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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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  1. RachaelB's Avatar
    I play bass clef baritone horn in a local concert band with two other baritone horn players. The other two play treble clef music. I am constantly amazed that we're both playing exactly the same music but the treble clef music is written in a totally different key with different notes altogether. But we're playing exactly the same musical notes, not the same written notes. Why is it necessary to transpose the notes in a Bb instrument from bass clef (Bb is open valving) to treble clef where the same sounding note is now written as a C? Why is this done so that a virtual Bb is actually shown as a Bb in both clefs?
  2. micromat's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by RachaelB
    Why is it necessary to transpose the notes in a Bb instrument from bass clef (Bb is open valving) to treble clef where the same sounding note is now written as a C?
    Treble clef notation allows you to play every instrument from Eb soprano cornet all the way down to Bb tuba using the same fingering (yes, there are TC parts for Bb tuba) except French horn. Being able to read both BC and TC is a great advantage. It will also allow you to play e.g. Eb TC parts (baritone sax) on a euphonium or trombone by just mentally changing the clef and adding 3 flats, similar to the procedure above).
  3. RickF's Avatar
    What 'micromat' wrote explains why musicians in "British style brass bands" read from treble clef music. In wind bands or concert bands the treble clef baritone player is used to Bb trumpet fingerings (or transposed parts) that trumpet players learned where notes are transposed up an octave and a full step (major 9th).
    Updated 07-27-2017 at 11:59 AM by RickF
  4. RachaelB's Avatar
    My wife plays trumpet and we've had arguments about why I'm playing a Bb on my baritone and when she plays a Bb on her trumpet it's not the same note at all. But what's she's doing is playing a Bb from the musical note in her mind - not a real Bb at all. It was very confusing until I started looking into it. I'm still not really sure why music for a Bb instrument is written differently in treble clef, though. Why not just write it all in the same key so when the director says, "Play a Bb", then everyone plays the same note. I know that they say, "Play concert pitch", and everyone plays the same note but it just seems to me that if a brass instrument is in the key of Bb than all Bb brass instruments should have the same fingering for the same notes so a person wouldn't have to learn how to read music all over again to play a different 3 valve instrument. Seems odd.
  5. micromat's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by RachaelB
    Seems odd.
    They're just two different approaches, each with their own (dis)advantages (same fingering for different instruments vs. accurate concert pitch). It can all be explained historically. There is no universally good system.

    And if you think this situation is odd, imagine how French horn players must feel when they get pieces marked 'Horn in A' (or E or D or whatever) to play on their Bb/F instruments. And what about BC notation in Bb... the worst of both worlds...
  6. rudibred's Avatar
    For years, I thought a euphonium part written in T.C. had the same notes as if it were written on a T.C piano part and I could just use the E-G-B-D-F / F-A-C-E trick. Never understood why the different key. When picking up a piece of music in T.C. (for any instrument) and trying to play it on euphonium, how can you tell if it's representing concert pitch or the T.C. part say for a piano (or is that just unique to piano?)