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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
When teaching a beginner to play the saxophone, teach him or her to read concert pitches from the start. If the student is playing alto, demonstrate that B-flat has the fingering XXX 000. Once the student starts playing in ensembles, he or she will very quickly learn the "conventional" transposed fingerings. This is a great way to endow students with a useful skill that is required for advancing musicians.

Pete can attest to the advantages of this method:

I started off learning the alto as a non transposing instrument, so I learnt the concert notes. It wasn't until two years later when I went for an audition to get into college that I found out the alto transposed. They were quite surprised that I could sight read quite well, but it came out in the wrong key - so I had to relearn all the note names over summer so that I'd be OK playing in the big band at college (advisable to be in the same key as most of the rest of the band).

This has meant that now I can sight read quite well in alto or concert pitch, my brain just switches between alto and concert. ...

The trick is to keep the two systems separate and only be in one mode at any one time obviously, however I believe the human brain is quite good at doing this.
 

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Um, bad idea. How about getting them to play the correct notes first then have them to the mental exercise of transposing. You aren't doing them any favors by showing them Bb on the treble clef then having them finger G.

What you propose is teaching them incorrectly then having them "figure it out" once they get in a band class. Good teaching there.....not
 

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I'm afraid I have to agree with ericdano. It makes much more sense to learn the conventional fingerings first and then learn to transpose them. You have to remember that "concert fingerings" would be different between Bb and Eb horns making switching between the two quite difficult.
 

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Um, bad idea. How about getting them to play the correct notes first then have them to the mental exercise of transposing. You aren't doing them any favors by showing them Bb on the treble clef then having them finger G.

What you propose is teaching them incorrectly then having them "figure it out" once they get in a band class. Good teaching there.....not
Yeah, all in all I think reading in concert on a transposing instrument would be an overrated skill because no charts (other than lead sheets) are ever written that way.

By the same token I think it's absolutely essential that players of transposing instruments can name the concert pitch of any one of their notes. Concert is the lingua franca of the jazz band stand and no one has the time or the inclination to do this job for you. It's different if you're sitting in a horn section, but even there you can confuse the goose by speaking transposed when the local language is concert.

This is particularly the case with chord charts. Reading dots in concert is an esoteric skill at best, but reading concert chord charts is a prerequisite for playing in an improvising band situation. Guitar, keyboard and bass players own those chord progressions and they couldn't give a toss what mental arithmetic you might have to do to play them correctly.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
How about getting them to play the correct notes first then have them to the mental exercise of transposing.
My proposed method forces the students to learn a useful skill early in their training.

What you propose is teaching them incorrectly then having them "figure it out" once they get in a band class.
This is not "teaching incorrectly." Think of it this way: parents who primarily speak a language different from the society around them need only teach their children their own language. The children will easily pick up the societal language.

You have to remember that "concert fingerings" would be different between Bb and Eb horns making switching between the two quite difficult.
My proposal ensures that a student can read both "concert key" and "transposed key" for one instrument. The student can then use the "transposed key" fingerings (i.e. the usual fingerings) on any other saxophone. Essentially, the student learns to read concert pitch music on one instrument "for free." It's up to the student to learn to read concert pitch music on other instruments if he/she desires.
 

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My proposed method forces the students to learn a useful skill early in their training.

This is not "teaching incorrectly." Think of it this way: parents who primarily speak a language different from the society around them need only teach their children their own language. The children will easily pick up the societal language.

My proposal ensures that a student can read both "concert key" and "transposed key" for one instrument. The student can then use the "transposed key" fingerings (i.e. the usual fingerings) on any other saxophone. Essentially, the student learns to read concert pitch music on one instrument "for free." It's up to the student to learn to read concert pitch music on other instruments if he/she desires.
I don't understand the point. They will still have to learn how to play transposed. Why teach players to do something uncommon, and then say that the norm is to play transposed? If they want to play concert and transposed, then they will have to learn both ways anyway. Teaching them to play in concert pitch will only prevent them from playing in a group.
As for your examples:
(1) If you teach a child a language other than the local language, that won't help them. My parents taught me English. If I had lived in China as a child, while speaking English, I would not have picked up the Chinese language from hearing people speak it. I may catch a word here or there, but not enough to speak it, and a communication barrier between me and non-English speakers will exist. The same thing happens with the musician. He or she may be able to learn a lick or two in transposed key, but teaching them to play in concert prevents him or her from playing with other musicians.
(2) Your proposal just adds extra work for the child. I think that it would be much more beneficial for a musician to be able to understand their transposed key first, and then learn to sight-transpose.
 

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This is not "teaching incorrectly." Think of it this way: parents who primarily speak a language different from the society around them need only teach their children their own language. The children will easily pick up the societal language.
They can also pickup the societal language and be told to stop learning their parents language.
 

