Fiddling With Transposition


Do you wonder, “What can I do to prepare for jam sessions?” The ability to transpose songs from one key to another is a superpower for playing with others. Especially singers, because they tend to sing songs in keys that match their voice (which might be D flat 🤯).

Transposition helps you map the fingerboard, train your ear and adapt when playing with others. In this lesson we’ll explore easy transpositions (same fingering) and hard transpositions (different fingering). 

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About the process

Once you learn and memorize a song, transpose it to a different key.

So if you learned Wagon Wheel in the original key of A Major, transpose it to another key like G Major.

Not only does this help you map the fingerboard and train your ear, but it makes you a more adaptable musician

We’ll practice with a beginner song: Mary Had A Little Lamb.

This is a good example of how you can use easy songs to practice challenging skills.

Easy transposition: same fingering on a different string

First off, I recommend you only try transposing tunes you’ve already memorized and can play well.

Start by playing a song in its original key. For Mary, we play it in D Major.


We can transpose it down a fifth to G Major, simply by starting it on the G string with the exact same fingering.


Transpose it up a fifth to A Major by starting on the A string.


What’s great about this is even if absolute beginners can do this! 

It won’t always work 🤯

For example, if you try to transpose Arkansas Traveller down a fifth, you run out of notes:

D Major: D0-2-1-0-G2-2-1-1-D0

G major: G0-2-1-0-C2-2-1-1-G0

The red notes indicate what you can’t play on a violin ins standard tuning. You could do it on viola or a five-string violin.

We can solve that problem by moving it up an octave.

G major: D3-A1-0-D3-1-1-0-0-3

But as you can see, you have to use a different fingering.

Which leads us to the next part of the lesson…

Hard transposition: different fingering

Now let’s transpose Mary to C Major. This will be harder because it requires a different fingering. We’ll need to do more mental work, because we have to figure out a new fingering.

Here’s a step-by-step process to help you do harder transpositions.

1. Play a song in the original key

For Mary, this is D Major, starting on D2.

I’m using a D drone which help to center me. It gives me harmonic context.

2. Sing and play the first phrase in the original key

D Major:


3. Play the scale of that original key and count each step

D Major scale: D0-1-2-3-A0-1-2-3 

4. Identify which step of the scale is the first note of the song

For Mary, it’s the third step of the song: F# (D2)

5. Play the scale for the target key and count the steps

Now we’re going to make the leap to C Major. Play that scale with a C drone and count the steps.

C Major: G3-D0-1-L2-3-A0-1-L2

6. Play and sing the first note of the song in that target key

What is the third step of the scale?

It’s D1. Play and then sing that note. Then go crazy and play and sing them at the same time 🤪

7. Sing the first Chunk of the song in the target key

C Major: D1-0-G3-D0-1-1-1

8. Play the first Chunk in the target key

That’s it!

You may find that once you successfully transpose the first phrase, you’re able to play the whole song in the target key. Especially if you know the melody well.

If you’re not able to do that, then just repeat the steps for each phrase of the song. 

If you get totally stuck, just return to the original key.

Notice how helpful singing is in this process! That’s why I always try to get my students to sing what they play.

I recommend practicing transposing just with your voice and different drone tracks.

Transposer Tool

Use this to find the first note of a song in any key. For example, if the first note of Mary Had a Little lamb in D Major is F# (D2), then the first note in C major is D1…

Scale StepsSolfegeG MajorA MajorBb MajorC MajorD MajorE MajorF Major
4Fa ----G0G1GL2
5So ---G0G1G2G3
6La--G0G1G2GH3D0 (G4)
7Ti -GL1G1G2GH3D0 (G4)D1
1DoG0G1GL2G3D0 (G4)D1DL2
2ReG1G2GL3 D0 (G4)D1D2D3
3Mi G2GH3D0 (G4)D1D2DH3A0 (D4)
4Fa G3D0 (G4)DL1DL2D3A0 (D4)AL1
5So D0 (G4)D1DL2D3A0 (D4)A1AL2
6LaD1D2D3A0 (D4)A1A2A3
7Ti D2DH3A0 (D4)A1A2AH3E0 (A4)
1DoD3A0 (D4)AL1AL2A3E0 (A4)EL1
2ReA0 (D4)A1AL2A3E0 (A4)E1EL2
3Mi A1A2A3E0 (A4)E1E2E3
5So A3E0 (A4)EL1EL2E3E4-
6LaE0 (A4)E1EL2E3E4--
7Ti E1E2E3E4---

Transposition Steps

  1. Play a song in the original key
  2. Sing and play the first chunk in the original key
  3. Play the scale of that original key and count each step
  4. Identify which step of the scale is the first note of the song
  5. Play the scale for the target key and count each step
  6. Play and sing the first note of the song in that target key
  7. Sing the first chunk of the song in the target key
  8. Play the first chunk in the target key


  • Use drones to help center you.
  • Know your scales.
  • Memorize the melody in the original key.
  • Singing is a super power.
  • If you get totally stuck, then return to the original key.
  • Transposition helps you map the fingerboard, train your ear and play with others.


  • Drones
  • Amazing Slow Downer
  • Moises
  • Anytune


Revisit beginner tunes to learn and practice Transposition:

Easier to harder keys

  • Here’s a progression of keys that are easier to keys that are harder
  • G, D, A Major; A, E, D Dorian (Minor)
  • C, F, Bb Major

If you love transposition, you might enjoy this lesson on Transforming Major Melodies Into Minor Keys.

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Leave a Reply

3 responses to “Fiddling With Transposition

  1. This was really interesting and helpful. Once I identify what note to start on, things fall together much more easily, especially on known songs. Could you comment sometime on clues to identifying what key a song is when sheet music is not available – in other words, just from listening to the song? Thanks

    1. Hi Lisa, yes, what great depth shared with transposing in various ways. 🙂 Thanks for sharing how this sits with you.
      That is a great point leading from this subject. We’ll take note of this for a future post/lesson.

      For now, I’ll share my process for identifying the key of a song from listening to it.
      -I’ll utilize my instrument, and work on identifying what notes are in the song (even just in the first section or so), and I write down all the different notes I locate (ex: Let’s stay together by Al Green: A, B flat, C, E, F, D, G).
      -Once I have a decent range of notes written, I go to my ‘Circle of Fifths’ chart and see what key, in relation to those notes (specifically the sharp/flat notes within those notes I wrote) and narrow down the potential key signatures (ex: F major or D minor).
      -From there, I would try to guess the feeling of the song, whether major or minor (also recognizing the key could change throughout song) (Ex: mostly major).
      -One thing to note when identifying the notes in a song, there could be some notes added which are not related to the key that the song is in, so I’d also try to keep that in mind and if i think that has happened, I will write that note down outside of the main range of notes I am writing from the song (ex: D flat)
      -I’ll also try playing the associated scale with what I have narrowed down and see if the scale ‘matches’ the sound of the tune.

      This is a great topic to go further into. Thanks for mentioning it.