Compose Yourself: Transposition, Friend Or Foe?

0102_mozart_001 While “Measure for Measure” continues its pursuit of “power tones” (non-chord tones that yield some of the most expressive, beautiful moments in melody), we will pause a moment to delve into transposition, a technical topic of high value to performers and songwriters alike, and oftentimes a thorn in the side for guitarists. To transpose means to change keys, that is, to uniformly ratchet the melody or harmony up or down a few notches to a new range of notes. Transposition comes in handy when you want to accommodate singers, instrumentalists, or orchestras that may have a variety of reasons to prefer one key over another. If you happen to have perfect pitch, then changing keys will alter the character of a composition. In other words, if Mozart composed a symphony in G minor, he would have felt everything had changed if it had been transposed to A minor. However, for most of us, transposition is something like driving a pickup truck up or down a mountain. The altitude may change, but the appearance of the truck does not—we’d recognize it anywhere. Same with a transposed melody: The notes are different, but the tune is the same. This is because the intervals are all the same, and most of what we experience in music has to do with intervals, key (major or minor), and scale tone mood. Absolute pitch doesn’t enter into it. By the way, it makes no sense to talk about “transposing major to minor” or vice versa. A change from major to minor is called a “change of mode,” which is a whole different kettle of fish. In the type of transposition we’re talking about, major keys stay major, minor keys stay minor. This is called chromatic transposition, which means that all tone relationships stay the same in the new key.... Sign In to Keep Reading

To view this content,

Join Today

or Sign In

The Benefits of Membership:

  • Limited-time FREE Feature Magazine Content
  • Exclusive access to members-only contests and giveaways
Click to Join

We've started a free American Songwriter membership. Click here to learn more.