I'm new to bass clarinet, and I seem to be following the button chart accurately to play a G, which indicates to press no buttons.

However, when I measure the note with a tuner, it clearly plays an F and sounds like an F. The tuner was verified to be working with another instrument.

What obvious thing am I missing?

Thank you

  • 4
    Is there anything related to your bass clarinet that says it’s a Bb bass clarinet or that it’s in Bb? If so then that’s by design. Oct 23, 2018 at 3:18
  • @ToddWilcox WP says bass clarinets are "invariably" B flat, so it seems like you're onto something. However, why would this fingering chart show open for G? Assuming the note in question is the G above C4. womsband.wonecks.net/files/2011/07/… Oct 23, 2018 at 5:47
  • @Lee - Because that's the G you read on bass clarinet sheet music. It sounds like an F3.
    – Dekkadeci
    Oct 23, 2018 at 5:50
  • This sounds great for advanced musicians, and terrible for beginners. If i’m understanding right, if you want to have a little fun you can’t just go buy a sheet music book because the notes would be wrong. Just guessing only a fraction of what’s available is transposed for B flat Bass Clarinet. @KilianFoth your answer is illuminating and crucial to understanding. Would someone be willing to edit the gist into the answer? Carl yours is interesting as well. Oct 23, 2018 at 17:49

1 Answer 1


The bass clarinet is a transposing instrument: the Bb bass clarinet sounds a full major 9th below what is written for its sheet music. For example, that written G in the OP sounds like the F in the octave below.

The bass clarinet is nowhere close to being the only transposing instrument, though: for example, the regular Bb clarinet sounds a major 2nd below what is written (so a written C sounds like a Bb), and the French horn sounds a perfect 5th below what is written (so a written C sounds like an F). Note that transposing instruments are often labelled with what their written C sounds like (thus the "Bb clarinet" and "A clarinet" names).

(I played bass clarinet in 3 school concert bands, so I recognized that fingering for a G pretty quickly.)

  • 5
    The point of mis-notating music like this is to allow people to to switch between variants of the same instrument, such as the A,Bb and C clarinet or even the bass clarinet, without learning new fingering tables. For the player, a "G" is always fingered the same way, and printers and conductors have to deal with the fact that you have to notate "A" to get a sounding "G". The notion is that it is easier to train the few specialists and advanced professionals than the entire corps of musicians. Oct 23, 2018 at 6:27
  • 2
    @KilianFoth symphony scores are often in pure concert pitch, to ease the conductor's view of the chords. The conductor knows to ask, say, the clarinets to play "written C" or play "concert C" . Oct 23, 2018 at 15:04

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