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Thread: Key of the Euphonium - B-flat or C?

  1. #1

    Key of the Euphonium - B-flat or C?

    It is confusing to many people that euphonium (or "baritone") music is written both in B-flat and in C. The instrument itself it built in the key of B-flat. The lowest natural note that can be played with no valves is a B-flat. The same is true of trumpet, for example. Trumpet music is transposed so that the open fundamental is written as a C. In other words, the music is transposed up one full step. A true B-flat is written as a C, and the key is changed accordingly, adding 2 sharps or subtracting 2 flats.

    A trombone's fundamental is also a B-flat. However, for trombone the music remains in concert pitch and is usually in bass clef. So when a trombonist plays a written B-flat, it will come out as a B-flat in the correct octave. The trombone is made in B-flat but players are taught to read the music so they will be playing concert pitch.

    A euphonium is in the same key as a trombone and in the same octave. Euphonium music can be written in bass clef, and in that case it will sound in concert pitch in the correct octave. But the player will produce a concert B-flat when playing an open note.

    The other way of writing euphonium music is in transposed treble clef. The only difference is the way the music is printed, not in the horn itself. It is transposed so that the open note is a C, but in this case it is also moved by an octave to avoid too many ledger lines. So a B-flat below middle C on the piano (just below the first ledger below the treble clef staff) is written as a 3rd-space C in treble clef. Euphonium music in treble clef is written in the same octave and transposition as bass clarinet and tenor saxophone music.

    Euphonium music written this way might have come about for one or both of the following reasons: 1) some euphonium players (me included) started as trumpet players and were switched to euphonium. Treble clef music made the switch easy because all the fingerings are the same as trumpet. 2) Euphonium is part of the brass band tradition, where all the instruments except bass trombone are written in transposed treble clef. So in brass band music, a player can play with the same fingerings on E-flat cornet, B-flat cornet, E-flat alto, baritone horn, euphonium, EE-flat tuba, or BB-flat tuba.

    Trumpet players usually learn to read from a piano score, where they will mentally transpose up a full step. While doing this they are playing in C on a B-flat instrument. Trumpet music could just as easily be written this way (in concert pitch). If it were, trumpets would still be in built B-flat, even though they play in C.
    Dave Werden
    Euphonium Soloist, U.S. Coast Guard Band, retired
    Instructor of Euphonium and Tuba
    Twitter: davewerden
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    Owner of TubaEuph.com, DWerden.com

  2. #2

    Key of the Euphonium - B-flat or C?

    I still don't get it. I'm even more confused. Please help. Is there anyone else I can refer to for answers?

  3. #3

    Key of the Euphonium - B-flat or C?

    Let's try a again to answer. Euphoniums or a baritones are B-flat instruments. So when you tune with a piano, the piano plays a B-flat and you play your tuning note with no valves pushed down. That means the HORN ITSELF is in B-flat. But when the band director is talking to you about notes, euphonium is treated as a C instrument when the music is written in bass clef and as a B-flat instrument when it is written in treble clef.

    Comparing treble clef euphonium music to bass clef euphonium music, the MUSIC NOTES are transposed for convenience in the treble clef part. Your standard tuning note in bass clef is a written B-flat on the space above the staff. A bass clef player would call it a B-flat. Your tuning note in treble clef is written as a 3rd line C. A treble clef player would call it a C. In either case, the note you play on the euphonium will sound as a B-flat.

    Usually when you learn to play, the first note you produce is an octave below the tuning note mentioned above. If you learn on bass clef music, your teacher will point to a B-flat on the 2nd line and say, "Play that note and don't use any valves." If you start learning from a treble clef book, your teacher will point to the C on the first ledger line below the staff and say, "Play that note and don't use any valves."

    The horn doesn't change. It's a B-flat instrument.
    Dave Werden
    Euphonium Soloist, U.S. Coast Guard Band, retired
    Instructor of Euphonium and Tuba
    Twitter: davewerden
    Facebook: davewerden
    YouTube: dwerden
    Owner of TubaEuph.com, DWerden.com

  4. #4

    Key of the Euphonium - B-flat or C?

    I've understood everything what Dave has said about the conventions and I read both treble and bass clef (well not, quite, more on that below) when playing euphonium, but the logic reasoning convention behind it still baffles me. Why on earth, when a piano player is playing a Bb, a trombone player is playing a Bb, a flute player is playing a Bb (and all three players are playing the same pitch) would a Bb trumpet or a treble clef reading euphonium have to play a written "C" in the treble clef to play the same absolute pitch??? I know there are historical reasons behind it, but it drives a doubler crazy!

    Coming from the bass clef dominated trombone playing world where I'm used to playing concert pitch, this paradox is too much for my feeble brain. My way around this for reading Bb treble parts is to read it like tenor clef (remember, I'm also a trombone player) and add two flats to the key signature. Then Bingo! You're pseudo-transposing Bb treble..while remaining in concert pitch. It works, although sometimes you have to think about the accidentals a little differently.

    But I'm sure pros like Dave actually do it both ways....they can switch between concert pitch and Bb treble parts seamlessly....better you than me!

