Monthly Archives: March 2014

The Trumpet/Viola Connection


This is what most trumpet players would do after reading my latest blog title.  (“how dare you compare us to the joke of the orchestra, etc…”).  So let me clarify – the similarity is not in the instruments themselves, or even in the players.  However, it is in the act of transposition that trumpet players are often called upon to do.

The common trumpet is the B-Flat trumpet.  It is what all grade school students start on and it’s what most people play the majority of the time.  Since we’re in B-Flat, we often need to transpose up one whole step to play in concert pitch.  I am thankful I learned how to do this at a young age, since even though I no longer regularly play the trumpet, I still use this transposition technique often.  Here is the reason why:

Viola players read in alto clef.  That means that middle C is on the third line of their staff. alto clef C

If you are used to reading in treble clef (as most trumpet players are), that note looks like a B (above middle C).   But since trumpet players are so used to transposing up a step, we can take that note up a step, and then DOWN AN OCTAVE- to middle C.  All we have to do is add that additional step of down an octave, and trumpet players can read alto clef very easily.

This technique has helped me alot since I went to college.  Having to sight sing in 4 different clefs, all I would think was to just sing up a step whenever I saw alto clef.  I also sometimes need to play open scores on piano utilizing these other clefs.  And if you can read alto clef, you can train yourself to read tenor clef.  Basically, tenor clef is DOWN a step (from what the note is in treble), then down an octave.

tenor clef c

In the picture above, the 4th line note would be D in treble clef, but it is middle C in tenor clef.

So, the next time you see your friendly neighborhood viola player, let them know you understand what it’s like to read in alto clef.  And maybe even try to cut down on those viola jokes.

Haydn on “Keyed Trumpet”

keyed trumpet

There have obviously been developments in trumpets over the years.  The two main predecessors to the modern valved trumpet are the natural trumpet and the keyed trumpet (about both of which my knowledge is somewhat limited).

As trumpet players begin to get into orchestral playing, they may sometimes wonder why early pieces seem to have “boring” trumpet parts, always playing the same few notes.  Little do they realize that this is because the instrument was severely limited.  The natural trumpet had no valves, and this is also the reason why any trumpet part of any significance from the baroque is written in a high range.  There is less distance between playable notes in the higher range of these trumpets.

The keyed trumpet was supposedly invented by Anton Weidinger, a trumpet player for which Haydn and Hummel wrote their concertos.  This was around 1800, and while the instrument sounds like a natural trumpet in tone, it can play all the notes of the chromatic scale.  The bore has openings which are closed by the various keys.  The instrument is held differently than the modern trumpet, and four fingers of the player’s right hand must move between more than three keys, making it seemingly difficult to play.

I think it’s interesting to be able to hear how the concerto would have sounded in 1800 when Haydn composed it.  Have a listen.