arranged by Frank Wright) has the 2nd Bb Trombone in the (treble) key of C but the bass trombone is in the (bass) key of Bb. In Amparito Roca arranged by Aubrey Winter the 2nd Bb trombone is in the key of Eb but the bass trombone in the key of Db. I guess the music was written for trombone in the key of C? So transposition for a Bb tenor trombone to play Bass trombone is a full tone up? Am I correct?


If this is brass band music, with Trombones 1 and 2 in treble clef, bass in bass, I hope that ALL the bass trombone parts are in a different key!

Most brass band instruments are written in treble clef, as transposing instruments - yes, even the basses (tubas). Bass trombone is the exception, it gets bass clef at concert pitch.

If you're used to reading orchestra/wind band/commercial trombone parts in bass clef, read brass band bass trombone parts the same way. Written Bb is sounding Bb in first position.

Read brass band Trombone 1 and 2 parts a 9th down. Written middle C is Bb a 9th lower.

If you know tenor clef, there's a dodge. 'Brass band treble' is the same as 'Orchestra tenor' with two flats added to the key signature.

  • 1
    All blown brass band instruments apart from bass trombone are written in treble clef and are either Bb or Eb transposing. The complication that tenor trombones face is that they are treated as Bb transposing treble-clef instruments in Brass Band, but as concert-pitch, i.e. non-transposing instruments in other contexts, and there the clef is often bass clef or one of the other more exotic clefs.First position is concert Bb - but the notation required to produce that concert Bb changes with the ensemble. – Brian THOMAS Sep 24 '18 at 11:58

I think you are a little turned around by the terminology. Contemporary Tenor and bass trombones are pitched in Bb but normally are read in C. In other words, when you see a "C" written, you play a "C".

In brass band, there is some level of transposition still performed in some parts. If you see a bass clef part it should be in "C", which means you play a "C" when you see a "C". For the treble parts, it is probably in Bb, which means when you see a "C", you play a "Bb". Note that this is completely independent of the key of the piece.

The concert key of the piece is going to be what it sounds like, independent of what transposed instruments are part of the band. So a trumpet player might have a "C" written, but what sounds is a "Bb", a French horn player might have a "C" written as well, but it sounds like an "F", so on and so forth. The key signature for the trumpet player might be no flats/no sharps (Key of C) and the key signature for the hornist would be one flat (Key of F). However, for untransposed instruments, it would be "Bb", ergo, the concert pitch would be "Bb" even though the transposed instruments might be seeing a different key signature.

In this case, The Amparito is probably in the "concert key" of Eb. The 2nd trombone part sounds like it is written untransposed, ergo a written "Eb" sounds like an "Eb". The bass trombone part sounds like it is transposed for trombone in Bb, which makes everything down a whole step as you indicated. So a written "C" is going to be a "Bb" for that part.

In your first example, Bandology, it sounds like the 2nd trombone is in transposed "Bb" (so when you see a "C" you play a "Bb") and the bass trombone part is untransposed (when you see a "C" you play a "C").

  • Your explanation is unclear - please preface all "C" or "Bb" with the terms "Concert" or "Written" as appropriate so we understand what transpositions you are defining. – Carl Witthoft Sep 24 '18 at 12:41

If the 2nd Trombone part is in treble clef, you probably have a part written for trumpet players filling in on valve trombone. It's fairly common to see this in Baritone/Euphonium parts.

Tenor Trombone and Bass Trombone are both "C" instruments. That means the written pitch is the pitch that sounds. Compare that to a Bb trumpet, or an F Horn, or an Eb Alto Sax.

To directly answer your question, there is no transposition between tenor and bass trombones.

  • I am downvoting this. The reason is that due to tradition in British brass bands where the tenor trombones are treated as transposed Bb instruments and written in G-clef. This goes for all the instruments: the tubas have G-clef and are transposed Bb, Eb or F -- often there are several variations in the same set of parts. The single exceptionellt is the bass trombone that is written non-transposed in bass clef. Odd, but if you hear them play you it works. – ghellquist Mar 13 at 8:28

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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