Instrument ranges and transpositions

saxophones | woodwind doubles | brass | rhythm | lead part writing


Flute, Piccolo, Clarinet, and Bass Clarinet

Professional saxophone players are expected to double on a number of other woodwind instruments. The more common of these instruments, flute, piccolo, clarinet and bass clarinet are listed below and can be heard on the Alive XV CD. A woodwind specialist, besides playing all the saxophones, flutes, and clarinets, may also play oboe, English horn, bassoon, alto flute, or recorder. Know the strengths and weaknesses of the musicians for whom you are writing. Do not be too technical with your writing. A saxophone player playing clarinet or flute will probably not have the same technical abilities on those instruments as they would have on a saxophone. Get the musicians' assistance. Write out your ideas and have someone play them back to you. I have found that most musicians are glad to help you avoid writing difficult or impossible passages for their instrument.

Always let the musicians know prior to a rehearsal or performance if there are any special doubling requirements. Do not write woodwind doubles unless there is someone in the section with the necessary skills to perform the part. If woodwind doubling is not a strength of the saxophone section being written for, then do not have them double.

Parts should clearly indicate instrument changes. Give ample time for musicians to make these changes. (see below)

Transposition: None, written as sounds.

All professional and most college saxophone players will also play flute, but all will have varying skill levels on the instrument. Therefore, when writing flute parts for a saxophone player it is best to avoid extreme high or low ranges. Limiting the upper range to at least a fourth below its highest note (indicated above) is preferred. Remember that the low range of the flute will never be heard without amplification and the upper register will be difficult to play in tune.

Most flute parts are doubled by other flutes and woodwinds or other instruments - either in unison or in octaves - such as; flugelhorn, trumpet with cup or harmon mute, trombone with cup mute, piano and guitar.

Occasionally you will encounter and excellent saxophonist who primarily plays another instrument such as flute or bassoon. Alive XV lead altoist, Dane Andersen, is an outstanding classical flutist.

The following charts from the Alive XV CD use flute: Meaning of the Blues, North Rim, Oleo, Hubtones, and Isotope.

Transposition: Down an octave from concert pitch - sounds one octave higher than written.

The piccolo is used rarely in big bands. Most saxophone players will not own or play a piccolo. Write for the instrument with discretion.

The following charts from the Alive XV CD use piccolo: North Rim and Oleo.

Transposition: Up a major second from concert pitch.

Once a favorite big band instrument, the clarinet is used infrequently in contemporary writing. Because of this, the interest and skill level of young saxophonists to double on the instrument has diminished. Most contemporary writers, writing for professional bands, continue to use the clarinet as well as other woodwind instruments to create special tonal colors when desired.

The following charts from the Alive XV CD use clarinet: Oleo.

Transposition: Up a major ninth (octave + a major second) from concert pitch and written in treble clef.

The bass clarinet is sometimes used in big band charts and is usually played by the baritone saxophone player. It provides a light feel as a bass instrument, and an interesting texture when doubled on a melodic line.

The following charts from the Alive XV CD use bass clarinet: Oleo and Hubtones.