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How to Transpose Music


Key Signatures

Scales and Modes

Chord Types and Symbols

Transposition is the technique of changing the key of a composition or musical section, while retaining the melodic shape and harmony in the new key. This can be done for several reasons: a clarinetist may want to change a score from concert key (for piano) to the key of the clarinet; a vocalist may prefer a different key for performance; a composer may want a passage to have a different tonal pallette. Modulation occurs when a section of a composition changes key.

It's relatively easy to transpose passages or even whole compositions and is a good exercise for all musicians. First one should understand that if a piece is transposed up a whole step, for example, everything in the piece must move in the same manner. Even the key signature and chords must be changed to match the movement of the notes.

Here are the steps to help you transpose:

1. On a blank sheet of music paper write the key signature into which you are going to transpose your selection.

2. Copy the selection and move each note the same interval up or down as the tonic of the new key has moved.

3. If there are notes in the original selection which are outside the key (have additional sharps or flats), they will be outside the key in the transposed version and must be adjusted accordingly.

Example 1

Here is an example of changing a piece in the key of C Major (Fig. 1a), with no additional notes outside the key, to the key of F Major (Fig. 1b):

1. The key of C Major has no sharps or flats and the new key of F Major has a Bb in the key signature. Make the appropriate change on the blank sheet of music.

2. Copy each note one space and one line higher in the new version, i.e. A's become D's, B's become E's, etc. (The musical term for the distance or interval which these notes have moved is 'Perfect fourth', because they have moved up to the fourth scale step). Remember to keep the rhythm and bar lines the same as in the original version. All chord symbol letters (if any) should also be changed accordingly.

3. Since there were no additional accidentals (sharps or flats) outside the key of C Major in the original selection, there will be none in the transposed version in F Major.

Figure 1a (C Major)

Fig. 1a (C Major)

Figure 1b (F Major)

Fig. 1b (F Major)

Example 2

Here's a slightly more complex transposition: from A Major (Fig. 2a) to Bb Major (one half-step up) (Fig. 2b) with a D# as an additional note in the original selection:

1. The key of A Major has F#, C# and G# in the key signature. The new key signature of Bb Major contains Bb and Eb.

2. Copy all notes to the next line or space in the new version. Since you have changed the key signature all of these notes have been moved one half-step higher. Now copy the chord symbol letters accordingly.

3. The D# in the original selection becomes an E natural in the transposed version, so a natural sign must be placed in front of this E, to prevent it from being interpreted as an Eb. If an accidental (sharp, flat or natural sign) appears in the original version, another will be required in the transposed version, since that particular note will not be included in the key signature.

Figure 2a (A Major)

Fig. 2a (A Major)

Figure 2b (Bb Major)

Fig. 2b (Bb Major)

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