How to Transpose Music on Piano

Posted by Yoke Wong on 8/18/2014 to Learn To Play Piano

As a pianist, knowing how to change the pitch of a song is important. We do this so that the people can sing the higher or lower notes in the normal voice range. This technique is called transposition. Transposition is changing the key of a music piece from one key to another. Once the key is transposed, it will sound either higher or lower than its original key. Transposition is often used by piano accompanists, arrangers, composers and performers. For some musical instruments, transposition is easy. A guitar can use a capo to change keys. An electronic keyboard has button features to change tones. But in an acoustic piano, transposition is done manually.

There are several methods to transpose music.

1. Transposing By Interval

Interval is the distance between two notes. If you are transposing from the Key of C to the Key of D, the interval between these keys is two intervals or a whole step. You will then need to shift all your notes two intervals higher or a whole step higher.

2. Transposing By Scale

This method requires that you master all scales and the corresponding numbers of each note on a scale.

3. Transposing By Chord

While the first two methods are used by most sight readers, this third method is used by most pianists who play by chords. Following is the Chord Transposition Chart.

Chord Transposition Chart

Each column represents a key and its chords. For example, the first column contains the chords for the key of C. First locate the columns for your song's original key and desired key. For each chord in your song, find the chord in the column corresponding with the original key, and note what column it is in. Then find the chord in that same row in the column corresponding with the new key. Replace the original chord with that chord.

The hymn My Tribute is loved by many Christians to sing at church worship services. However, many find the song too high in pitch, and they would request to lower the pitch of the song. My Tribute is originally played in the key of Bb.

Let us transpose the hymn from the Key of Bb to the Key of A to lower the pitch of the song.

  1. Locate the Keys of Bb and A on the top row.
  2. Substitute the original chords of the hymn with the chords of the Key of A. For example, when you come across F maj chord, the new chord after transposition will be E maj chord.
  3. For minor, major and seventh chords, just change the chord name and retain the minor, major and seventh (Bb7 > A7, Ebm > Dm)

Do this process in all songs you would like to transpose. Locate the original key in the chart, find the next key you would like the song to be transposed, and change all chords from the original key to the next key.

Related Piano Courses:

