This post is in response to one of our users trying to tune her saxophone using an electronic tuner. She said she was having trouble matching the written pitches she was playing with the letter names on the read out. We realized she didn't know her alto sax is actually in the key of Eb!
We'll spare you the mystifying and convoluted history lesson on why this has come to be and just get on with the gist of the information.
Many instruments are already in the key of C which simply means, when you play a C on these instruments, it registers a C on a tuner. Those of you learning piano, keyboards, flute, oboe, bassoon, mallets, trombone, baritone horn, euphonium, tuba, violin, fiddle, viola, cello, acoustic bass, bass guitar, or voice - you are hereby dismissed! All of those instruments are in the key of C and the letter name of the note you're reading and sounding will match up with the letter name on your tuner (provided of course, that you are in fact in tune). Hooray for you - now go practice!
(PS - Guitars are also in C - however, the note you're sounding is actually an octave lower than where it is written on the staff... don't even ask...but you too, are excused).
For the rest of you, it's best to memorize the following concert-key mantra; "MY C IS CONCERT KEY!" C'mon, say it with me... "MY C IS CONCERT KEY", LOUDER NOW! "MY C IS CONCERT KEY!" Good! Now here's what it means;
If you play:
Clarinet, Bass Clarinet, Soprano Sax, Tenor Sax, Trumpet, Cornet, or Flugelhorn these instruments are in the key of Bb. When you play a C, (as in, "my C") it will read Bb on the tuner ("= concert key").
Alto Sax and Baritone Sax are in the key of Eb. When you play a C, (as in, "my C") it will read Eb on the tuner ("= concert key").
And, French Horn is in the key of F. When you play a C, (as in, "my C") it will read F on the tuner ("= concert key").
Luckily, most all music you'll be reading (like songs in the Kore Series for example) has already been transposed for you. You will however need to remember the "MY C is CONCERT KEY" mantra when working with a tuner or when reading the same piece of music with someone who plays an instrument keyed differently than yours (more on that later).
We hope this helps. Now everyone can go practice.... and happy musicking!