May 12, 2019 by Klaus Crow
There are many ways to transpose a song in different keys. You can use a capo, play a song in bar chords and then move all the chords up or down, or write down all the chords of the song in the appropriate key.
Those are good solid ways, but sometimes it’s just nice to transpose without capo, bar chords or too much hassle of writing things down.
You want to switch between keys instantly using mainly open chords, because they sound nice and are easy to play. We’re not going for any sharp or flat keys in this post. We keep things simple.
So how do you go about that?
First, you want to know how to build chords of the major scale. If you don’t know how to do that, you can check out this post. If you don’t want to get into the theory behind it, no worries, you can also read on and just memorize the chord sequences that follow. You can always read more about it after this post.
Now we start with deriving the 7 chords from the C Major scale:
C – Dm – Em – F – G – Am – Bdim
We give each chord from the scale a roman numeral.
I = C
II = Dm
III = Em
IV = F
V = G
VI = Am
VII = Bdim
The most used chords in pop music are the first 6 chords derived from the major scale, so to make things simple we’ll leave out the VII chord, so now we have:
C – Dm – Em – F – G – Am ( I – II – III – IV – V – VI).
Now let’s give you the 6 chords (I – II – III – IV – V – VI) for the most common keys.
Key of C = C – Dm – Em – F – G – Am
Key of G = G – Am – Bm – C – D – Em
Key of A = A – Bm – C#m – D – E – F#m
Key of D = D – Em – F#m – G – A – Bm
Key of E = E – F#m – G#m – A – B – C#m
Key of F = F – Gm – Am – Bb – C – Dm
Now let’s say you have a song like “Stand by me”, which has one of the most popular used chord progressions.
Chord progression “Stand by me” in the key of G = G – Em – C – D
In roman numerals that is: I – VI – IV – V
If you want to play this song in the key of C you take the I – VI – IV – V chord progression and assign the roman numerals to the chords for the key of C.
So, Stand by me in key of C = C – Am – F – G.
Stand by me in the key of D = D – Bm – G – A
Stand by me in the key of A = A – F#m – D – E
You can do this with every song.
Yes,the tricky part is that you have to memorize the 6 chords for each key to quickly switch between keys, but that’s just a bit of practice. You will find with the following tips that you will get it down rather quickly.
You’ve got 6 keys here: C,G,A,D,E and F. What you want to do is practice your easy favorite pop songs in these different keys.
Make it a habit each time you play a song to also play it in one or two other keys. In the beginning you have to think and memorize somewhat, but within a short period of time you’ve got the roman numerals in your pocket and you will be able to switch quickly from one key to another, and you will feel as a real winner.
You can also make it a game and make up a chord progression like I – IV – V and then say the chords out loud for each key.
C = C – F – G
G = G – C – D
A = A – D – E
D = D – G – A
E = E – A – B
F = F – Bb – C
Now you do it with I – III – VI – IV
You can do this game anytime and anywhere, while you’re waiting in traffic, in waiting rooms, in the shower, in bed before you fall asleep, you name it.
It’s really convenient to be able to switch quickly to a different key to make a song fit to your vocal range or somebody else’s, or to make the song sound nicer by choosing a key with easier or better sounding chords.
Check out the Building Chords and Progressions of The Major Scale for more examples and explanation.
Does this post help you or give any value? Let me know in the comments. I appreciate it.
Great , thanks
Klaus Crow says
Keep picking :)
Good stuff, very similar to what I teach my students! Keep up the good work!
Klaus Crow says
Yes pretty awesome for students to be able to transpose songs quickly in the desired key.
Thanks. Keep on teaching. ;)
I feel like I just found the pot of Gold on the other side of the rainbow. This is a blessing to me who has been stuck with the inability to naturally transpose for, well, the whole 2- almost 3- years of playing the guitar! Thank you!!
Love this stuff. Can you stop the advertisements from shifting the content around, or is that intentional?
Andrew Barmer says
This is very helpful but I was wondering how you would do the same thing but with a minor key
Hi, great post..can you please kindly help me..
i’m so confused.
i’m playing guitar along with a capo on 3rd..my singer asks me if I can transpose the song to a different key..does this just mean I move the capo up or down?
so confused..please help
how can I transpose a song with flats? Bb Cm Eb Bbdim Dmin7 Yikes! all very difficult chords
I’m transposing it to G to make it easier. What should I do?