“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?
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.