How to Sight-transpose Clarinet Parts
Update - Nov 10,2006: It has been brought to my attention that
the transposition chart on this page contains some errors.
Things to Keep in Mind
Techniques to use for sight-tansposing clarinet parts. Many orchestra clarinet parts are often not written for Bb clarinet, and you may not have the required A, D, C, etc. clarinet. Also some passages may be present great technical problems which one does not have time to master, so one will transpose the part onto a differently pitched instrument to make the fingerings easier. The main reason for sight-transposing is that not all of us happen to own a complete set of pitched clarinets, so we have make do by tranposing as we play.
One thing to keep in mind, is that ochestral parts written for different pitched clarinets are "actually supposed to" be played on the clarinet they are written for. Each of the different pitched clarinets has a unique sound. A "C" clarinet sounds much brighter and piercing than a "B-flat" clarinet, and there actual slight but noticeable tonal differences between the "B-flat" and the "A" clarinet. While a highy-skilled player can compensate somewhat for these tonal differences, ie making a "B-flat" clarinet sound like a "C" clarinet, it is preferable to play the instrument that is specified by the composer. Sadly, most of us (myself included), simply cannot afford — or carry — a complete set of differently pitched clarinets, so we have to make do.
When sight-tranposing clarinet parts, you have to be mindful of the range of the instrument. For transposing "A" parts onto a "B-flat" clarinet, you may need a low Eb key, which is only available on a Full Boehm Bb Clarinet. Also, when tranposing parts written for Basset Clarinet or Basset Horn, one must remember that both of these instruments have keywork down to a Low C. Also some bass clarinets often will have an extended range down to a low Eb, D, or C. You must check parts before you embark on playing them via sight-tranposition to make sure that you will not "run out of notes". There may be sections that you do where you can make substitutions (eg. raise a section up an octave, or whatnot), but sometimes this isn't feasible...hich means you will need to either not play the music or borrow/buy the correct instrument.
For those of us who play clarinets with the modern French fingering system, the standard Boehm system (17 keys & 6 rings) works well for most passages. Additional keywork on some clarinets can make some technical passages eaiser to play. The most common "extra" is the Augmented C#/G# (most noticable by the extra ring for the index finger). Many manufacturers will offer their clarinets as a standard version and also sell a version with the Augmented C#/G# keywork.
Most popular with Italian clarinetists, is the Full Boehm clarinet, which has in addition to the standard Boehm clarinet: (a) Augmented C#/G# (b) Articulated C#/G# (an extra crook key for the right hand) (c) extra low Eb key. The full Boehm clarinet, offers many more key combinations, and is well suited for "B-flat" clarinets that are used to sight-transpose for "A" clarinet parts due to the low Eb. However, due to their extra expense and the relatively small number of people who can use their features and thus justify the additional cost, full Boehm clarinets are quite rare and are not widely used.
I will come right out and admit that I do not know very much about German (Oehler) system clarinets. I know they are based on an improved version of the older (and now obsolete) Albert system clarinet. German system clarinets are have a lightly different bore shape which gives them a unique sound. This sound is said to be darker and more powerful than the sweeter sound from the Boehm system's "French Bore". Distribution of the German Clarient, tends to be restricted to the German-speaking countries in Europe and in the middle East. German system clarinets are pretty much unheard of in North America.
I was not able to find any good information on how to do sight-transcriptions anywhere on the web, so I have put this page together to provide this info to others. It took me a while to figure it all out, so I thought I should share this information.
1. Colours of text in the table:
2. For adding/subracting flats/sharps, I am referring to the key signature:
3. When it says move up/down so many letter, that means: take the current original note letter (ignore if it has a sharp/flat on it due to the original key sigature), and then just move up or down to the next/previous letters as directed by the list. (e.g. Original note "c" with "move up 2 letters", becomes "C -> D -> E"). Whether the "letter note" is sharp or flat is looked after by your new key signature. It is easiest if you just mentally move up/down the note on the staff and imagine it in the new position (they key signature takes care of the flat/sharp stuff). Also if you get an accidental, you must apply it to the note as if it is "lowering" or "raising" from the note that would normally be there.