Transposition: Changing Keys

Changing the key of a piece of music is called transposing the music.  Music in a major key can be transposed to any other major key and music in a minor key can be changed to any other minor key.  The music will sound higher or lower once it is transposed.  There are some ways to avoid manually changing the music yourself but learning to transpose can be very useful to a performer, composer or arranger.

Why Transpose?

Here are the most common situations that may require changing the key of a piece of music.

  • To put it in the right key for a vocalist.  If singers are struggling with notes that are either to high or low, changing the key may result in a better performance.
  • Instrumentalists may also find it easier to play if the key is changed.  Players of both bowed and plucked string instruments seem to prefer sharp keys while woodwind and brass are more comfortable in flat keys.
  • Instrumentalists with transposing instruments will usually need any part they play properly transposed before they can play with a group. Clarinet, French Horn, Saxophone, Trumpet and Cornet are the most common transposing instruments.


Avoiding Transposition:

In some situations you can avoid transposition, or at least avoid doing the work yourself.  The guitar for example can be transposed upward using a capo.  A good electronic keyboard will transpose for you and if your music is in a computer in midi form, programs will transpose it and print it our for you.  If the music is only on paper it is probably easier to transpose it manually than to enter it into a computer.