Friday, April 1, 2016

Horn Transposition Made Easy

by Stewart Thorp
(JEWM Staff Member & Horn player?)

When playing the horn, one of the major obstacles is the issue of transposition. This short article sets out to demystify the subject in a clear and approachable way for both teacher and pupil.

Firstly, what do we mean by ‘transposition’? Quite simply, transposition means making a piece of music sound higher or lower. To put it simply, the transposition of a set A by n semitones is designated by Tn(A), representing the addition (mod 12) of integer n to each of the pitch class integers………… but hang on, let’s make it even easier...

When we see ‘Horn in F’ this quite simply means that when we play a C we get an F. So, when we have ‘Horn in Eb’ in our score and we see a C in the music we must play a C that will sound like an Eb. So far so good! So, how do we get a C to sound like an Eb? Eb is quite close to F isn’t it, so couldn’t we just pull the tuning slide out? Well no, don’t be ridiculous! We’d need to have a very long tuning slide and that would make a trombone; and we wouldn’t want that, would we. To achieve this amount of pitch change we need to transpose, which is where we started. All this nonsense of using the tuning slide is just an irritating and pointless distraction. I wonder if you’re really suited to the horn. Anyway, if a C sounds an F on an F horn then it stands to reason that we need to play a bit lower to get an Eb, but how much lower? Well, let’s try playing a B, which is a bit lower than a C, and see where this gets us. Playing a B on an F horn will produce an E. Aha, almost there! The next logical step (half-step really, but let’s not complicate the matter) is to play a Bb on the F horn which will produce an Eb. We’re there! Quite simply then, when we have a horn in Eb part to play on an F horn and we see the written note C we need to play a Bb to produce an Eb. And that’s all there is to it! You are now able to read a part for horn in Eb and play all Cs with confidence!

In my next article I will deal with the written note G for horn in Eb on an F horn and why playing a horn in F part on a Bb horn is a metaphoric anachronism. Happy blowing!