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Advanced Guitar Techniques - Transposition

Mar 8, 2008
Every so often, we decide to dive into a new aspect of playing guitar that many are either afraid of, or just simply have no idea what it's all about. We're going to tackle one of the more feared issues evolving around guitar... Transposition.

Join us as we teach you the most simplistic and easy ways to transpose your music.

Getting That Riff In Your Favorite Key!

How many times have we composed a riff that we absolutely love, or perhaps found a song that we really enjoy playing and wanted to put it into a new, original song and truly make it ours? Chances are that we've all wanted to at least try it out once or twice but always came across one roadblock... Keys.

As mentioned in our last article, the probability that two riffs will be in the same key is very low if you are writing a lot of songs or wish to link two well known songs together. This is where you need to transpose one of those riffs so you can connect them together and put them in that song.

Another scenario is that you just wrote an awesome riff that you envision going into one of your band's songs... The only problem is that it's in the wrong key! With transposing, you can still use that riff and play along with the rest of the band.

If you're a true band nerd, like myself, you have probably been around transposition since the days of Jr. High or Middle School. Now, if you're still like me, you didn't have two clicks on how to do it either. I was always amazed to see how my teacher would take a trumpet part and transpose it so I could play it on my sax and still be in the right key!

With guitar, this is invaluable. You can take a sax part and transpose it to your guitar. If you happen to have a sax player around, you can now play along with that sax and still be in the proper key.

One of the most unique things about playing guitar is that we have a number of tools available to us to use for easy transposition. Many other musicians envy us for this and call us cheaters in the game of music theory, however, if you can use it... Why not?

The tools that you can use.

One of the most common tools used to transpose music on the guitar is the capo. The capo is essentially a piece of rubber that is glued onto two pieces of metal with a spring placed in between. When clasped onto the neck of your guitar and placed behind a fret, it acts as a new nut (AKA the "zero" nut.) This new nut raises the pitch of your guitar, therefore changing the key.

Most guitarists use them so they can make really complicated chords into easy open chord shapes. This is where the whole joke about cheating comes in. Instead of actually practicing those really hard chords and getting your technique down, you can transpose that chord using the capo and turn it into an open chord shape such as an E Major or an A and still have the same chord.

While I don't recommend that you always do that because it's always good to know how to play a song if your capo breaks, it's great for live performances where you want to minimize the risk of messing up a complicated chord. If you're a lead guitarist, you can still use a capo but in all honesty, it's far easier to find the key that everyone else is playing in relative to the capo and just use the scale that suites the song best.

In most cases, it's actually quicker for a lead guitarist not to use a capo and just find a scale. Switching a capo around the neck of your guitar can cost valuable seconds between songs.
About the Author
E Walker is the founder of Planet of Rock Music Studios. Listen to samples of Free Guitar Backing Tracks. Find out how these Guitar Backing Tracks will bring your skills to the next level. You are just One Click Away!
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