All parts, including saxophone parts, must be written in the proper keys when arranging or composing band music.
For instance, if you would like to arrange an ensemble for several different instruments and all you have to start with is a church hymnal, you need to know from the start that the music for different instrument parts will be written in different keys. You may notice when buying music or instruments, each one has a note in the title or name. That is, the music is for E-flat alto saxophone or for B-flat trumpet. This basically means that saxophone parts will have a different number of flats or sharps than the parts for some of the other instruments.
In our example of arranging a hymn for a small ensemble, maybe a quartet, you can assume the music is written for the piano, which is a C instrument. The key of C has no flats or sharps. The best keys to write band music in are those that don't require any of the instruments to play in more than three sharps or flats. In general, having more sharps or flats makes music harder to play, but instrument players get used to playing in a few different keys.
Here are some other keys and how they affect saxophone parts.
If the piano part (or guitar and other C instruments, such as the flute) is written in the key of B-flat (with two flats) the tenor sax part will need to be written in C and the parts for the alto sax will have to be written in G (which has one sharp.) If the piano plays in the key of F (with one flat), the tenor saxophone parts will have to be written in the key of G (one sharp), while the parts for the alto sax will be written in D (which has two sharps.) These are some of the more common keys for arranging band and ensemble music, especially for beginning and intermediate players. Less common is the case in which the piano parts are actually written in C. In this case, the tenor sax parts will have to be in D (two sharps), and the alto sax parts will be in A (with three sharps.)
Experienced instrumentalists, including sax players, sometimes become able to read music from a hymnal or other C source and transpose it in their heads to play it in the proper key. This takes a lot of practice, however, and a thoughtful teacher or music director will take the time to write out saxophone parts and those for other instruments in the right key for the players.
The Parts of the Saxophone
Learn about the various parts of the saxophone such as the neck, octave vent and key, mouthpiece, body (tube, bow, and bell), thumb rest, keys (spatula keys and side keys), rods and pads.
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