3 Ways To Transpose Guitar Chords

Learning how to transpose guitar chords can take time, but it can get us out of any musical pinch! Let’s find out how!

transpose-guitar-chords

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In this free lesson you will learn…

  • 3 effective ways to transpose guitar chords
  • The secret to transposing to any key using the major scale
  • Tips for playing in every key
  • How to practice transposing guitar chords

You Have Options For Learning How To Transpose Guitar Chords

Learning how to transpose guitar chords is a technique that can get us out of quite a few musical binds.

Let’s say you’re playing with a vocalist who wants to play a song that you already know.

Simple enough, right?

But wait! You learned this song in the key of G major, and your vocalist learned it in D major!

Now what? The chords that you know won’t work with your vocalist, so what do you do?

Answer: Grab a capo and start transposing!

Any song can be transposed to any other key, but we need to know the proper way to do it in order to avoid playing the wrong chords.

transpose-guitar-chords

In today’s lesson, we’re going to discuss how to transpose guitar chords and why this is something you should definitely know.

  • Whether you’re a bedroom guitarist or a touring musician, learning how to transpose guitar chords will help you adapt to any musical situation.
  • This technique can be executed a couple different ways, and we’re going to talk about each of them individually in this lesson.

As you probably know, the capo is your easiest option to transpose guitar chords. However, there are some other interesting methods you can use to make sure you’re always in the right key with the right chords.

Grab your guitar, some paper, a pencil and your capo – Let’s jump into it!

transpose-guitar-chords

Why Is It Important To Learn How To Transpose Guitar Chords?

Learning this skill will help you adjust your playing to accommodate other players, which is super important (especially if you want to play in a band).

  • Not only that, but learning how to transpose guitar chords will benefit your musical vocabulary as a whole.
  • In order to maximize our ability as guitarists, we should ideally learn the essentials of playing in every musical key.
  • Learning how to transpose guitar chords helps us learn how to play the same chord progressions in different keys, making it easier to understand the ins and outs of each key.

Now, let’s talk about some of the ways this skill can directly benefit you!

transpose-guitar-chords

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The Benefits Of Learning How To Transpose Guitar Chords

When we learn how to transpose guitar chords, we heighten our musical awareness and our ability to react to changes in musical structure on the fly.

The more our musical vocabulary expands, the easier it is for us to understand musical chord progressions and patterns, as well as how they function and move.

Remember: It’s one thing to play a song from memory, it’s another thing to know how the song functions musically. These are two different concepts.

Many of us can recite the chords to Hotel California, but how many of us can uproot the song and move it to a different key?

This is an important distinction to make and develop!

transpose-guitar-chords

Pro Tip: You have three primary ways of learning how to transpose guitar chords for any musical piece you’re learning.

You can:

  • Use a capo and utilize the same chord shapes in a new key
  • Use music theory to determine the chords of the new key using the Circle of Fifths
  • Use barre chord shapes to move the chords around and into the new key

Let’s break down these three primary methods below!

transpose-guitar-chords

Transpose Guitar Chords The Easy Way – Use A Capo!

This is the easiest of the three primary methods of transposing.

  • A capo is a clamp-like tool that latches across the neck of the guitar at a specified fret, increasing the pitch of the guitar.
  • A great thing about capos is that we can use the exact same chord shapes that we already know in order to transpose guitar chords to a new key.

Capos are a cheap and easy option for the guitarist who is new to music theory and wants to be able to transpose where and when needed, or just wants to experiment with pitch!

capo-key-change

Try This: Click here for a chord chart of Zombie by the Cranberries with the lyrics.

  • This song is in the key of E minor.
  • If we take our capo and put it at the third fret, this song will now be in the key of G minor. Moving it to the fifth fret will change the key again to A minor, and so on.
  • Capos are fantastic tools that every guitarist should have in their toolkit.

We recommend capos made by Kyser Capos. These capos are durable, long-lasting, and rarely (if ever) do they break! Reliability is always a plus, so make sure you pick one up!

Check out this fretboard to see what other keys look like on the guitar!

transpose-guitar-chords

Transpose Guitar Chords The Challenging Way – Learn Music Theory!

This is where things get complicated, so grab your pencil and get ready to take notes!

  • In order to get through this section, we’re going to need to learn the major scale. Check it out below!
  • For this example, we’re going to use the key of C.

We’ve laid out the scale degrees and steps for you below:

C     D     E     F     G     A     B      C

Do   Re  Mi   Fa    So   La    Ti     Do

I      II      III   IV     V     VI    VII  VIII/I

  W     W    H     W    W     W     H

Each one of these numbers represents a ‘degree’ of the scale. There are seven degrees in most common scales. Notice the whole step/half step pattern within the scale as well.

Each one of these notes has a chord type attached to it – either major, minor or diminished.

transpose-guitar-chords

The chord types for each scale degree are laid out for you below:

C Major

D Minor

E Minor

F Major

G Major

A Minor

B Diminished

In order to transpose guitar chords from one key to another, we must figure out which scale degrees are being used, and apply them to the layout of the new key.

Our example chord progression will be:

C Major | G Major | A Minor | A Minor

IM           VM           VIm         VIm

Each chord gets four counts – 1 bar per chord totalling 4 bars of music.