    Nowhere has this convention messed with my sense of relative pitch than when I sing in choir. When the parts are written in the C-treble clef, I lose all sense of direction. I do pretty well in choir when I'm reading bass clef. But I can't rely on my tenor clef conversion to save me now because now I'm reading in C-treble. Even harder for me is reading C-treble parts on trombone or euphonium. I CAN read C-treble, but I really have to think about that to make it work, since it is a half step away from my tenor clef Bb treble fudging technique.




  5. #5

    Key of the Euphonium - B-flat or C?

    Yeah, I know it's a bit confusing, but there is SOME logic to it. In terms of getting to know your instrument, it makes sense to have the "open" key be the one without flats or sharps. Calling your open tuning note a B-flat is a little like if piano had been played all along so that the C scale started on a black note.

    Don't forget, the entire clarinet and sax families are made this way. Also, there is trumpet music that is transposed for C, D, E-flat, and F. It has even crept into the string world. I have a German edition of the Bach cello suites. A couple of them have an "alternate tuning" version, where the player tunes one or two strings differently than usual. But I can't play from those versions because SOME of the notes are transposed for the re-tuned strings and the rest of the notes (played on the "normal" strings) are in normal concert pitch! Now THAT'S confusing!

    The other piece of logic for treble clef euphonium is that it results in fewer ledger lines so the music is easier to read for most of the literature we play.
    Dave Werden
    Euphonium Soloist, U.S. Coast Guard Band, retired
    Instructor of Euphonium and Tuba
    Twitter: davewerden
    Facebook: davewerden
    YouTube: dwerden
    Owner of TubaEuph.com, DWerden.com

  6. #6
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    Key of the Euphonium - B-flat or C?

    Originally posted by: dwerden
    The other piece of logic for treble clef euphonium is that it results in fewer ledger lines so the music is easier to read for most of the literature we play.
    That's the reason I think it makes sense for euphers to read treble clef. I can't count more than just 2 ledger lines, LOL.
    Of course being a 'trumpet refugee' myself, all I can read is TC. Everytime I try to learn bass clef, I end up thinking in relation to transposing rather than new fingerings - and that's not the right. Sort of like Scott reading TC as tenor clef but adding 2 flats. I sing in our church choir too. I have no trouble reading TC, but singing bass, I mostly read bass clef. But I sing thinking in relative pitch and intervals.

    Rick Floyd
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  7. #7

    Key of the Euphonium - B-flat or C?

    I'm one of those euph players that orginally started out on trumpet and made the switch to euph when I became a freshmen at highschool. I didn't learn bass clef til the following year. That came about as I had to play valve trombone in the senior jazz band. I basically used a beginning yahama book to learn bass and transposed the music up a second. After a couple of weeks, I got comfortable reading bass clef but continue to keep in mind the 'treble clef' fingerings just in case. This paid off for me as any band director can give me either bass or treble clef parts. THe music librarians or those who hand the music get a bit confused of what to give me as I tell them either bass or treble is fine. Learning Bb treble does open up a lot of reporitoire, mainly cornet / trumpet solos. A good question to ask is at what point do to you teach an euph, trombone or tuba student Bb treble clef? During my junior year of university, I learned tenor clef. To this day, I prefer reading tenor clef and I tend to write my music in tenor clef. It just reads better to me for 90% of the time. Ofcourse, most euphonium parts or solo aren't written in tenor so Bb treble clef is the best alternative. Reading C treble is ok for me. I usually do scan the through the music just to make sure that I don't have to read the music down 2 octaves which can happen with some violin and flute solos. Thankfully, 95% of the time, the music I look at, it just needs be transposed down 1 octave.

  8. #8

    Key of the Euphonium - B-flat or C?

    So Dave, is there a preferred transposition for discussion on your forum? If I say "my high F is sharp" or "my low Bb has a double-buzz", that could mean different things to different people. Setting a convention to always discuss pitches in either concert pitch or Bb transposition would be nice. Probably concert pitch, to play nice with the tuba half of the board.

  9. #9

    Key of the Euphonium - B-flat or C?

    I started out playing tenor bone, then transferred to bass bone. While playing bass bone I decided to learn tuba in order help improve my lower register abilities. Once I learned how to play the tuba, I found an old baritone lying around and to my amazment the finger was the same, only the notes were an octive higher. I then found a trumpet and once again to my amazment the fingering was the same, only an octive higher ... I now play trumpet in treble clef using piano music .. which I think this is great, I do not have to transpose the music .. I still can not play the trumpet as well, using music writtten for it in the key B flat ...
    I personnally think that all trumpet music should be written for C, sure would be a lot easlier arranging pieces for brass groups ...

  10. #10

    Key of the Euphonium - B-flat or C?

    I do have one question.

    When a Euphonium is advertised as a C /Bflat horn combination, what exactly are they talking about?
    My confusion comes from the double french horns F/B flat instruments whom have forth valves that actually changes the configuration of the instrument an F horn to a B flat instrument, are these Euphoniums based upon this same principle ? will using the forth valve change the configuration or simply allow the player to play C using forth valve instead of using 1 and 3 ?

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