Definitive Piano Improvisation

Definitive Piano Improvisation

Essentials of Great Hymn Arrangement

Great Hymn Arrangements Lessons



Date: 8/19/2014
Date: 8/19/2014
Yoke: I recommend that keyboarders/pianists first learn chord theory. That is, they need to know not just the scaled but the chords and the notes that make up the various chords. You do that not with letters but numbers. For example, a Major chord in the root is the 1st, 3rd and 5th note of the major scale of a key. The Minor chord is the 1st, flatted 3rd, and 5th. The maj7 (major 7th) is the 1st, 3rd, 5th, and 7th. The 7th is the 1st, 3rd, 5th, and flatted 7th. There's many sources on the internet to learn this so you can know it cold. Once you have that down you know the root chords and you can play inversions (for example 3rd, 5th and 1st is the 1st inversion). As long as you know that, and you know your scales, you should then apply yourself to learn the Nashville numbering system. This is how you can transpose quickly without need to write out a new chord progression. Now at this point I have been the one to create the chord charts for our church worship band, and my first step when I do it is to number the chords. (Whether I am working from a piano-vocal arrangement or figuring it out from scratch, without any references.) Then I can quickly transpose into another key until we figure out what's the best for the lead vocalist. Unfortunately not all of the musicians playing instruments in the band have the musical knowledge to play from a numbered lead sheet, but having the numbers helps me quickly AND most importantly, ACCURATELY, create a lead sheet for the instruments -- and actually, to create different tonal qualities for the 2 guitarists, I will create one for straight un-capoed guitar, and another for a capo up a few frets. It puts the instrument sound in two different areas giving a more full sound to the band. So, I recommend learning your chords, your scales, and the Nashville numbering system to greatly enhance your versatility behind the keys!
Date: 8/19/2014
Oh, and also, if you have an iphone, there's an app called "Tempo Slow" (I am not sure if it is available for Android, Windows or Amazon phones.) What this does is if you have the digital audio file on your phone, you select it and you can slow down the music to learn it, WITHOUT it changing the pitch. It has been an app that has been very helpful in figuring out the chord progressions and bass lines for various songs, as well as to learn songs that have many quick chord/bass line changes. By practicing with this app, I was able to master Francesca Battiselli's "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," which is a keyboard led, very fast song, with many chord changes, by repeating it on about 80% of the normal speed, until the changes had been committed to 'muscle memory.'
Date: 8/19/2014
Yoke, Your instructions are very helpful. Thank you. We usually use lead sheet with chords. What is the numbered sheet so easily used by guitarists? Can you please show us a short example? Do you use a transposing software to get the right key for the vocalists? Helen
Date: 8/19/2014
Yoke, thank you for being faithful in sending me these invaluable teachings over the years, including Heather's tips above. I am nearing retirement, at which point I will be ready to embark on your in depth courses! I will make time to practise, time I just did not have until soon.
Malcolm O'Brien
Date: 8/19/2014
Dear Yoke, re: Your Transposition Chart There seems to be a slight "typo" in the 5th column, which should be headed "E" instead of "D" Thank you.
Date: 8/20/2014
I will try Mam; very useful to me
emilio , appycated learner
Date: 8/20/2014
hi my dear friend even ido not know w but let me tell you that ill be pleased with this info so very much keep the good work thank you...
Yoke Wong
Date: 8/20/2014
Thank you Heather and others who left comments here. Blog is a great way to collaborate and share ideas. Love the engagement here. Indeed, scale and chords are the foundation and backbone of transposition.
Date: 11/8/2014
iam happy that you still send me the notes but ido still have a problem becouse ido not have a key board thanks pray with me that i do get one thank you geofrey
Pamela Walker
Date: 11/18/2014
Ms Wong. Thank you for keeping me informed about the notes and the different things I should remember about how to play these notes, I am also awaiting my Piano,that I haven't got yet , hoping that that day will soon come, as I await patiently. Thanks again, God bless.
Date: 4/23/2015
It has been most interesting to get your piano letters! I now have a situation in my life that I have no possibility to play, but I am grateful for what you already have given me, I wish you all the best!
Date: 9/29/2020
Thusitha Thanthirige
Date: 6/6/2021
Eric Iverson
Date: 4/10/2022
I'm a guitarist/mandolinist with many years of church band/home fellowship experience playing hymns and other Christian songs, but I also enjoy jazz and some rock and am a confirmed (amateur) Bachaholic, LOL. At my current church there are two pianist/singers (Seth and Krissy) who are worship leaders who really do a fine job. I enjoy getting together with them at their homes and have played with them onstage on occasion. I really enjoy it, in spite of the fact that the situation doesn't call for improvised guitar or mando solos full of bluesy hot licks/contrapuntal countermelodies etc etc. I once told Seth that "you guys never MODULATE" - not of course that you HAVE to, but some Christian traditions do it a lot! And it can be effective to start a song in C and then modulate up to (say) D, IF YOU DON'T OVERDO IT......... and do it on every song! And I brought him a song "Tu Fidelidad Es Grande", a Spanish song with a very simple melody which it repeats over and over, except it modulates 5 times! He expressed an interest in doing the song and next Sunday played it beautifully! At any rate, there are certain things I can teach Seth and Krissy; however it's a 2 way street but not a traffic jam! I don't play piano and my singing on a good day is mediocre. (They let me sing along with them anyway sometimes.) So why am I writing YOU?? Well, certain musical things apply to any instrument, of course, but I can't teach them piano fingerings and all that, whereas you COULD! (If they took up guitar, with the 5 cowboy chords they could do 50% of the tunes in the hymnal in 2 or 3 keys....) Regardless of all that, the LORD is worthy to be praised!
Yoke Wong
Date: 4/18/2022 9:17:23 PM
Hi Eric, You brought out a few good points regarding modulation & transposition as well as common musical skills that are transferrable from one instrument to another instrument. I agree with you when comes to modulation and transposition. These two techniques are quite sophisticated and can differentiate a professional from an amateur player. I also think vocalist or singer would appreciate an accompanist that can transpose and accommodate the vocal range of the vocalist. One easy way to transpose a song is to use a sulfege method - this method is applicable to any singer or musician. A pianist that is trained with playing different key signatures and scales will be able to learn and apply the sulfege method quite effectively. I hope you get to cross-pollinate your musical skills with your fellow musicians. It is always enjoyable to be able to play with other church musicians and learn from each other.

Add Comment

What's This?
Type the code shown