Transpose Your Chords & Voicings

transpose chords and voicingsThe more command you have over those keys, the more confidence you ultimately have. Want a sure-fire way to gain that command? Make transposing those chords and voicings you’re learning to other keys something you love to do. The act of transposing anything to other keys is a positive action toward musicianship and putting yourself in the driver’s seat.

To transpose anything in a musical context means to play something in a different key. That could be a chord, voicing, melody, scale, pattern, or an entire song.

For example, here is a Cmaj9 chord illustrated in its basic root position:

Cmaj9 chord

If you simply move each member of this chord to a key that is exactly one half step higher, you will arrive at the same chord one half step higher. We could refer to this as C#maj9 or Dbmaj9:

Dbmaj9 chord

First Steps In Transposing

If you are new at transposition, then transposing in half steps can be a nice way to ease yourself into the process. Half steps are easy to see visually. A valuable action you can take right now is to play the chord above
(you may need two hands), starting on Cmaj9 and follow through by moving each chord tone up one half step so that you arrive at the next chord a half step higher… then another half step… and again… until you arrive at the same chord you started on, only one octave higher. This is a relatively easy way to experience a chord or voicing in each and every key.

Learn To Visualize Those 3rds

You can also use the recognition of larger intervals to simply the process. For example, using either of the illustrations above, you will notice that the distance from the first chord tone to the next is 4 half steps… to the next, 3 half steps… to the next, 4 half steps… to the next, 3 half steps. Since transposing a chord or voicing means that you are taking the exact same structure and moving it to another key, that means the combinations and syntax of these intervals will be exactly the same from one new key to the next. In other words, compare the two chords above. Since they are both the same major 9th chord in two different keys, the pattern of these intervals is the same for each: 4 half steps, 3 half steps, 4 half steps, 3 half steps.

When building chords in their basic positions, the two most common intervals are “3 half steps” and “4 half steps”… it makes sense to use some shorthand to identify these. Therefore, theoretically, a distance of 3 half steps is referred to as a minor 3rd (m3); a distance of 4 half steps is referred to as a major 3rd (M3).

So, if you decided to “jump around” a little by arbitrarily choosing a different key in which to play this chord, following that pattern of half steps (or thirds) will lead you to the correct voicing. Our example below shows the same chord for Amaj9:

Amaj9 chord

A Significant Key To Playing Confidence

It cannot be overemphasized: transposing what you learn to other keys is a must if you are to realize your musical potential.

The more you transpose, the easier it will come to you. Your recognition of the various intervals, such as major 3rds, minor 3rds, etc., will come more automatically for you. You will eventually see these M3 and m3 intervals as “units” of their own rather than having to break them up visually into half steps. This is a level of familiarity that won’t take long.

If you are a member of ProProach, I highly encourage you to take any voicing you’ve already learned and start this process of transposing. It can begin with Lesson #1 (which is offered free to any newcomers).

Again, the more you transpose, the easier it becomes!

Remember to keep it fun, too. Rather than perceiving this as a discipline, approach it all in a very playful way. Make it something you look forward to doing on a regular basis. You’ll be so glad you did!