Trumpet Transposition: The definitive guide

Here are the two step-by-step methods you need to get your trumpet's main tuning slide or valve slides unstuck, all by yourself without damaging your trumpet — there are a few precautions you need to observe.

In this guide, we are going to dive into transposition for the trumpet.

On most instruments the note you play is the note you hear. The pitch will match the pitch on a piano, concert flute, oboe, bassoon, trombone, violin, cello, etc.

We say these instruments are in C.

Other instruments such as the trumpet in Bflat are called transposing instruments. Most trumpets, most clarinets, horns, all saxophones and a few others are transposing instruments.

Transposiing instruments are not in C.

The note in the music score and the note the player is playing don't match the note on the piano.

Trumpet Transposition: The definitive guide

The Bflat trumpet is not a concert pitch instrument

The bflat trumpet is not a concert pitch instrument.

What we mean by that is, when you a note that is written for B flat trumpet, for instance, it will sound a different pitch, than a concert pitch instrument, such as a piano, for that same note.

concert c vs piano pitch example

Looking at this example, if you play a concert C on the trumpet, it will sound concert Bflat.

This means that a Bflat trumpet sounds a whole step, or two half steps, lower than concert pitch.

To compensate for this difference, music that's written for B flat trumpet is transposed a whole step higher than it will sound.

How to tranpose concert pitch music, such as piano, for trumpet

So how do we figure out the sounding pitch?

I like to start with a basic formula that works for virtually every transposing instrument — when you see a C, sound the name of the instrument.

On a Bflat instrument like a Bflat trumpet, the written C will sound Bflat. Put another way, when a Bflat trumpet player sees a written C in the score, she fingers a C, she plays a C, but the sound she makes is a Bflat.

Let's start with an example.

twinkle twinkle little star tranposed from piano to b flat trumpet

In the example above, we have the first few measures of Twinkle Twinkle.

We have it in two different keys, the first key is F major—this is the concert key—the notes that actually sound if you play them on the piano.

The second key is G major. This is the transposed key, which is written a whole note higher. Here we are using the key signature to take care of transpositions.

When correctly tranposed, this two will have the same pitch.

A C major scale on piano, for instance, would have no sharps or flats. But if you transpose that up a whole step, you would be playing a D major scale with two sharps.

So, whenever you transpose music to be played on the trumpet that is written in concert pitch, you need to raise every note by a whole note (by a major second) using the key signature.

Note that sharps will cancel out flats, and flats will cancel out sharps.

Higher or lower?

We also haven't talked about how to know if the sound is higher or lower than the notation.

In the examples we've seen so far, the sound has been lower. That isn't always the case.

The sound is higher for instruments that are smaller and higher than the standard instrument. Trumpet in D or Eflat, for instance, are smaller instruments than the Bflat trumpet, that play high music. So they transpose higher.

Trumpet in D would be major second higher, trumpet in Eflat would be up a minor third.

While most transposing instruments sound lower than written, the exceptions are the small high pitched instruments that sound higher than written.

But the basic formula still works.

Even if you aren't sure if the sound is higher or lower, remember that — when you see a C, sound the name of the instrument.

That way you'll still get the letter names right.

How to transpose Bflat trumpet music, for C trumpet

This entire process is reversed when you want to play Bflat trumpet music on the piano, C trumpet, or on any other concert pitch instrument.

So, if you were to transpose notes written for Bflat trumpet for a concert pitch instrument, such as the C trumpet, you would need to lower all the notes by a whole note (by a major second).

Trumpet Transposition Chart

C Instruments B Instruments D Instruments E Instruments
C trumpet, piano, guitar, concert flute, piccolo, bass flute, chromatic harmonica, any instrument that has a piano-like keyboard, and any instrument that has strings. B trumpet, tenor sax, soprano sax, clarinet, bass clarinet, flugelhorn D trumpet E trumpet
C D xox xox
C / D D / E xox xox
D E xox xox
D / E F xox xox
E F / G xox xox
F G xox xox
F / G G / A xox xox
G A xox xox
G / A A / B xox xox
A B xox xox
A / B C xox xox
B C / D xox xox
C D xox xox
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