Monday, 20 July 2009


If you want to become a professional horn player, or even an amateur who plays regularly in a community orchestra, you must be able to transpose at sight. A lot of the standard orchestral repertoire that involves transposition, and you will be lost immediately if you can't put a transposed part on the stand in front of you and play it with almost as much facility as if it were in F.

I've just taken a look through all the symphonies of Beethoven, Brahms, Dvorak, Mendelssohn and Schumann. This is all very much standard early romantic orchestral repertoire. Both professional and community orchestras play this stuff all the time. I counted up all the transpositions, according to how many movements in each part were in each key. These are the totals I came up with.

Horn in A: 8 movements
Horn in G: 2 movements
Horn in F: 72 movements
Horn in E: 27 movements
Horn in Eb: 40 movements
Horn in D: 52 movements
Horn in C: 34 movements
Horn in B natural: 4 movements
Horn in Bb: 32 movements

If you hope to go to music college as a performance major, your transposition capabilities should be pretty secure before you finish high school.

And no, nobody is going to write out horn parts for you in F. And no, you won't have time to do that yourself if you ever become a professional - you might only get one rehearsal on the day of a concert and then have to perform. You just have to be able to put the music on the stand and play it.

So, how to learn how to transpose? There are a number of techniques. I work out what the new key signature should be, and then think into a different scale (and therefore a different set of fingerings). Others imagine the piece in an odd clef and then add or subtract an octave.

Many of the Kopprasch studies are indicated to be practiced transposed in addition to being played in F. Do that. Slowly at first, and then faster so that eventually you can play them as fast transposed as you can in F.

Practice transposed sight-reading. I explained how to improve your sight-reading in a previous article. Now you have to do it all over again in different keys. Complain all you like about it, then get on with it. The audience at a concert neither knows nor cares about transposition, and will make no allowance for it when deciding if the horns have fluffed too many notes.

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