Thomas Stevens

Vacchiano on Transposition-The How

  • For Trumpeters Only

An example of the methodology.

The How

As a supplemental to the previous post:

Prior to playing (sight-reading) a transposition exercise, Vacchiano would engage in a brief question and answer session with the student about the particular transposition and how it should be approached/executed. (In the case of a student new to the program or a new technical issue, he would usually, at this juncture, offer instructions.)

A typical example of such a dialogue involving interval (as opposed to clef) transposition would be as follows: (an almost verbatim account of one of my lessons) The music is Sachse #58*. The transposition is to be “E” trumpet using a “Bb” trumpet.

Question: The written key signature is one sharp-“e” minor (same question would apply to”G” major). What will you do?

Answer: The interval difference between "Bb" and "E" is a tritone higher. Play everything up a fifth (which sounds as a diminished fifth) in five flats rather than up a fourth (sounding as an augmented fourth) in seven sharps for ease of execution. The rules in this case would be: Sharps=Naturals-plus, ("D#"="A") Flats=Naturals-minus, ( "Ab"="D") Naturals=Flats, ("E"="Bb") with special attention being paid to chromatic scale-derived half-steps that provide the exceptions which make the rules ("B" natural="F").

(In those days the majority of players, especially during the early stages of their studies, used the "Bb" trumpet almost exclusively, In addition, in terms of technical training, a Vacchiano Quotable: "If you can play it on the "Bb" trumpet, you can play it on anything.")

The example described above (and cited below) represents one of the more complex transposition problems ever sent in my direction, and it was specifically chosen for this posting to set up one of Mr. V.’s favorite stories, a genuine classic: During one of Miles Dewey Davis’ lessons with Vacchiano, our teacher of record presented him with a set of similarly complex transposition issues. When Mr. V. asked Miles how he would address them, Mr. Davis said he would put his trumpet back in the case!