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Lesson 5.3 - Transposition

Up until now you have only had to transpose a melody up or down an octave. There are many Orchestral Instruments which are called transposing instruments. This means that they play things at a different pitch to what they read. For example, a French Horn would read the note "E" but be playing an "A" in what we call concert pitch. This all sounds a bit complicated and daunting but if you follow a few simple rules it is not that bad. 

  1. Firstly you will be told in the exam how far to transpose the melody for a given transposing instrument (you don't have to work that bit out yourself), for example up a perfect fifth or down a minor third.
  2. Next you need to transpose your key signature. If you were told to transpose everything down a minor 3rd and you were given a key signature of A flat major, you write the key signature a minor third down from A flat, that is F major. 
  3. Then simply write each note an interval of a third lower than what you are given. You don't really have to worry about the "minor" bit of minor 3rd, because the key signature should take care of that.
  4. Where there are accidentals - if the given note has been raised or lowered then you need to do the same to the transposed note.

Consider this example:


Applying points 1-4 above:

  1. You are told to transpose down a perfect 5th
  2. Transpose the key signature (in this case C major) down a 5th to become F major
  3. Write each note a 5th lower
  4. Account for any accidentals, so for example, the F sharp in the 3rd bar has been raised from the original, so you need to  raise  the corresponding note in the transposed version. In this case a B flat is raised to a B natural.

Sometimes you might be asked to transpose  without  a key signature. In this case

....pretend you're in C major

....work out your new transposed key (in the above example - A major)

.... instead of using a key signature just keep the accidentals of your new transposed key in your mind (i.e. in our example F♯, C♯ and G♯ and use them as accidentals in the piece.

Most questions will require you however to change and use a key signature.

Try our FREE worksheet with answers HERE

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