Learning how to transpose music on the piano from one key to another requires understanding how the piano keyboard is set up and knowing which notes to play in the new key to achieve the same sound, but at a different pitch, heard in the old key.
The Piano Keyboard:
- The piano keyboard has white and black keys.
- The black keys consistently alternate in groups of two and three.
- Starting with Middle C and going up, or to the right, the names and locations of the notes are: C, C sharp-black note, D, D sharp-black note, E. This completes the grouping containing two black keys. The second group contains three black keys: F, F sharp-black note, G, G sharp-black note, A, A sharp-black note, and B. After B, then the pattern starts all over again, beginning with C Note: The black notes on a piano are called sharp when to the right of a note and flat when to the left of a note. So, C-sharp is also D-flat, D-sharp is E-flat, F-sharp is G-flat, G-sharp is A-flat, an A-sharp is also B-flat.
How to Transpose:
- The distance between the notes in one key must be the same distance in the new key. If you want to transpose a song up a major third, then the song must consistently be a major third higher in pitch in the new key. If you want to transpose a song down a fourth, then the song must consistently be a fourth lower in pitch in the new key.
- Check to make sure you have the correct notes in the melody. Example: Going up a major third, the notes C, D, E, would become E, F-sharp, G-sharp because from C to D is a whole step with a black note in between, and from D to E is a whole step with a black note in between. In the new key, there is no black note in between E and F, so in order to get a whole step because that is what the original key had from C to D, the transposed notes become E to F-sharp with the white key of F in between. The next whole step is from F-sharp to G-sharp with the white key of G in between.
- Check to make sure you have the correct notes for chords. Transposing chords works the same way. If you have a C-major chord which would consist of the notes C, E, G, and you want to transpose it to an E-major chord, follow the same steps as described above. Your E-major chord must have the same distance between each note as the C-major chord. So, the breakdown of a C-major chord consists of a major third (C to E) and a minor third (E to G). That means that the new chord in E-major will also have a major third from E to G-sharp, and a minor third from G-sharp to B.
Practical Reasons For Transposing:
- A song is too high or too low for a singer. If the highest note in the song is four notes higher than the singer's range, then the song needs to be transposed down a fourth. If it is three note lower than the singer's low range, it needs to be transposed up a third.
- The music is written in a key too high or too low for a particular instrument. A flute, for example, can go much higher than a bassoon.
- Sometimes notes stick on a keyboard so to work around that problem, transposing the music is a temporary solution.
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