For too many years, students have been baffled, perplexed, and generally confused as to how to transpose correctly for instruments. Now you will learn a chant that will help you make sense of it. The answer lies in knowing the full name of the instrument and the chant.
Each instrument has a key name. But a trumpet isn't usually called a B trumpet, is it? Trumpet usually suffices. Knowing the full name of each instrument is one key to understanding how it transposes. The other key is the chant, which goes like this: The instrument's key name is the note that you hear in concert pitch when that instrument reads its written C. (Thank you, Dr. Scott Lavine!) Put that to use, using the B trumpet again in FIGURE 14.2, which has a key name of B To understand how the chant helps, add this information into your chant: The instrument key name (in this case, B) is the note you hear in concert pitch when that instrument (trumpet) reads its written C. Simply, when a trumpet plays a written C, you hear a B.
FIGURE 14.2 Trumpet Transpose
This means that whatever note is written for trumpet will come out exactly one whole step below what is written. So what can composers do to fix this? They simply write the trumpet part up a whole step, in a written D. The trumpet player will read and play the D, yet a perfect C will come out in concert key.
Sound down; write up. For most transposing instruments, this is the case. There are a couple of zany exceptions, but you don't need to worry about them right now. For the most part, you write parts up and they sound down. Just remember the chant.