What note do you hear when you play this note on the piano?

middle C

You hear a middle C, of course. But if you play the same note on a clarinet, French horn or trumpet you will hear a different note.

Clarinets, horns, trumpets and a few other instruments are “transposing” instruments, which means that the note the player reads is different from the note which their instrument produces.

For example, if a trumpeter reads and plays the following:

trumpet written pitch

the notes you actually hear are:

trumpet concert pitch

The sounds that are produced are called the “concert pitch” notes.

Trumpets and most clarinets are “ B flat”. This means that when the player reads a note which looks like a C, the note produced by their instrument is actually a B flat. Every note that the player reads sounds a tone (major 2nd) lower. 

Common Transposing Instruments

These are the transposing instruments you need to know about for ABRSM grade 5 theory:

  • Clarinet – in B flat and A
  • Trumpet – in B flat
  • Horn and cor Anglais – in F

In each case, the key of the instrument is the note which is produced when the player reads a C.

Instruments in Bb transpose by a major 2nd.

Instruments in A transpose by a minor 3rd.

Instruments in F transpose by a perfect 4th.