I want to learn how to write a score for transposing instruments as it will sound (in C). I have a vague idea of how to do this, like for example, you need to know the transposing intervals of the instruments, etc. But it would be great if I could get an example of how is this done.

If this question or anything similar to this topic has been previously answered, it would be helpful if someone could attach a link to the same below. Thanks.

  • Which app are you using to prepare the score? – Rosie F Oct 18 '19 at 7:11
  • @RosieF I am not using an app for this. I want to learn this for music theory purposes, which needs it to be manually done. – Grace Oct 18 '19 at 7:43
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    One major advantage of writing a score in C is that you don't have to worry about the transpositions. – PiedPiper Oct 18 '19 at 12:19
  • @PiedPiper Like what did you mean when you said not to worry about the transpositions? – Grace Oct 18 '19 at 14:46
  • No, when writing a score in C you DON'T have to know the transposing intervals of the instruments. That's the whole point of a score in C. You do have to know the ranges of each instrument (expressed in concert pitch) though. Paradoxically, this can be easier when looking at their parts transposed, as the player will. – Laurence Payne Apr 4 at 0:15

Bb instruments are transposing a major second down (and + or -1 octaves or 2) Eb instruments are transposing a minor 3rd up or a major 6th down) F Horns are transposing a 4th up (respectively a 5th down)

To write the voices for transposing instruments you have transpose the notation of their voices by the same amount - of the intervals of their transposition - in the opposite direction (up or down).

Bb (transposing 1 major second down)

Transposing instruments -> notation Bb (major 2nd down) -> major 2nd up Eb (minor 3rd up) -> major 3rd down

examples: Bb trumpet plays C -> sound = Bb but writing D -> trumpet reads D -> plays D -> sound = C

Eb Horn plays C -> Eb however notation A -> horn reads -> sound = C

The key and signatures are also the same amount of the interval in the opposite direction of C:

Bb-instruments have 2 # more than concert picht (respectively 2 naturals less)

Eb-instruments have 3 # more than concert pitch and 1 sharp more than Bb instruments.


Mind that some musicians with transposing instruments read and play concert pitch in G or F clef by transposing themselves. You have to know what your musicians are reading, e.g. tenor and bass instruments as Euphonium or Trombones.

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    I'm in awe of trombone players, who can read just about anything. – Tim Oct 18 '19 at 9:01
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    so you can be in awe of me too! ;) the point of this is: thinking in movable Do ... but this would be limited in 12 tone music. :) – Albrecht Hügli Oct 18 '19 at 9:08
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    I think in terms of moveable do when reading for guitar, but that's mainly because the relative notes retain their shapes very well on that instrument. Can't see how it helps that much on any others. – Tim Oct 18 '19 at 9:14

B♭ Trumpet, for example, is called that because when the player sees a C note and plays it, a B♭ note comes out. So to compensate for this, a writer would have to write a note one whole tone above the note he wanted played. Thus, to get a B♭ trumpeter to play an actual C at concert pitch, he would write a D note.All B♭ instruments must have the dots written similarly.

All other transposing instruments will need writing for in simialr compensating ways.

E♭ sax players see a C written, and blow what comes out as a E♭.

Take a look at some orchestral scores - you'll see that on a page, several of the lines of music are written in different keys, to compensate.

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  • So writing a score in C would mean to write the music for transposing instruments at written pitch, or the pitch the instrument would sound at? – Grace Oct 18 '19 at 7:46
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    Write in written pitch. Not sounding pitch. – Tim Oct 18 '19 at 7:48

When you write a score in C you do not care about transposing except in special circumstances. As a small note you should probably call the score non-transposing.

You write all instruments as of they were non-transposing, a written C sounds C. The transposing part is left for creating the parts.

What you need to consider is firstly sounding ranges of the instruments. Don’t ask a piccolo to play a tuba part. You might need to think about un-playable tones on some instruments. As example on a normal tenor trombone there is a gap between low E and pedal Bb unless the instrument has a trigger. That Liw Bb flat was used in as example In the Mood by Glenn Miller (who played the bone).

Additionally when you write for less advanced players you are better off avoiding some keys. Lots of sharps in the transposed score tends to not be liked by beginner trumpet players. There is a reason why clarinet players has both A and Bb instruments.

A non-transposing score in my experience makes life easier for beginning composers and conductors. The seasoned pros have No problems reading transposing scores. My two cents though.

Many scoring programs allows you to easily switch between transposing and non, say Dorico, Sibelius, Finale.

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The main purpose of "Writing a score in C" is to facilitate the conductor/leader of the ensemble to "appreciate" the melodic/harmonic flow of the piece "at a glance" - It is that much easier for the conductor/leader if they are all in ONE AND THE SAME KEY. The "music mind" works by judging intervals in given/same key and NOT different keys in each stave

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