We want to learn to transpose guitar chords in this progression to the key of G major, but how?

change-chords-to-different-key

First, let’s look at the G major scale using the same whole step/half step pattern we saw above (where 1 whole step = 2 frets & 1 half step = 1 fret):

G     A     B    C     D     E     F#     G

Do   Re  Mi   Fa    So   La    Ti     Do

I      II      III   IV     V     VI    VII  VIII/I

  W     W    H     W    W     W     H

Now, let’s look at the chords:

G Major

A Minor

B Minor

C Major

D Major

E Minor

F# Diminished

change-chords-to-different-key

Pro Tip: We picked this key because it only has one sharp note in it, making it the closest move from C major. We can also play this new chord progression in the open position, much like the original progression in C major.

After we transpose to the key of G using the scale degrees I, V & VI, our new chords will be:

G Major | D Major | E Minor | E Minor

IM           VM           VIm         VIm

This strategy can be applied to any progression, and we can use the Circle of Fifths to figure out what keys possess which sharp or flat notes. For a full lesson on the Circle of Fifths, click here!

change-key-with-a-capo

Transpose Guitar Chords With Barre Chords!

Pro Tip: We don’t need to worry about diminished chords just yet, as they don’t often pop up in most music we hear on the radio. We’re just going to focus on the major and minor barre chord shapes for this section.

If you’re interested in learning about diminished chords, click here for a lesson from Guitar Lesson World.

Question: Ever played any of these chords in the open position?

E major | E minor

A major | A minor

If you have, then you’re in luck! These chords are movable all over the fretboard, and give you access to a whole array of new chords just by knowing the open and movable shapes!

E major

open-e-chord

(If you don't understand the above image please read our article "How To Read Guitar Chordboxes In 60 Seconds". It will make everything clear!)

.

E minor

key-change

A major

guitar-key-change

A minor

chords-transposed

By using our index finger across either five or six strings, and our other two (or three) fingers to grab the rest of the chord, we can form a barre chord that can be moved into any key.

Let’s try this at the third fret with the chords that live on the E and A strings:

G major | G minor (from the low E string)

C major | C minor (from the A string)

Pro Tip: If you’re new to barre chords, you can start by splitting the chords in half and only playing the top half to begin with. This helps us give our index finger time to adapt.

If you want more info on barre chords and how to master them, click here for a lesson!

INSERT CHORD BOXES (3rd fret barre chord position):

G major

Chords-transposed

G minor

transposing-chords

C major

C-barre-chord

C minor

 

Download our lead guitar cheat-sheet to make things easier

It can be disorientating for guitarists to understand which scales work with which keys.

With this in mind, we created a cheat-sheet; a key and scale-finder that you can use again and again.

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How To Get Better At Learning How To Transpose Guitar Chords

Like all things in music, practice makes perfect – and practice takes time.

We strongly recommend learning a healthy amount of music theory to help you understand the relationship between chords, and how to transpose guitar chords to new and exciting keys of music.

Keeping a pencil and paper nearby is a smart decision, as we can better visualize what we’re playing when we write it down.

You don’t have to learn to read and write sheet music in order to do this, either.

Simply write down this chart below and change the notes according to the key you want to transpose to!

C     D     E     F     G     A     B      C

Do   Re  Mi   Fa    So   La    Ti     Do

I      II      III   IV     V     VI    VII  VIII/I

  W     W    H     W    W     W     H

I Major | II Minor | III Minor | IV Major | V Major | VI Minor | VII Diminished

transposing-chords-on-guitar

Pro Tip: Don’t get too used to using a capo.

We love capos as much as any guitarist, but they won’t necessarily help you progress as a guitarist the same way learning a good dose of music theory will.

Learning music theory helps us speak the language of music. When we speak the language, we can communicate fluently with other musicians. This method is a lot more work up-front, but in the long-term it will help us form an unbreakable foundation for our guitar playing.

Use a capo when you’re in a pinch, but make sure to make room for some theoretical exploration in your playing. Your brain and ears will both thank you!

guitar-key-change

Some Songs For You To Practice With!

We weren’t going to leave you hanging without a bit of a practice regimen for you to go through, so we’ve included a short-list of songs that are easy to practice with.

You can transpose guitar chords in literally any song, but these are a few of our favourites to practice with!

The Cranberries – ‘Zombie’

Ed Sheeran – ‘Perfect’

Gotye – ‘Somebody That I Used To Know’

Vance Joy – ‘Riptide’

Adele – ‘Someone Like You’

guitar-key-change

Final Pro Tip: Transposing takes work and practice. Learning how to transpose guitar chords properly also involves training our ear to recognize the sound of different chord progressions.

A I – V – VI (1 – 5 – 6) chord progression like what we learned above will sound the same in every key because it moves the same way, no matter what key you play it in.

It’s important to make a distinction between the sound of different chords, as well as the sound of different chord progressions. The more we learn and memorize, the more ready we will be for the next musical curveball that gets thrown our way! Keep practicing!

Transpose-chords-on-guitar

Where Do I Go From Here?

If you’re not quite through learning how to transpose guitar chords yet, we’ve got some recommendations for you below:

  • Play your favourite song in a different key using a capo
  • Figure out the chords to a song you like in a new key and learn it
  • Practice transposing by practising with a vocalist – Cater to their vocal range by transposing to their preferred key

Recommended Resources

If you loved this free lesson on learning how to transpose guitar chords, you’ll love our other content below!

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