How Do I Transpose Chords?

Mallory Hall
Mallory Hall
Man playing a guitar
Man playing a guitar

If you enjoy a particular song but cannot sing or play it in its current key signature, you can transpose chords, or change the notes, to ones that you are able to use. The process can be moderately challenging, depending on your experience with musical staffs and note recognition, and it involves taking each note from the song’s current key and moving it in equal intervals higher or lower until the song is in the desired key. You must do the same steps with each note until each one is changed and your new key is complete.

First, you should know on which note the song begins. Having sheet music in front of you is the easiest way to figure this out, although some people can successfully transpose chords and entire pieces of music by ear. You also should make note of what the original key signature is by looking at the existence and placement of sharps and flats within the song itself.

Your next step is to figure out the degree to which the notes are spaced apart. For example, look at each note and identify whether it is higher or lower than the following note. Count the number of half steps it will take you to get to the next note; this is your interval spacing. You will perform this process while you transpose chords throughout the entire song.

Now that you have made note of the interval spacing, it is time to move the original chords into the desired key. Begin by changing your original, or foundation, note. If, for example, the key signature is in C, the foundation note also will be in C. To change from a C key signature to an E, the new foundation note will also be in E. This is a one-third interval change and must be applied to each note within the song.

The final step is to take the interval change and transpose chords to the new key. If it begins in E, you can write out each interval that you counted, whether it is up or down, from the starting note. E should be your foundation note, and every note after that should move in exactly the same intervals around it to maintain the same key. For example, imagine the original song moved from a C to a D; after you transpose chords, it will move from an E to an F#. The interval spacing remains the same, but the notes are higher than in the original song.

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      Man playing a guitar