• Shhhhhh! We All Transpose (Here Is Proof)

    in Piano

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    In this lesson, my hope is to make it crystal clear to you that we ALL transpose.

    And when I say “we”, I mean everyone of us – musicians – irrespective of our style or skill level, country, class or creed. As a matter of fact, transposition is an integral part of music that we all utilize at one point or another.

    Submission: Okay, maybe I’ll leave drummers and percussionists out of this.

    Before we go further into this lesson, I suppose it’s important for us to define the term transposition.

    “What Does It Mean To Transpose?”

    The term transposition can be broken down into the phrase below:

    Transfer of position

    Understanding the literal meaning of the term transposition would not only help you appreciate what I’m about to show you but also change your perception and application of the term.

    For example, in the key of C major:

    …the first four notes of the “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” melody are:

    Twin (C):

    …kle (C):

    Twin (G):

    …kle (G):

    This same melody can be played in the key of Eb major:

    …using the following notes:

    Twin (Eb):

    …kle (Eb):

    Twin (Bb):

    …kle (Bb):

    The process of transferring the melody from its position in the key of C major:

    …to the key of Eb major:

    …is known as transposition.

    “In A Nutshell…”

    Transposition embraces the transfer of the position of a musical idea (be it a note, scale, interval, chord, progression, song, etc.)

    Modulation Vs Transposition

    Although the change of key in music is known as modulation, which literally looks like changing environment, a musician would need to transfer the melodic and harmonic components of a song from the old key to the prevalent key.

    “See It This Way…”

    Imagine that you live in California as a college student studying criminal law at the University of California, Irvine.

    Relocating to any other part of the world implies modulation while continuing your life in the new location doing exactly the same thing you did in California implies a transposition.

    Indeed, there is a relationship between transposition and modulation. However, one must not be confused with the other because they are different in theory and in practice.

    “Is Transposition Good Or Bad?”

    Although electronic transposition (for example, playing in “C major” and having your electronic keyboard transpose and output it in “A major”) can be abused by musicians, it is NOT bad by itself. There is nothing bad about transferring the position of a musical idea from one position to the other.

    Suffice it to say that transposition is one of the important abilities every serious musician should be armed with. We all need the musical ability to transpose any idea (be it a scale, chord, song, etc.)

    For example, the D minor 11th chord (which is chord 2 in the key of C major):

    …can be transferred to A:

    …to produce the A minor 11th chord (which is chord 6 in the key of C major):

    There is nothing musically or morally wrong with transferring the position of the D minor eleventh chord:

    …to A:

    …to form an A minor eleventh chord:

    Due to the fact that transposition is an integral part of a musician’s mental process, there’s nothing┬á bad about it – except it is abused by anyone who doesn’t understand its purpose.

    “Now That We’ve Defined Transposition…”

    Let’s go ahead and learn more about two approaches to transposition before we proceed into learning the benefits of transposition.

    Mental Vs Electronic Transposition

    There are two approaches to transposition:

    Mental transposition

    Electronic transposition

    A Short Note On Mental Transposition

    In mental transposition, musical ideas are mentally transferred from one key to the other and this requires the knowledge of notes, scales, intervals, chords, and progressions in all twelve major keys.

    So that when a particular idea is given in a particular key, one can transpose it the required key.

    A Short Note On Electronic Transposition

    Electronic transposition is absolutely digital and is done electronically by a transposer. The transposer makes it possible for an idea to be digitally transferred from one key to another without stress.

    Although the electronic transposition is abused by a vast majority of musicians, that doesn’t mean that it’s bad or detrimental.

    The reason why electronic transposition is abused among musicians is because people are yet to figure out its purpose. According to Dr. Myles Munroe, “when the purpose of a thing is not understood, abuse is inevitable.”

    The Benefits Of Electronic Transposition In Music Learning

    Electronic transposition (irrespective of its stigma) has proven helpful to musicians, especially in the aspect of music learning.

    Click here to find out how you can take your music learning to another height altogether using the concept of electronic transposition.

    Although the concept of electronic transposition can be abused in music performance by musicians who are stuck in a particular key, there’s no how you can abuse the concept of electronic transposition while learning.

    Final Words

    Having seen that transposition is an integral aspect of music, suffice it to say that if it’s a bad thing to do, then we all a guilty.

    But nay! Transposition is relevant to music and has always been so for the past 400 years or so.

    All the best 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 the head of education, music consultant, and chief content creator with HearandPlay Music Group sharing my wealth of knowledge with hundreds of thousands of musicians across the world.

    Attention: To learn more about this, I recommend our 500+ page course: The "Official Guide To Piano Playing." Click here for more information.



    { 1 comment… read it below or add one }

    1 Earljazz

    Electronic transposition is good when playing a complex piece as accompaniment to a choir/vocalist who can not sing on the original key.
    For instance, i can not play hallelujah chorus (or any other classical piece for that matter) on any key other than the original key, D [some virtuosos can do though (even though i believe they too, are limited; you have to be a rare genius to play perfectly, Franz Liszt’s or Chopin’s grade C pieces on any other key)]. Another instance is adapting a complex piece written for a vocalist for another, with a different vocal range such as Mozart’s ‘Ha, wie will ich triumphieren
    Die Entf├╝hrung aus dem Serail’ (from Basso profundo to Tenor).
    Exceptions such as re-written accompaniment (for accompanists with good sight) and/or sufficient rehearsals exist however.
    -My humble submission


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