* BowTIE

Brass Transposition Instruction Environment

By David Randolph with Tim Schellenberg



BowTIE is a free Windows application designed to help trumpet and horn players learn to transpose. Euphonium and tuba players may also find BowTIE useful for learning fingerings on instruments in various keys. (Because the lower brass instruments are nontransposing, the players are always reading concert pitches. However, hardware changes present issues similar to those which confront players of the higher brass instruments.)


Conventional wisdom indicates that much of learning how to transpose may be achieved away from the instrument. As Scott Whitener put it in his Complete Guide to Brass,


Although some daily instrumental work is necessary to orient the ear to different pitch levels, eye and finger coordination may be developed by reading silently and pretending to operate the valves. In this way, non-practice hours can be used to further transposition skills.


The theory behind BowTIE is that these “non-practice” hours can be made more productive by providing immediate feedback to the player. When practicing the “silent reading” approach, I often felt as though I were getting the wrong notes under my fingers. Moreover, I found this kind of practice extremely boring. I hope that BowTIE will help players (including me) progress more rapidly and enjoyably toward facility in transposition, that BowTIE users will find it easier to get work wearing a bow tie in the rough-and-tumble world of orchestral brass.


The tool could also be used to learn basic fingerings on the instruments or perhaps to practice difficult fingering passages. Another application for BowTIE would be for “silent practice”—for times when playing on the real horn would be disturbing to others.


For details about recent releases and implementation notes, see the change log. For more information about BowTIE, check out the project page at SourceForge.

System Requirements

BowTIE should run on any flavor of Windows since Windows 95 (95, 98, Me, NT, 2000, XP), but I have only fully tested it on Windows 2000. (Other users have reported success with 98, NT, and XP.) A display that supports a resolution of 1024x768 pixels is required.


The full BowTIE distribution includes GNU Ghostscript to enable viewing music notation on screen. While Ghostscript will work for this purpose, it is not an ideal solution by itself. We recommend installing the latest release of Adobe Acrobat Reader before installing BowTIE. (You have probably already done this for other reasons.) If you preinstall Acrobat Reader in its default location, BowTIE will use it to display music notation. Another option is to preinstall GSview.


Initial Installation

  1. Download BowTIE (approximately 8 megabytes), which includes Ghostscript.
  2. Double-click the bowtie_full_setup.exe file.
  3. Follow the instructions on screen to complete the installation. (If you accept the Ghostscript installation defaults, you should not need to do any additional BowTIE configuration to view files.)
  4. The BowTIE window will display, and icons like  should appear in the Start menu and on the desktop.
  5. If music notation does not display, select Edit => Document Preferences to tweak the settings.

Reinstallation (Installation Without Ghostscript)

  1. If you have previously installed the full BowTIE distribution, it is strongly recommended that you first uninstall BowTIE and remove the state.txt file from the directory where BowTIE was installed.
  2. Download the basic BowTIE distribution (approximately 3 megabytes). You should also use this basic distribution if you already have Ghostscript installed on your system.
  3. Double-click bowtie_setup.exe file.
  4. Follow the instructions on screen to complete the installation.
  5. The BowTIE window will display.
  6. If music notation does not display, select Edit => Document Preferences to tweak the settings.


If you have any problems, please consult the troubleshooting guide.


BowTIE is freeware and is distributed under the terms of the GNU General Public License. If you use the program, please email me. I would like to know what you think of it. Program maintenance will definitely improve if I know BowTIE has found an audience.


I hope this is pretty self-explanatory. Select the instrument in your hand and on the stand. (Click New to define a new instrument. Click Edit to modify an existing one.) Click Play to preview the piece and adjust the performance tempo and volume. Click Perform and wait for the performance window to open. Press the <TAB> key, and you will hear one measure of metronome clicks. Come in on the downbeat pressing the appropriate keyboard keys as required by the transposition of the tune. (By default, these are the number keys— use the <1> key for first valve, <2> for second, etc.) Press the <ESC> key to terminate a performance early.


See the help page for more details.


If you have any problems, see the troubleshooting guide. (The most common problem appears to be with “sticking valves.” If BowTIE does not allow you to play even the most basic tune, please try remapping the valves as described in the troubleshooting guide.)


(Note that you can develop your own music for use with BowTIE. I recommend Wil Macaulay’s Skink for this purpose. It provides nice feedback when entering the abc code.)


BowTIE is currently in alpha release. So far, only trumpet support has been thoroughly tested. Horn support has been attempted, but not tested very well. Euphonium and tuba support, while present, is even less developed. Also, only a small, untested set of content files is provided. I am hoping to find some public-domain transposition methods to translate to abc format for use within BowTIE. Let me know if you have some music you would like to give away.


Finally, the program will only run on Windows.


If you would like to see additional features in BowTIE, please make a request.


You can uninstall BowTIE by selecting Start => Programs => Uninstall BowTIE. Note that Ghostscript will not be removed through this action. To remove Ghostscript, you must do so separately through Start => Settings => Control Panel => Add/Remove Programs.

Promises, Promises

The following items are on my list of features to add to future releases of BowTIE:


*      Improved horn support

*      Euphonium support

*      Tuba support

*      Support for importing standard MIDI files

*      Visual feedback during performance

*      Improved content (in separately downloadable packages)

*      Transposition “flash cards”

*      A more robust (context-sensitive) help system, including transposition techniques

*      Linux port

*      Comments in the code

*      “Manual” tonguing support

*      Actual tonguing support (voice activation)


SourceForge.net Logo Page last updated 14 August 2004. Page views: 5015. Downloads: 1186.

© 2002-2004 David Randolph and Tim Schellenberg (Ineptisoft)