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Pete can attest to the advantages of this method:
I feel I should jump in here as it was a quote from me that started this. I am not advocating this as the best or the correct way to teach, all I said was the way I learnt. I can certainly attest to one advantage of this method, though I think it all re]depends on the circumstances whether that advantage is outweighed by disadvantages.

I'm not sure it's a bad idea or incorrect, so much depends on the environment you are playing in, and I was playing in an environment where no pretransposed saxophone music was necessary. It wasn't until I got to music college that I discovered the saxophone was a transposing instrument, by which time the (alto) concert notes were very ingrained in my brain that I had to do a lot of work to learn to read that Bb is really G.

The advantage is, having done all that work, I ended up still being better at playing from concert than anyone else I knew. But that advantage only materialised after all the work and is probably due to the fact that if I'd done it the other way round, I doubt if I would have concentrated so hard at learning the concert pitches as I did learning the saxophone pitches, purely to survive at college and play lead with the big bands.

Since college, I've spent more of my professional career playing and thinking in concert pitch than I have playing, thinking or reading in saxophone pitch.
 

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Always a good idea especially if one cares to get passing grade in school.
 

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Yeah, all in all I think reading in concert on a transposing instrument would be an overrated skill because no charts (other than lead sheets) are ever written that way.

By the same token I think it's absolutely essential that players of transposing instruments can name the concert pitch of any one of their notes. Concert is the lingua franca of the jazz band stand and no one has the time or the inclination to do this job for you. It's different if you're sitting in a horn section, but even there you can confuse the goose by speaking transposed when the local language is concert.

This is particularly the case with chord charts. Reading dots in concert is an esoteric skill at best, but reading concert chord charts is a prerequisite for playing in an improvising band situation. Guitar, keyboard and bass players own those chord progressions and they couldn't give a toss what mental arithmetic you might have to do to play them correctly.
I think Pat has it exactly right here. If you're going to spend a lot of time 'reading the dots,' you'll almost certainly be doing it on a transposed sheet. OTOH, if you are mostly playing by ear and improvising, you can think in the sax key (or not) and speak in concert key to the other musicians on the bandstand. So, for example, if you, or someone else, calls for a blues in Bb, you'll be speaking of concert Bb. Then when you start playing your tenor, you can think in C (or G if on the alto). I do this all the time. And if I want to name some notes to the guitar player, I'll do it in concert key of course. Even when speaking to other horn players it's best to speak in concert key so there's no confusion, especially if you're a tenor player talking to an alto or bari player.

I don't teach music, but if I did, I'd teach the students to read in the sax key, but also make sure they understood how it was transposed from concert key, and the importance of knowing the concert key pitches as well.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
I'd done it the other way round, I doubt if I would have concentrated so hard in, learning the concert pitches as I did learning the saxophone pitches, purely to survive at college and play lead with the big bands.
Yes, many players never bother to learn to read concert pitches very well. If they're taught early in their training, they're forced to learn a useful skill.
 

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Just have them get a C-Melody... nuff said
 

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Teaching beginner's a skill most will likely never use seems pointless to me.

Yes, reading concert pitch is a desirable skill, but how many saxophonists ever get to a stage where they NEED it? I started playing at age 10. The first time somebody ever advised me to learn how to read in concert pitch, I was 21. Though I could speak in concert pitch and played in rock bands with a bunch of "C" instruments, I never needed to really read in "C" until I was 27. 17 years after I first started playing. And even though I do it a lot now, I read transposed music a lot more. I play in big bands, I play in wedding bands where the book is in my key, I play in church, I play for musicals, and I play in orchestras and all that stuff has been transposed to my key.

Let's face it, most kids stop playing after high school. They'll never be in a situation where they'll even need to know how to read in C. In reality, virtually EVERYTHING they'll read in that time frame will be transposed for them already. So what should be taught as the standard way and what should be taught as the special skill, the adjustment to the standard way? Whichever way you learn first, what written note you associate with a particular fingering, is going to be the basis for which you relate everything else. So do you want to teach them the way they're going to be playing for a decade or more or the way they might have to play once in a while if they ever get to a level where they play professionally with bands that use "C" chart?

I see major problems with learning in C first.

With the transposing method, whatever fingering you learn on one sax will work on any other sax. You learn a "G" on alto as 3 finger down, it's going to be the same when you move to tenor or bari or soprano or C melody or whatever. If you learn with a concert pitch method, then a G on alto is fingered with 5 fingers down but that doesn't carry over to tenor which would use 2 fingers instead. So instead of one universal fingering system, you have to learn at least 2 sets of fingerings. And then if you want to pick up the common double of flute, an instrument with very similar fingerings, you'd have to learn an entirely new set of fingerings instead of making only minor adjustments to what you already know. It just seems like more trouble than it's worth, especially for beginners who will likely never see a "C" chart in their lives.

