What is concert pitch to trumpet players

What is Concert Pitch?

“Can you explain what is concert pitch and major pitch please?”

I get this question at least once a week by YouTube and Instagram followers, which I find perfectly understandable. To a beginner trumpet player it can be confusing to hear “play B flat concert” and start the scale on C . Why don’t we start the scale on B flat like the tuba or trombone?

Concert Key

The piano is a good default instrument to explain concert key because almost everyone has access to one whether at home, school or church. To find C on a full piano look for a set of 2 black notes together, C will be the note directly to the left of the left black note. The piano has multiple Cs of course, the one right about in the middle will be middle C.

So, here is the thing to remember, when you play C on a piano, you will hear a C. Your brain is hearing a C, or Do in solfége. You might be thinking, well of course! However, this isn’t the case with all instruments. It works only with concert key instruments, like the tuba and flute for example. When they play a C, you hear a C. Keep that in mind for now. 

Instruments Not in Concert Key are “Transposing Instruments”

The most common trumpet is a B flat trumpet, which means when you play a C you will hear a Bb. Any note played on the trumpet sounds a whole step lower. That’s right! So, this means that if a trumpet player and a pianist want to play B flat concert scale together, the pianist will start on their B flat key, and the trumpet player will start on C, since C sounds a B flat. This is also true for the B flat clarinet and other B flat instruments.

The same rule applies to instruments in other keys, such as the alto saxophone, which is in E flat. When the sax plays a C, you hear an E flat. Any note played on the saxophone sounds 3 half steps higher (or a minor 3rd.) So, if the saxophonist wants to join the trumpet and piano player on a B flat concert scale, his first note will be…G! Because his G will sound a B flat. 

What About When They Say “B flat Major”? What Does That Mean?

The “major” part of the scale name tells us that the scale has a major quality. It means the scale will sound major, or “happy”, as opposed to a minor scale which sounds “sad.” A major scale also starts on the note specified by the scale name. So, a Bb flat major scale will being on B flat, a C major scale will begin on C…etc. The same rules apply when the scale is minor, so if you’re asked to play a C minor scale, your first note will still be C, though the rest of the scale will be different.

A Universal Language

Instruments in a band or orchestra speak different languages, some speak concert pitch, others speak B flat or Eb, so in order to have everyone understand what’s going on we use concert keys. When the director says “Let’s play B flat concert scale”, the trumpet players will know to start on C, the saxes will begin on G and the tubas on B flat. 

What Trumpet Players Should Know About Concert Pitch

As a trumpet player, keep in mind that when you play a B flat trumpet, all your notes sound a whole step lower. When you play an A, you’re hearing a G. When you play an F, you’re hearing an E flat. This is always true for B flat trumpet. Remember that there are trumpets in other keys as well, which means those trumpets will sound different notes. 

All the instruments that are not in concert pitch are called transposing instruments. If you’d like to learn about other types trumpets check out the trumpet page.

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6 thoughts on “What is Concert Pitch?”

  1. When the note you read/play is not the one you hear then you obviously aren’t playing that note. Why don’t trumpets and other transposing instruments notate according to the actual sound and take the guesswork out of the equation. I’ve wondered about this “forever,” but have never seen much information about why we call and play a note we aren’t really playing.

  2. Hi there, I learned a lot from other websites. My suggestion is that you find blogs you love and mimic their style until you find your own. As far as starting a blog, the difficulty depends on the platform. I suggest you look up guidance on google; “how to start my own blog.” Best of luck!

  3. So, when a B-flat trumpet plays a C, and it sounds B-flat, is the note that is played objectively B-flat, or does a trumpet merely appear to sound B-flat due to the mechanics of sound in an orchestra setting?

  4. For years I’ve thought this transposition thing is unnecessarily confusing. Middle C on the piano is 261 Hz. The sound of Middle C on a Bb trumpet is valves 1 and 3, 261 Hz. But I don’t know how many trumpet players have told me, “No, that note on the scale you think is Middle C is actually Bb, 220Hz.” When I ask why, I’m told “because it’s a Bb trumpet.” But it doesn’t matter what the instrument is, a C is 261 Hz.

    I’ve been told, innumerable times, that if I’m going to play with others, I’ll need to transpose the music. No, I won’t. I just played in a quintet at church: My Bb cornet, a Bb trumpet, an alto saxophone, a euphonium and a clarinet. When the minister (the Bb trumpet player) was arranging a variation of the standard “O Come All Ye Faithful,” I told him I wanted my sheet to be in concert pitch. He looked at me a little funny, but the sheet I got said . Low and behold, when I played Middle C on the score (valves 1 and 3), my C matched everyone else’s C Middle (261 Hz).

    On several occasions I’ve taken a piece of music, lowered it a couple of steps to make it more comfortable to play, given a copy to my pianist, and guess what: my Bb cornet Middle C (valves 1 and 3) sounded just like the Middle C on her piano, 261 Hz.

    I’ve also been told this kind of thinking will mess up all of the method books. No, it won’t. Suppose the lesson is a series of quarter note – eighth note – sixteenth note patterns, with notes C – D – E. The fingering will simply be 13 – 12 – 2, rather than the needlessly transposed 0 – 13 – 12.

  5. The original post from a few minutes was missing a line. It should read

    but the sheet I got said Bb cornet / concert pitch / C = C.

    This missing part was originally in brackets, and somehow was deleted from the original message.

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