Are you scared of dealing with the alto flute transposition? It’s understandable because other flutes are in concert key (maybe transposing at the octave).
But the alto flute is a fun instrument to play and to write for. So here’s a guide on how to transpose for the instrument whether you’re a player or composer.
Alto Flute Transposition Overview
Before you can learn how to transpose for alto flute, you should know what key it’s in compared to concert key. The alto flute is in G, which is a rare transposition for instruments.
That means the alto sounds a fourth lower than written. So, a written C will sound like a concert G, for example.
However, the written range is the same as the concert flute. I’ve seen a few non-transposed alto flute parts. But most composers today should transpose the part accordingly.
I did that with my collection 18th Century Flute Solos (Transposed for Alto Flute).
Alto Flute Transposition Tips for Performers
While composers and arrangers will usually transpose an alto flute part, it still helps to understand the alto flute transposition. Then, you can play the correct scale when warming up in a flute choir.
Or maybe you want to transpose some music in concert pitch, but you want it to sound in the correct key. Either way, here are a few tips to consider so that you transpose your music well.
Add a Flat
To get from the concert key to the alto flute key, you need to add one flat. If you’re playing in a sharp key, you’ll take away one sharp.
The good news about this trick is that you can use the last flat in the concert key to learn the tonic in the alto flute key. Sharp keys are harder to figure out quickly, but if you can remove one sharp, you’ll be good.
Of course, you won’t just be playing the same written notes. But this is a good place to start before moving the notes up a fourth.
Focus on Intervals
After you find the new key, use that to figure out the starting note. Once you do that, you can focus on the intervals between the notes rather than the note names.
For example, you’ll follow the standard intervals when playing a major scale. If you’re playing a scale in thirds, you’d use those intervals.
This can make it a lot easier than trying to think of the concert pitch and the new note name. The simpler you can make alto flute transposition, the less frustrating it will be.
If you suspect you’ll play the alto flute a lot, practice transposition. You can do this in a lot of ways, from using your flute repertoire to playing scales.
When I do my warmups on alto flute, I’ll usually say the alto flute note name and then the concert note name in my head. That way, it reinforces the notes I see on the page and how they compare to what I hear.
You can also practice going the other way but on your C flute or bass flute. This is especially helpful if you switch between flutes often.
Work on Your Aural Skills
Another one of my favorite ways to practice alto flute transposition is to use my ear. Now, I didn’t do very well in ear training courses in college. But I’ve found it’s gotten easier over the years.
I really enjoy playing along to pop songs. Many of may favorite singers have ranges that overlap with the alto flute, so the melodies are easy to play by ear.
Once I figure out the melody, I like to think of the pitches in concert pitch. That allows me to play the song on my C flute, but it also reinforces how the alto flute transposes.
Why Is the Alto Flute in a Different Key?
The alto flute is in a different key because of its size and length. After the C flute, the next flute in concert key is the bass flute.
Since the alto flute falls in the middle, it has to be in some other key. Otherwise, players would need to learn a whole new set of fingerings to play it.
Can You Play Flute Music on the Alto Flute?
You can play flute music on your alto flute. When playing solo, you can play in the written key or transpose it.
When playing with others, you’ll have to transpose the part based on the instruments they’re playing.
Alto Flute Transposition Tips for Composers
If you compose or arrange music, you should know how to write for the flute. The alto flute is less common, but it’s becoming standard in flute ensembles.
Alto flute transposition is also a pretty standard practice. You could get away without doing it, but you’ll make enemies with a lot of flute players. So here are some tips to help avoid that.
Write in Concert Pitch
Having to think in multiple keys can be difficult. So if you’re writing for alto flute and another instrument, write all of the parts in concert pitch. Then, you can transpose the alto flute part later.
I have trouble switching back and forth when I compose. Now, I will write a transposed part from the beginning if it’s an alto flute solo.
Otherwise, I input the sounding notes in my notation software. Then, the program transposes the part for me.
Use a Computer
As I just mentioned, technology will do any alto flute transposition for you. Whether you write everything in concert key or transposed, a computer or tablet can help.
You might have a program that automatically transposes the part. Or you may need to transpose it after you finish your draft. Either option can work, just don’t forget to transpose the alto flute part if you don’t automatically.
Memorize the Circle of Fifths
When you’re a composer or arranger, you have to figure out what key the alto flute needs to be in. Sure, technology will do this for you, but it still helps to understand the circle of fifths.
This is a pretty basic concept in music theory. But if you haven’t studied it, I suggest you do so.
That will help you remember to add a flat or remove a sharp. If you like to compose on paper, you won’t have technology to correct you.
Do You Have to Transpose for the Alto Flute When Composing?
Technically, you don’t have to transpose alto flute parts that you write. But many players expect the parts to be transposed, so it’s common courtesy.
Some players might not mind transposing. However, you could make other players mad when their ensemble doesn’t sound good, and they can’t figure out why.
Are There Any Other Flutes in G?
There are a couple of other flutes in G, but the alto flute is the most common. An octave above the alto flute is the treble flute.
Meanwhile the contralto flute is an octave below the alto flute.
Alto Flute Transposition Made Easy
Alto flute transposition isn’t easy at first, but it gets better with practice. If you’re a performer and don’t want to worry about it, buy my new piece Mythic for alto flute.
And if you’re a composer, contact me for help engraving and editing your alto flute parts.