Guitar Chords

Knowing how to transpose guitar chords from one key to another can come in very handy under certain circumstances. Let’s say for instance that you have just learned how to play a new song on your guitar. Perhaps you’ve spent hours getting the chords down and now you’re really excited about playing it for some of your friends. But then something unexpected happens when you try to sing the melody. To your dismay you discover that the tune is either too high or too low for your voice range. What do you do now? The answer is easy- you simply transpose it to another key! But, of course, you will need to understand a few basic music concepts before you can do this.

The first thing you will need to realize is that every song is written in a key, and there are twelve keys in music. Each key is derived from a specific scale that bears the same name. For example, if a song is written in the key of C, all the chords and notes of the song will come from the C major scale. So, in order to transpose a song from the key of C to the key of G you would need to know how each chord relates to it’s particular scale. This can be done by using a simple numbering system.

There are seven letters which identify each of the seven tones (or degrees) of a major scale. Seven Roman Numerals are commonly used to identify the chords that relate to each degree of a scale. Here is an example of how this is done using the notes of the C major scale:

I II III IV V VI VII
C Dm Em F G Am Bdim

The other important thing you will need to know when you transpose is that each letter and number of the scale represents only one of three primary chord types. These primary chords types will be either Major, Minor or Diminished chords depending on their numerical position in the key. I will not be going into how these chords are arrived at today, but I will tell you what type of chord each Roman Numeral represents. With this information, you will be able transpose songs into any key you want!

Below is a chart which identifies every primary chord of the twelve major keys. You will notice that there are Roman Numerals at the top of the chart. Underneath the Roman Numerals you will find the type of chord to use in that column. For example, the chords in the first column down are all major chords, the chords in the second column down are all minor chords, etc. When you want to transpose a song from one key to another, you simply substitute the chords from a particular column of that key with the chords of the new key that are in the same column. In other words, if you have a song with a I IV V chord progression in the key of C you would be using the chords C F G. If you transpose it to the key of G you will have a I IV V chord progression using the chords G C D.

Study the chart carefully and then try to transpose a song that you already know into a different key. Remember that the name of each major chord in the first column identifies the key. So, the first row of chords going across are all the primary chords relating to the key of C. The second row across are all the primary chords relating to the key of G and so on.

I MAJOR II MINOR III MINOR IV MAJOR V MAJOR VI MINOR VII DIMINISHED
C D E F G A B
G A B C D E F#
D E F# G A B C#
A B C# D E F# G#
E F# G# A B C# D#
B C# D# E F# G# A#
F# G# A# B C# D# E#
C# D# E# F# G# A# B#
F G A Bb C D E
Bb C D Eb F G A
Eb F G Ab Bb C D
Ab Bb C Db Eb F G
Db Eb F Gb Ab Bb C
Gb Ab Bb Cb Db Eb F
Cb Db Eb Fb Gb Ab Bb

Using this chart is a great way to practice all the primary chords in every key. If you come across a chord you don’t know, look it up in a chord chart. Add it to your practice session by first playing it alone. Then try it with another chord in the same key. Take note of the chords that are easy for you to play and then experiment with trying different chord progressions. Here are some basic ones to get you started:

I V I
I IV V I
I VI IV V I
II V I VI

Now you know the secret of how to transpose guitar chords. Feel free to print the chart so you can use it for a handy reference if you’d like.

Kathy Unruh is a singer/songwriter and webmaster of ABC Learn Guitar. She has been writing songs and providing guitar lessons to students of all ages for over 20 years. For free guitar lessons, plus tips and resources on songwriting, recording and creating a music career, please visit:http://www.abclearnguitar.com

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