3. Transposed and Non-transposed Scores

Most full scores for both orchestra and band exhibit the transposed parts for each individual instrument. To ascertain whether a score is transposed, simply look down the left side of the first page to find out if there are different key signatures as this would indicate different transposing instruments, and thus a transposed score. The advantage to this kind of score is that the conductor sees exactly the same notes as the player, which can make pitch discrepancies between score and parts easier to resolve. 

If the full score has no key signatures for any of the instruments, one might assume that it is a non-transposed score in C. However, this might not always be the case. Some composers, particularly after the advent of atonal music, have chosen not to utilise key signatures but instead opt to insert all of the individual accidentals. Therefore, this might not tell us if the score is transposed or not. It is essential to discover this information during the initial process of score study. The easiest way to determine this is to find a non-transposing instrument that has the same musical line or chord as a transposing instrument and to ascertain whether or not they display an interval of transposition. Many composers and publishers, however, will often clearly indicate if the score is transposed or not.

Having presented these general concepts, some older scores may now appear confusing. For instance, Haydn’s Symphony No. 103, “Drumroll” calls for horns and trumpets in Es (key of E-flat), but there is no key signature for either instrument. The reason in these instances is that these pieces were composed prior to the advent of valves for the brass instruments, which did not come into common orchestral use until the latter half of the nineteenth century. Brass instruments then changed keys by inserting various lengths of tubing known as “crooks.” Since the crook put the instrument into the key of the piece, composers were mindful of the fact that the available notes were limited and there was no need to designate key signatures.

In older scores, timpani parts might also be perplexing. Earlier composers utilised timpani to play almost exclusively on tonic and dominant. A composition in the key of D would require the timpani to tune to the pitches D and A, but the notes on the staff would be written as C and G. The pitches C and G were used as a kind of universal representation of tonic and dominant. The performer would hit the tonic drum when C was written and the dominant drum when G was written.

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