I’m in Music Education – Why Do I Need to Know Transposition?

Uh horns? That E-flat you have there? ...uhm wait... do re fa sol la ti ... the F? No wait... is it a C?
Uh horns? That E-flat you have there? ...uhm wait... do re fa sol la ti ... the F? No wait... is it a C?

The sentiment behind the question presented in the title is that only performance majors pursuing a career in orchestral playing need to worry about transposition. Orchestral repertoire demands the ability to transpose at sight virtually anything that is put on the stand.

For music education majors who will be teaching school children this skill is not needed, right?


Music teachers instruct classes from conductor scores that include a wide variety of instrumentation and transpositions. Many instruments — like the French horn — do not read in concert pitch.  Only rarely will a conductor score be written in concert pitch.

Children are smarter than you might presume

Worth mentioning too is that school children are very adept at detecting when a teacher fumbles for an answer to questions about notes and pitches. A lack of knowledge in this area can undermine a teacher’s authority in a classroom.

For the education major in college, what better way is there to learn transposition than on their instrument of proficiency?

For French horn players the skills of basic horn transposition correlate to score transpositions.

Horn in E-flat for example, requires a transposition of one whole step downwards. When reading a full score, the instruments in B-flat require a similar transposition method to figure out their corresponding concert pitches. This includes trumpets, clarinets and tenor saxes.

Conductors need to know transposition

A conductor absolutely needs to have keen transposition skills. In deciphering wrong notes, where they are coming from and how to fix them, a conductor uses transposition skills on a regular basis.

Occasionally in the professional performance arena, it is perplexing when a conductor cannot transpose. Very much like with school children, orchestra musicians — and French horn players especially — can detect when a conductor is fumbling with score details.

In some work environments an oversight like this can be a catalyst.

Learn your transpositions!