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Transposing from Bass Clef to Treble Clef Euphonium

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I am often asked about methods for treble clef euphonium players to learn bass clef. For various reasons, that is the most common form. Those who originally learned euphonium in bass clef don't seem to require as much help learning treble.

Many years ago I yearned to play trumpet. When it was time to start music lessons in school, that was my choice. So my dad found a friend who had a cornet for sale and purchased it for $10. Keeping in mind that this was not during the frontier days on America, that was a pretty cheap price. Maybe Dad got a huge bargain or maybe the horn was not good. In any case, I did not progress very quickly. Sometimes notes would simply not come out of the horn for me. It could have been a mismatch between my lips and the cornet mouthpiece. My band director (who was my lesson instructor as well) suggested I try the "baritone" (which was actually an American-style euphonium). I played a few notes and liked it immediately, so he sent me home with it to get my parents blessing. My mom saw the size of the case and immediately said, "Oh, David - why do you want to play THAT big thing?!" But she consented.

Naturally I was used to treble clef because of my start on cornet. The band director suggested I learn bass clef. I tried for a while, but it didn't go so well, so he relented and let me play treble clef. I stayed with treble until high school, when it became convenient or even necessary to learn bass clef. I had a trombone by then and wanted to play in the pit bands (and even got to sub in the orchestra once). Since I was so familiar with treble clef, I learned bass clef by transposing on the fly. That is the method I suggest for most people.

I can hear about half the teachers out there saying, "NOOOOOOOOOOOO!" The preferred method for many teachers is to have the student treat the new clef as truly new, and learn it from scratch. It didn't work well for me, but it might for you. If it works for you, then you don't need to read past this paragraph!

For those who would like to get rolling quickly, transposing will probably be your best avenue. Bass clef euphonium music is written in concert pitch. A middle C sounds that same pitch on piano. When you play treble clef euphonium, the music is transposed up an octave and a whole step (a major 9th in all). So a middle C in bass clef, which is on the line just above the staff, is written as a D on the 4th line of the treble clef.

As you look at the bass clef part, mentally envision the note being down a 5th (2 lines or 2 spaces). So if you see that concert C on the first ledger line above the bass clef, you envision it down 2 lines, which puts it on the 4 line in the staff. In a treble clef part, that is the D that I mentioned above.

You also need to change the key signature in your head. Take away to flats or add 2 sharps. If the bass clef is in 3 flats, you think in 1 flat. If the bass clef part is in 1 sharp, you think in 3 sharps. If the bass clef part is in 1 flat, you can't take away 2 flats, so take away 1 flat and add 1 sharp.

Accidentals are the same in either clef with 2 exceptions. You need to be aware of accidentals on the envisioned treble clef F and C. A bass-clef flat is equal to a natural in treble, and a bass-clef natural is equal to a sharp in treble clef.

The printed example below shows bass clef and the equivalent treble notes, including fingerings. Click on the link below to see a larger image in a new window.


But wait - there's more! Once you learn the technique above, you can transfer much of the technique to reading from a piano part. You need to transpose that up a step to play in the same key as the piano. Otherwise, all the rules above apply. You change the key signature the same way and you treat accidentals the same way. Below is an example showing those equivalents:

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