The other thing is that it's a simply a short cut to playing in "C". It's a short cut that bypasses the much more valuable skill of being able to transpose at sight. Not just from C to Bb or Eb, but from any key to any other key. Learning how to read in "C" by associating fingering to concert pitch doesn't help you to learn to transpose jack. Reading in "C" and transposing at sight are different skills. And if you need to transpose to key other than the one written, then "Reading in C" and "Reading in Bb" ain't all that different. You're screwed either way if you don't know how to transpose at sight. But if you are able to transpose at sight, they you can read a chart written in any key for any instrument, concert pitch included.

One thing I do (or don't do) when I read a "C" chart, I don't associate a different fingering to the written note. Meaning, I don't see a "G" and think to finger 2 fingers down on tenor instead of 3. Rather, when I see one note, I trick my brain into interpreting it as a different note and then I finger that note. So when I see a "G", I think "A" and I finger an "A".

Where I find this advantageous is that I'm not always transposing from C to Bb or Eb. Playing in this manner has also trained me to transpose in other intervals as well. That I can read up a m3 or M3 or P4 or TT etc. and I don't have to worry about the fingerings so long and my brain tells me the right note to play. So I'm not limited to reading in C. You can hand me a part in bass clef, tenor clef, F, Eb when I'm playing tenor or Bb when I'm playing alto, or Bb or Eb while playing flute and I can still read it. You can even hand me one of those charts and tell me to play it in a different key and I can because learning how to actually transpose at sight rather than associating fingerings to concert pitch allows me to do that.

Even if you learn how to read "C" charts by associating fingering with concert pitch, If they tell you to play play a particular song in D or Eb instead of E because the singer is a little sick and their range is a little more limited, you're still screwed unless you've learned how to really transpose on sight.

I remember Bob Reynolds telling a story where he was playing with this band led by singer/songwriter named David Ryan Harris. They were doing this party hosted by John Mayer who Bob plays for and who DRH was touring with. Anyway, DRH had Bob and this trumpet player learn a song off of one of his CD's. The problem was that the song was in "E" on the record and in live performance, DRH tunes his guitars down to Eb (or B, however you want to think of it). So the song starts and Bob and the trumpet player start playing but they realize the song is a 1/2 step down from where they learned it. Bob adjusts, the trumpet player doesn't and he played the whole song a 1/2 step off. Now, this trumpet player was just being arrogant, believing himself to be "right" while everyone else was "wrong", but there's another point to this story. Things like this happen and you have to have the actual skill of being able to transpose which is different from just reading in "C".

I did a gig last night. One of the tunes was Chuck Berry's "C'est la Vie/You Never Can Tell". I'd only ever played it in "C" and my chart was written in "C". But last night he decided to do it in "D" which meant I had to read it up a M3 to my "E". See, simply being able to read in "C" is not enough. You need to learn how to actually transpose.
 

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Yes, many players never bother to learn to read concert pitches very well. If they're taught early in their training, they're forced to learn a useful skill.
I play both soprano and alto recorder. I have to put my 'C' hat on when on soprano, and then my 'F' hat on when playing alto. Luckily, I don't play jazz on recorder, because it would be even harder to do this with a lot of accidentals that you get when reading jazz.

I'll take the transposed parts, thank you.
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
I play both soprano and alto recorder. I have to put my 'C' hat on when on soprano, and then my 'F' hat on when playing alto. Luckily, I don't play jazz on recorder, because it would be even harder to do this with a lot of accidentals that you get when reading jazz.
Exactly. My proposal would make students very adept at changing hats.
 

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Exactly. My proposal would make students very adept at changing hats.
I disagree, but you're welcome to try it. I don't think that learning two systems is more efficient than learning one. Reading is a whole different ballgame than learning to play while 'thinking' concert pitch.

It's the difference between learning to speak Spanish and English as a child. You become naturally bilingual. That's because we're hard-wired to learn to communicate using language. We are not, however, hard-wired to learn to read. So, no purpose is served by teaching students to read two similar languages at the same time.
 

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I disagree, but you're welcome to try it. I don't think that learning two systems is more efficient than learning one. Reading is a whole different ballgame than learning to play while 'thinking' concert pitch.

It's the difference between learning to speak Spanish and English as a child. You become naturally bilingual. That's because we're hard-wired to learn to communicate using language. We are not, however, hard-wired to learn to read. So, no purpose is served by teaching students to read two similar languages at the same time.
I wouldn't even call it two separate languages. I'd call it the same language but where the meaning of the words have changed.
 

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It's all concert pitch in my world.

When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school....
 

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Kodachrome...........
 

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I learned both at the same time. My band teachers made it clear I was playing a G Major scale, but it was a Concert Bb. I had no issues differentiating between the two, it just took a little extra thought when I was asked to play Concert Bb...

Rather than teaching them only concert pitch from the get-go, teach them both, make sure they understand the difference, and occasionally drill them on it to make sure they still know it...
 
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