The term transposing in music has several meanings. In this article we explain what it means to transpose and how transposing chords works.
Transposing a song
Transposing a song is the process of keeping the same melodic, harmonic and functional structure of the song, while changing the chords into another key.
Why would you want to change the key of a song? Here is an example: Imagine yourself singing a song and realizing that it’s out of your vocal range — it’s too high or too low. Or you’re playing an instrument and you’re not really familiar with these chords or it’s difficult for you to improvise over these chord changes.
Perhaps you’ve already faced these problems. Don’t give up! Transposing can be a great help in this situation.
Let’s see an example of an abstract 2 bars song:
Let’s say we realized that this key is too low for our voice. For instance, it would be nice to have a G as a first chord. So, instead of the C chord we would like to have the G chord. The interval between C and G is a perfect fifth up. In other words, we raised C by a perfect fifth up to G. Then we need to do the same for the Dm chord: by raising this chord a perfect fifth up, we’re getting Am. Now we need to do the same for the melody: the E note in the first bar, raised up by a perfect fifth, becoming a B note; F note in the second bar, raised up by a perfect fifth, becoming a C note.
In the picture below you can see the result of our transposing:
This process might look quite complicated, especially if you’ve never done it before. Don’t worry! Some programs nowadays can do the transposing for you. For instance, our Chordify Premium users get access to the Transposing tool and can easily transpose any song to any key, with just one click. Super handy! If you’re not Premium yet, go check out the demo channel for free and transpose all the songs there.
Did you know that many instruments are transposing instruments. For instance, the good old guitar, which you may be holding in your hands right now. Simply put, transposing instruments are instruments which sound different from the notes notated in the charts for them.
Let stick with the example of the guitar. As a transpose instrument, the guitar sounds one octave lower than the notes in the guitar charts. For instance:
In this example, we have three notes: E, G and B. And as a guitar player, you probably know where to find these notes on the guitar fretboard: E can be played on the fourth string, second fret; G — third open string; B — second open string. Of course, we can play these notes on other strings as well. And here’s an interesting fact: by playing these notes on the guitar, we get the actual sound one octave lower! See the picture below:
In this example, the transposition’s interval was one octave. But it can be different for other transposing instruments, for example for saxophones.
You may ask: why do we need to notate for guitar one octave higher than its actual sound? As you can see on the picture above, it helps a lot to avoid many ledger lines.