How to Transpose

Transposing music is kind of like translating language.

In most languages, you have common word ideas, like verbs, nouns, articles, etc. Between different keys, there are also common elements, such as tonic, dominant, sub dominant, and leading tone. There are actually quite a number of common 'ideas' which are applied to every key equally.

For example, every key has three major chords and three minor chords. Every key has one diminished chord. If you look at a piano keyboard, and randomly pick one note somewhere, that can be the start of a new key. So if you picked a middle "C", then this would be the key of C. If you picked an F#, this would be the key of F#. Your scale would start on that note, and it would be called your 'tonic', or starting spot.

Transposing is different than translating though. With translating you can't really just substitute one language's word for another language's word since they use different grammatical structures and syntax. But transposing allows you to just swap in the old note or scale-idea with the new note or scale-idea.

But How?

The trick is to know what note to put in place of the other note, and to do that, you'd need to know, for example, that an F# in they key of D is transposed to an E in the key of C.

How do we get there? We need a system to find that sister note as quickly as possible.

I use a system that makes transposing effortless. My trick is to stop thinking of different scales as being different at all. I do this with numbers.

I like to think of notes as numbers, where, in the key of C for example, C would be '1'. Let's look at the diagram below:

	Do   Re   Me   Fah  So   La   Te   Do
	1    2    3    4    5    6    7    1
	C    D    E    F    G    A    B    C
	D    E    F#   G    A    B    C#   D

So if you stop thinking of a C as a C, but instead, when playing in the key of C, you think of it as a 1, and instead of thinking of an E as an E, you think of it as a 3, then you're well on the way to instant transposition. You can see above that the F# we wanted to transpose in the last paragraph is a 3, is an E.

It does require you to memorize scales, and this is why music teachers across the ages have been drilling scales into students heads forever.

A Chart To Get You Started

Numbers and 'Do Re Me':
	1    2    3    4    5    6    7    1
	Do   Re   Me   Fah  So   La   Te   Do
	
Starting on the white notes on a piano:
	C    D    E    F    G    A    B    C
	D    E    F#   G    A    B    C#   D
	E    F#   G#   A    B    C#   D#   E
	F    G    A    Bb   C    D    E    F
	G    A    B    C    D    E    F#   G
	A    B    C#   D    E    F#   G#   A
	B    C#   D#   E    F#   G#   A#   B
	
Starting on black notes (flats/sharps):
	C#   D#   E#   F#   G#   A#   B#   C#
	Eb   F    G    Ab   Bb   C    D    Eb
	Gb   Ab   Bb   Cb   Db   Eb   F    Gb
	Ab   Bb   C    Db   Eb   F    G    Ab
	Bb   C    D    Eb   F    G    A    Bb

Now this can often seem a little overwheming, but it doesn't have to, because there's a numerical pattern between each key as well, making memorizing much easier: the distance between each note is always the same number of half steps (or half tones) in each key.

So between the first note, '1', and the second note, '2' there are always two half steps. (Count a half step as the distance between two adjacent notes-- even if one's black and the other is white on a keyboard).

1 (2 half steps to) 2 (2 half steps to) 3 (1 half step to ) 4 (2 half steps to) 5 (2 half steps to) 6 (2 half steps to) 7 (1 half step to) 8.

Another way to write this:

1 (whole step to) 2 (whole step to) 3 (half step to ) 4 (whole step to) 5 (whole step to) 6 (whole step to) 7 (half step to) 8.

If you look carefully at this pattern (whole step, whole step, half step, whole step, whole step, whole step, half step) you'll notice that this is like the black notes on a keyboard... 2 black notes, 3 black notes, 2 black notes, 3 black notes, etc.). You'll find in lots of places in music, because the idea of whole step, whole step, half step, whole step, whole step, whole step, half step, is intrinsic to western music.

Where Now?

So what to do with this information?

Well, understanding it is the first job, but actually applying it will likely take a self-eureka moment. When you're reading along in the key of D, but want to be playing in the key of C, for example, then you'll have to translate in your mind that an F# in the key of D, is a 3, and to know instantly that in C, a 3 is E. You would then sound an E on your instrument everytime you read an F#. It takes a long time and a lot of practice to be so familiar with the keys.

Transposing Chords

I mentioned above that each key has three major chords, three minor chords, and one diminished chord. They are as follows:

         1 Major, 2 Minor, 3 Minor, 4 Major, 5 Major, 6 Minor, 7 Diminished
         1        2m       3m       4        5        6m       7o
key of   C        Dm       Em       F        G        Am       Bo
key of   D        Em       F#m      G        A        Bm       C#o
key of   E        F#m      G#m      A        B        C#m      D#o
etc.

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