• A Lesson On The Circular Approach To Transposition

    in Piano

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    In this lesson, we’ll be focusing on the circular approach to transposition.

    One of the greatest tools every musician should have at his/her disposal is transposition. Although there are wrong ways to approach transposition, there are equally right ways to approach it and the circular approach is one of the proper ways.

    Before we go into the circular approach to transposition, let’s refresh our minds on the concept of transposition.

    “What Is Transposition?”

    Transposition literally means the transfer of position. Check it out:

    TRANSfer of POSITION

    Yes! It’s that simple.

    The process of transferring a musical idea (be it a note, scale, interval, chord, chord progression, song, etc) from its position to another position is described as transposition.

    For example, the melody of the song Mary Had a Little Lamb which is played thus in the key of C major:

    Ma:

    …ry:

    …had:

    …a:

    …li:

    …ttle:

    …lamb:

    Can be transferred from its position in the key of C major:

    …to the key of Eb major:

    “Check It Out…”

    Ma:

    …ry:

    …had:

    …a:

    …li:

    …ttle:

    …lamb:

    “Scales Can Also Be Transposed…”

    The D melodic minor scale:

    …can be transposed to F:

    …to produce the F melodic minor scale:

    …And Chords Too…”

    The G major triad:

    …can be transposed to Bb:

    …to produce the Bb major triad:

    In a nutshell, the concept of transposition deals with transferring an idea from its position to another position.

    The Circular Approach To Transposition – Explained

    The circular approach is one of the reliable ways to approach the transposition of musical ideas. But before we go into the circular approach, let’s take a look at music clock.

    A  Short Note On The Music Clock

    There are twelve unique musical notes:

    The music clock:

    …is  geometrical representation of all these twelve notes:

    Meaning that these twelve note are represented on the circle.

    The musical clock can either be described as the circle of fourths or the circle of fifths because the distance (aka – “interval”) between successive notes in the circle is either fourths or fifths — whether in the clockwise or counter-clockwise direction.

    In the clockwise direction, we have C to G which can either be a fourth or fifth.

    C:

    …to G:

    …is a fifth.

    C:

    …to G:

    …is also a fourth.

    In the counter- clockwise direction, we have C to F which can either be a fourth or fifth.

    C:

    …to F:

    …is a fourth.

    C:

    …to F:

    …is also a fifth.

    The Relationship Between The Keys In The Musical Clock

    The musical clock can be used as a reference in transposition and this is because of the relationship between successive keys in the circle. For example, key C (which is at the 12 o’clock position):

    …has two adjacent keys on the clockwise and counter clockwise direction which are the key of G:

    …and F:

    …respectively.

    These two adjacent keys (G and F) have the closest relationship with the key of C and time will fail us to highlight it all.

    However, the difference between C:

    …and G:

    …is one sharp.

    “Give Me Your Undivided Attention Now…”

    If we proceed in the clockwise direction, we can explore other closely related keys as well. For example, G (which is at the 1 o’clock position):

    …is related to D (which is at the 2 o’clock position):

    G has one sharp

    D has two sharps

    So, there’s one sharp difference between both keys.

    Also, D (which is at the 2 o’clock position):

    …is related to A (which is at the 3 o’clock position):

    D has two sharps

    A has three sharps

    There’s also a difference of one sharp between both keys.

    “In A Nutshell…”

    Adjacent keys on the musical clock are related whether in the clockwise or counter clockwise direction.

    For example, Bb (which is at the 10 o’clock position):

    …is related to Eb (which is at the 9 o’clock position):

    Also, D (which is at the 2 o’clock position):

    Bb has two flats

    Eb has three flats

    …and that’s a difference of one flat between both keys.

    The Use Of The Musical Clock In Transposition

    The musical clock can be used to approach transposition and this is known as the circular approach to transposition.

    “Here’s How It Works…”

    When an idea is given in a particular key, it can be transposed to other keys using the musical clock as a reference. For example, if you’re given the C major seventh chord:

    …it can be transposed using the circular approach (the musical clock as a reference.)

    In the clockwise direction we have the G major seventh chord:

    …with a difference of one sharp (on F#):

    Followed by the D major seventh chord:

    …with a difference of two sharps (F# and C#):

    Followed by the A major seventh chord:

    …with two sharps (C# and F#):

    Let’s get back to the melody of the song Mary Had a Little Lamb which is played thus in the key of D major:

    Ma:

    …ry:

    …had:

    …a:

    …li:

    …ttle:

    …lamb:

    Using the concept of circular transposition, the next key in a clockwise direction is A:

    …and here’s the melody in the key of A major:

    Ma:

    …ry:

    …had:

    …a:

    …li:

    …ttle:

    …lamb:

    In a nutshell, the musical clock can be used as a reference during the transposition of an idea and that’s what the concept of circular transposition is all about.

    Final Words

    I believe that the circular approach to transposition would pay off greatly –especially while learning new ideas in all twelve keys.

    Starting out in any key of your choice, you can proceed to other keys in the circle using the musical clock as a reference.

    Congratulations and see you in the next lesson!

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    Hello, I'm Chuku Onyemachi (aka - "Dr. Pokey") - a musicologist, pianist, author, clinician and Nigerian. Inspired by my role model Jermaine Griggs, I started teaching musicians in my neighborhood in April 2005. Today, I'm privileged to work as a music consultant and content creator with HearandPlay Music Group sharing my wealth of knowledge with thousands of musicians across the world.

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    { 3 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 jude

    My question is in regards to the schools of transposition. For a year now, I’ve determined and also been strictly involved in the mental transposition but it looks as tho my play has become empty, I play same chords on the other keys but they don’t yield same effects as on C, F, C#, and F# sometimes I really enjoy A and E but those are during my personal rehearsals…Thanks!

    Reply

    2 jude

    What do I do,or what am I not doing well?

    Reply

    3 Zino

    Good

    Reply

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