How to Transpose Music:

There are basically 4 steps to transposition.

  • Choose your transposition. Why are you transposing

  • Use the correct key signature

  • Move all the notes the correct interval

  • Take care with your accidentals

Choose the key signature you want to transpose to.  This depends on why you are transposing.  If you are transposing for a Bb instrument then you transpose up a whole step.  If it is for a vocalist or to make something more playable it will depend on the vocalist or the instrumentalist.  Once you have chosen the interval up or down you need to determine the new key signature.  The Circle of Fifths is very helpful for doing this.  You must know the interval between the old and new key and you must know the new key signature for the transposition to work.
Now rewrite the music by changing all the notes by the correct interval.  You can do this for all the notes in the key signature by simply counting the lines and spaces.  As long as your key signature is correct you don't have to worry whether an interval is major, minor or perfect.
Be careful with accidentals.  Move the note to where it would be without an accidental and then raise or lower the note by a half step depending on the accidental.  You may need to use double sharps of double flats in some cases.
When transposing for vocalists make sure you take into account any instruments that might be playing along.  If you are in C and the vocalist wants to transpose down 2 whole steps, that would put you in the key of Ab.  Guitar players do not like that key very much so you may need to go down another half step to G to satisfy everyone.

Transposing Instruments are instruments for which standard parts are written either higher or lower than they sound.  A very accomplished player may be able to transpose on sight but most players will ne to have the part rewritten.  Here is a short list of the most common transposing instruments.
  • Clarinet - is usually (but not always) a Bb instrument.  Transpose C parts up one whole step for Bb instruments.  In other words, write a part for a Bb instrument one step higher than you want it to sound.
  • Trumpet and Cornet are generally Bb instruments and follow the same rule as above.
  • French Horn parts are usually in F these days.  Transpose up a perfect fifth.
  • Alto and Baritone Saxophones are E flat instruments.  Transpose parts up a major sixth for Alto Sax and and additional octave for the Bari.
  • Soprano and Tenor Saxophones are Bb instruments so transpose up one whole step for the Soprano and an additional octave for the Tenor.
    Why are there transposing instrument?  Usually it is a result of the history of the instrument, sometimes it centers the music on the staff and sometimes it helps with consistent fingerings between similar instruments.

    Transposing Chord Names sometimes makes music easier to play especially for guitarists.  The concept is the same, decide on the new key, count the intervals and rewrite the new chords using the same interval for all of them.

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