The clarinet is one of the most versatile and expressive instruments in the woodwind family. It can play in many musical genres from classical to jazz and pop. Once of the challenges and joys of the clarinet is that it can play in different keys, depending on the type. This means that clarinettists need to know how to transpose from one key to another to play in ensembles and to expand repertoire.
In this article, we’ll dive into transposition for clarinet in A, so you can level up your musical skills and play in ensembles in the right key!
The Clarinet in A
The clarinet in A is the second most popular type of clarinet behind the Bb clarinet. Like all clarinets, it is a transposing instrument so the note we hear is different to the note the clarinettist plays.
When the player reads a C on the staff and play a C, we hear an A natural. In other words, the clarinet’s written pitch is a minor 3rd above their sounding pitch.
If you play the clarinet and you want to compose music that harmonises with the piano, your sheet music will be a minor 3rd above the notes in the piano’s sheet music (or any other non-transposing instrument). Or you may want to play a flute piece on your clarinet, so you will have to raise each note a minor 3rd (3 half-steps) to play it in the same key as the flute did.
Another use would be if you are a flute player and you want to play a piece written for the A clarinet. To play in the same key as the clarinet you would need to lower the music 3 half-steps (a minor 3rd).
Transpose A to C: A Step-by-Step Guide
Being able to transpose from A to C is a great skill to have for any musician. It will allow you to play pieces written for transposing instruments, like the clarinet in A and piece together ensembles so that everyone is playing in the same key!
Transpose Clarinet in A to Concert Pitch
Concert pitch is the key non-transposing instruments play (the key of C). To move from the clarinet in A to concert pitch we are going to have to transpose between A and C, or by a minor 3rd.
Transposing from A to C involves up moving the notes up thee half-steps (semitones) or one and a half whole steps (tones). This is the same as moving up an interval of a Minor 3rd as C natural is the 3rd note in the C minor scale.
There are two different methods to transpose from A to C.
Method 1- Move notes up one at a time
Have a look at the melody below.
The melody is written in key of D major. We could move all the notes up three half steps (semitones), making sure that we take into account the F# and C# notes in the original key.
Here is the new melody. As you can see, we now have one flat, so we are in the key of F Major.
Here is the melody with the new key signatures.
The problem with this method is that it can take a long time to move up each note as we have to transpose based on a different scale or count up in semitones. The new key signature can also be difficult to find as we might not see all the accidentals in our new melody. If we didn’t have a B flat in the new melody, how would we know that we are in F major?
Method 2 – Transpose the key signature
- We could move up all the notes up a third (or up two positions)
- Transpose the key signature up a minor 3rd
- Deal with any notes outside the original key
Look at the melody below.
It is in Ab major so we have Bb, Eb, Ab and Db. First let’s move all the notes up a third. As we include the note we are starting on, this means moving the notes up two positions on the staff.
Now we can transpose our key signature. What is a minor 3rd above A flat? Another way to put this is by counting up three half steps as this is the same as a minor 3rd. Counting up in semitones we get, Ab-A-Bb-B, so our new key signature is for B Major, which has five sharps.
Here is our transposed melody with the new key signature.
If there were any accidentals that were outside the key of Ab, we would not use this method. Instead we would treat them as individual notes and transpose them on their own. So if we had a C# then this would move up to a E (three half-steps above).
Both these methods work when either transposing up or down a minor 3rd.
Clarinet in A Transposition Chart
Here is a handy chart for helping you with transposition for clarinet in b flat. You can use it to transpose a single note, for example C to Eb, or you can use it to transpose the key signature of a piece. For example a piece in D Major would transpose up a major 3rd to F Major.
Transpose Clarinet in A to B flat
The most popular clarinet is in the key of B flat, so it’s a valuable to be able to transpose between the clarinet in A and Bb. A – Bb is a minor 2nd or one half-step (semitone).
Transposition for clarinet in A to B flat
- Transpose down one half-step to play clarinet in A music on the B flat clarinet.
- Transpose up one half-step to play B flat clarinet music on the A clarinet.
- To have both instrument harmonising in the same key, we need the A clarinet part to be one half-step above the B flat clarinet part.
Transpose clarinet in A to Alto Sax
The alto sax is a transposing instrument in the key of Eb. This means that it is a Major 6th below concert pitch. The clarinet in A is also a transposing instrument in A (a Minor 3rd below concert pitch).
The interval of E flat to the A natural above is an Augmented 4th. Or we could say it is 6 half-steps (semitones).
So why is transposing useful? Well, we might want to play music written for alto sax on the A clarinet or we might want to write harmonising parts for both instruments. By transposing by an Augmented 4th we can do this.
Transposition for clarinet in A to alto sax:
- Transpose up an Augmented 4th (6 half-steps) to play A clarinet music on the alto sax.
- Transpose down an Augmented 4th to play alto sax music on the A clarinet.
- To have both instrument harmonising in the same key, we need the A clarinet part to be 6 half-steps below the alto sax part.
What is an Augmented 4th and how do you use this interval? Check out our guide to augmented and diminished intervals to learn more.
Transpose Clarinet in A to French Horn
The French Horn is a transposing instrument in the key of F. This means that it is a perfect 5th below concert pitch. The A clarinet is a transposing instrument in A, so we have the interval of F – A between them.
F – A is a Major 3rd as A natural is the 3rd note in the F Major scale.
So why is transposing useful? Well, we might want to play music written for the A clarinet on the French horn or we might want to write harmonising parts for both instruments. By transposing by a Major 3rd we can do this.
Transposition for clarinet in A to French Horn:
- Transpose down a Major 3rd to play French horn music on the A clarinet.
- Transpose up a Major 3rd to play A clarinet music on the French horn.
- To have both instrument harmonising in the same key, we need the French horn part to be a Major 3rd above the clarinet part.
Transpose Clarinet in A to Guitar
The guitar is actually a transposing instrument because its sounding pitch is one octave below its written pitch. This means that when the guitar reads middle C on the staff, we will actually hear the C below this.
The clarinet in A is a transposing instrument in the key of A, so C to the A above gives us an interval of a Major 6th. This is because A natural is the 6th note of the C major scale.
Transposition for Clarinet in A to Guitar:
- Transpose up a Major 6th to play clarinet in A music on the guitar.
- Transpose down a Major 6th to play guitar music on the clarinet in A.
Using computer software
A far quicker method of transposition is to use software to do it for you! Apps like Musescore, Sibelius and Finale will transpose whole pieces with the press of a few buttons. You can then export, print and share your new transposed sheet music.
- Learn how to transpose with the B flat Clarinet.
- Check out our transposition guides.