30 May 2008

Beginning Guitarists Guide to Transposing

Here is a simple technique you can use to transpose common song progressions easily. You transpose a song - change it from one key to another - to play it more easily, using chord forms that you know.

For example, let's say that you know the open A, D and E chords. You find a song you would like to play but it uses the G, C and D chords. At first glance it looks like you can't play it.

But using the simple technique described below you can transform the G, C and D chords into the A, D and E chords that you know how to play.

You can also change the key of a song to adapt it to your voice or the voice of another singer. If you find it difficult to sing a song in the key of G, you can change it to another key where you are more comfortable.

Many rock, folk, pop and blues songs use chords known as the I, IV and V chords. If you have a song with two or three major chords then these are almost certainly I, IV, V chords. You can easily transpose these chords to any of the common keys of C, D, E, G and A.

I learned this technique from a Kenny Sultan book on acoustic blues guitar. His books are well worth your time if you are interested in that style.

Here is how you work out the I, IV and V chords in the keys of C, D, E, G or A.

Step 1 - Assign the letter of the key you want to play in to the thumb of your right hand. This is the I chord of the key you want to play in, in the key of C the I chord is C major.

Step 2 - Now follow the letters of the alphabet along each finger. Taking our example in C above, you'll have D on the index, E on the middle finger and so on.

Step 3 - When you have assigned letters to all five fingers take the letter on the ring finger. This is the IV chord. The letter that falls on the little finger, or pinkie, is the V chord. In the example key of C the I, IV, V chords are C, F, G.

That's all there is to it. You can now transpose any I, IV, V song into one of the five keys C, D, E, G or A. Try it for yourself now and identify the I, IV, V chords in all of these keys. Then play the examples from last week's post in all those keys using the transposed chords you've figured out for yourself.

Got any chord playing questions? Leave a comment and I'll answer them in future posts.

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