Ranges & Transposition

Jazz Arranging – Chart of Instrument Ranges

You’ve probably all seen, and heard, a big band in full flight come to the end of their showcase number. The lead trumpet goes for a high note and maybe a tenor player decides to compete and show off their command of the altissimo range. All of this adds to the excitement of a live band but how do you get that into your arranging?  Simple answer: you don’t. Stick to the standard ranges of the instruments in the arrangement and adjust them at rehearsals to make the most of what you have when you get to know the players.

When it comes to writing out your score, it’s best to avoid all of the pyrotechnics and super high notes that both trumpet and saxophone players sometimes aim for.  Of course, if you know the players and their capabilities then there’s nothing wrong with writing something that you know they will be able to play.

Make your life easy!

When you are just doing an all purpose chart, not only should you stick within the possible ranges of the instruments, but you also need to now the practical ranges.

On most instruments intonation often suffers at the extreme ends: on saxophones the top three or four semitones (known as the palm keys) can often be out of tune and difficult to control in a section, though many soloists are happy to play up there (and beyond into the altissimo range)

The bottom couple of notes of the saxophone are often difficult to control dynamically, they either tend to be loud and honky or, if the player uses subtone, these low notes can sound a bit too mushy and spread for section work.

It’s a bit different for other woodwinds. With flutes the low notes can sound very thin and weak but should be no problem at all for clarinets in regards to both tuning and dynamics.

Although we all know some trumpet players can play very high, it’s important to realise a couple of things.

  1. Most trumpet players don’t play those notes
  2. Even the high note specialists are limited in the amount of high note work their lips are capable of, so even if you know the player is happy with high G, give them plenty of rests and don’t write too many of them

If in doubt, stick to the ranges in this chart:


A chart of instrument ranges for jazz arranging


Chart of Different Instrument Transpositions


Concert score


Transposed parts


Alto sax as is treble Up a major 6 treble
Tenor sax 8va treble Up a major 9 treble
Baritone sax as is bass Up a major 13 treble
Trumpet as is treble Up a major 2 treble
Trombone as is bass as sounds bass
Guitar 8va treble 8va treble
Bass 8va bass 8va bass


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