Compose Yourself: Transposing With The Toys


Videos by American Songwriter


In August of 1965, a girl group called “The Toys” struck gold with “A Lover’s Concerto,” a tune based on “Minuet in G,” a child’s keyboard piece once attributed to J. S. Bach, but now thought to be the work of Baroque organist Christian Petzold. Arrangers Sandy Linzer and Denny Randell altered the meter from 3/4 to 4/4, gave it a Motown beat, and The Toys rode the catchy hook to #1 on the Cashbox chart and #2 on Billboard—a phenomenal run considering that they were competing with The Beatles and The Stones in the heyday of the British Invasion.

“A Lover’s Concerto” uses chromatic and diatonic transposition, as well as modulation (key changes within the song), so it is a great way to review and extend the things we’ve learned about transposition in the previous two blogs. Have a listen to the following version on YouTube, then grab your guitar and get ready for a replay:

“A Lover’s Concerto”

YouTube also has a video of The Toys performing on a ’60s TV show called Hulabaloo. While this is certainly worth watching, the group is singing in a different key, so be sure to stick to the link above, or you won’t be able to play along.

0:00 – Key Change

The song starts out in C major, which means that the melody and harmony of the original “Minuet in G” must transpose chromatically down a perfect 5th.

As shown in Ex. 1 below, we can make this transposition on the guitar using the “moveable scale form” shown in the previous blog. To play in the original key of G, position your left-hand index finger on string (3) at fret 7 and play the following (use your pinky to reach fret 10):

Ex. 1: Tab for Melody in G

(1) ———————————————————–

(2) ———————————————————–

(3) —- 7 ——————————————- 7 —–

(4) ————————– 7 —- 9 —- 10 ————-

(5) ————— 10 —————————————

(6) ———————————————————–

Now let’s transpose the tune down a 5th to C by moving everything down seven frets. The nut (fret “0” = the open string) will take the place of the index finger, so Ex. 3 can be played with only three fingers. The fretboard pattern, however, remains the same:

Ex. 2: Chromatic transposition to C

(1) ————————————————————


(2) ————————————————————

How                                                     rain

(3) —- 0 —————————————— 0 ———

-tle      is      the

(4) —————————- 0 —- 2 —- 3 —————-


(5) —————— 3 —————————————–


(6) ————————————————————–

The recording is slightly flat compared to standard pitch (A440), so your guitar may sound just a bit out of tune, even if you’ve used a digital tuner.

0:50 – Modulation

“A Lover’s Concerto” begins in a different key from “Minuet in G,” a transposition, because melody and harmony remain recognizably the same. At 50 seconds, two transitional chords announce a modulation, or a change of keys during the piece.

Transposition and modulation are related, but they are not the same. Transposition moves musical content (melody and harmony) up or down in pitch, maintaining the intervals, or, in the case of diatonic transposition, the pattern of scale steps. As a result, the sound remains the same or similar. Modulation moves the key tone (tonic) to a new pitch, but the melody and harmony may or may not be transposed. That is, melody and harmony may be repeated in the new key center (transposed), or they may take off in a new direction. To put it another way, transposition moves content, modulation shifts context.

The two transitional chords make this a smooth modulation. At 1:25, we will hear an abrupt modulation, which jumps from the old key straight to the dominant of the new key. Arrangers sometimes use abrupt half-step modulations such as this to add a fresh jolt of electricity to the performance.

0:54 – Chromatic Transposition

We’re now in the key of Db, a half step higher than C. The melody repeats, which means we need to perform a chromatic transposition. No problem: we simply slide everything up a fret, as shown below:

Ex. 3: Chromatic transposition to Db (“Now, I be-long to you…”)

(1) ———————————————————–

(2) ———————————————————–

(3) —- 1 —————————————— 1 ——-

(4) ————————- 1 —- 3 —- 4 —————–

(5) ————— 4 —————————————–

(6) ———————————————————–

1:25 – Half-Step Modulation to D

At 1:25, the orchestra abruptly jumps to A7, the dominant of D major, and begins an instrumental interlude in the new key. Everything instantly moves up a half step from Db to D.

To play in the new key, just move the fingering up a fret:

Ex. 4: Chromatic transposition to D (“Some-day we shall re-turn…” at 1:42)

(1) ———————————————————–

(2) ———————————————————–

(3) —- 2 —————————————— 2 ——

(4) ————————- 2 —- 4 —- 5 —————-

(5) ————— 5 —————————————–

(6) ———————————————————–

2:12 – Half-Step Modulation to Eb

We know we’re going up another half step when a drum roll introduces Bb7, the dominant of Eb. Here’s how to play the transposed melody:

Ex. 5: Chromatic transposition to Eb (“You hold me in your arms…”)

(1) ———————————————————–

(2) ———————————————————–

(3) —- 3 —————————————— 3 ——

(4) ————————- 3 —- 5 —- 6 —————-

(5) ————— 6 —————————————–

(6) ———————————————————–

Leave a Reply

The Hotel Cafe: A Musicians’ Clubhouse