Music transposition is a vital skill for any musician. Not only is it a requirement for the ABRSM Music Theory exams but it will also give you a much better awareness of all the instruments around you! In this blog post we will learn about the importance of being able to transpose music and also how to do it!
Transposition, put simply, is changing the key of a piece of music. Transposition allows us to re-write a piece of music up or down in pitch whilst keeping the effect of the piece the same. The rhythm and the intervals between the notes will sound exactly the same but the pitch will be higher or lower depending on how we transpose it!
We sometimes see instruments referred to as 'in the key of'. When an instrument is in the key of Bb or Eb this simply means that when the relevant instrument plays a C, the sounding pitch will be a Bb or an Eb!
Any instrument that has a different sounding pitch to written pitch is a transposing instrument!
Instruments that do not have a different sounding pitch to written pitch are referred to as being in concert pitch!
What does concert pitch mean?
Why learn how to transpose?
The double bass is similar but instead of hearing the notes an octave higher we hear them an octave lower. Again, in the example below, you will see why it is important that we make the music easier for the double bass to read!
Wow that is a lot of ledger lines!
Music is also easier to play for certain instruments in different keys. Some instruments sound better naturally in certain keys due to the constraints of the instruments or the fingerings!
What exactly do we mean by transposition?
Transposition simply means that when an instrument plays a C written on their stave, what we will actually hear is the note of the key that instrument is written in.
So for example, let's take the clarinet in B flat. When the Clarinet sees a middle C, what we will actually hear is the B flat a major 2nd lower than the written pitch! The same goes for the trumpet in B flat.
When learning how to transpose it is extremely important that you have a good knowledge of intervals. If you feel uncertain with this then please make sure to check out our blog on intervals.
When we are transposing it is important to note that if your are in a major key then the key you transpose to must also be a major key. If you are in a minor key, then the key you transpose to must also be a minor key!
Let's try transposing the short melody below, in the of C major. This is the clarinets written pitch , we would like to transpose it so we can see what the sounding pitch is! Remember transposing is the same as changing the key.
Tips for transposing effectively
Choose the correct transposition
Apply the correct key signature
The most common transpositions you will see
Major Second Transposition
Perfect Fifth Transposition
Minor Third Transposition
Three key steps to perfect transposition