Transpose a Melody FAST for Piano

Instructor
Jonny May
Quick Tip
Level 2
14:28

Learning Focus
  • Analysis
  • Lead Sheets
Music Style
  • Fundamentals
  • Jazz Swing
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Do you want to learn how to transpose a melody on the piano? Have you found yourself trying to transpose melodies by using intervals? In today’s Quick Tip, we are going to show you how to quickly and easily transpose any melody using the number method in 3 steps:

  1. Learn the melody
  2. Analyze the melody using the number method
  3. Transpose the melody to other keys

The ability to transpose a melody quickly and accurately is such a great skill to have! Let’s dive in.

Step 1: Learn the Melody

The first step to transposing any melody to any key is learning how to play the melody. Take a moment to play through this melody so you can get comfortable with it:

Transpose a Melody Piano - "Yan's Hideaway" Melody
“Yan’s Hideaway” Melody

 

It’s helpful to learn the melody exactly as written first. Once you can play it correctly, feel free to vary the rhythm to give it more of a swinging, jazzy feel. This melody is written in lead sheet format, and is open to rhythmic interpretation. Lead sheets are written with fairly “square” rhythm so they are easy to read. It’s up to you to interpret the rhythm in a stylistically appropriate way! Next, let’s learn how to analyze this melody using the number system.

Step 2: Transpose A Melody with Numbers

The most important step to transpose a melody on piano is analyzing the melody using numbers. This is so important because once you can see melodies in terms of numbers or scale degrees, you will be able to play any melody in any key! Here’s how it works: each note of the C Major scale (since this melody is in the key of C) is assigned a number according to its position in the scale. These are called scale degrees:

C Major scale with scale degrees
C Major scale with scale degrees

As you can see, C is the first note of the scale so its number is 1. D is the second note so its number is 2. E is 3, F is 4, G is 5, A is 6, and B is 7. Try to think about these notes by their numbers instead of their names. This is something jazz musicians do when reading lead sheets and it allows them to be able to easily transpose melodies and chord changes quickly. Now let’s analyze this melody using scale degrees.

ANALYZING THE MELODY

Let’s look at the melody once more for reference:

"Yan's Hideaway" melody
“Yan’s Hideaway” melody

The trick to using the number method is to convert each of these notes into numbers based on their scale degree! Don’t think of the first note as E; instead, it’s 3. F is now 4, and G is now 5, then back to 3. The next measure goes 4, 3, 2 and that finishes the first phrase. Looking at notes in terms of numbers is a huge part of musical analysis and is absolutely crucial if you want to learn how to transpose melodies! Here’s what we’ve analyzed so far using the number method:

First 2 measures with numbers
First 2 measures with numbers

Let’s look at the next two measures and put it together. F becomes 4, G is 5, A is 6, and B is 7. Then the last measure looks like this: 6, 3, 5. Here’s the first half of the melody:

First half of the melody with numbers
First half of the melody with numbers

Moving on, you’ll notice that the next note (D) is an octave higher than the D in the second measure. Since it’s the same note, D still gets the number 2 even though it’s in a different octave. It doesn’t matter which octave these notes are in; we’re going to use the same numbers for all seven notes in the scale.  Let’s continue with our analysis.

Measure 5 starts with 2 (D), then 1, 7, 1, 6. The next measure is 7, b7 (for Bb – our only note NOT from the C Major scale), 6. Then the last two measures go 7, 6, 5, 6, 4, 3. Here’s how the whole melody looks with our analysis:

"Yan's Hideaway" analysis
“Yan’s Hideaway” analysis

If you’ve made it this far, give yourself a big pat on the back for a job well done! You’ve taken the first major step to learn how to transpose a melody on the piano. As you’ve probably guessed, it’s important to be familiar with all 12 Major scales so you can apply the number method to any key. Next, let’s try transposing this melody to a couple other keys.

Step 3: Transposing to Other Keys

Now that we’ve converted this melody into a number chart, let’s try transposing it to a couple of other keys. I won’t provide sheet music for these other keys here: try to use the other Major scales to successfully transpose this melody.

D Major:

 

Ab Major:

 

E Major:

 

If you aren’t as familiar with these keys as you are with C Major, don’t worry about it! Take a moment to play through each of the Major scales above and try to convert each of the notes into numbers. Once you can do that, try to transpose the melody for Yan’s Hideaway into these and other keys. With practice you’ll be transposing melodies on the fly in no time!

If you’ve enjoyed this Quick Tip and want to learn more about transposing, check out our Transposing a Lead Sheet 1 and Transposing a Lead Sheet 2 courses. In these courses you’ll learn not only how to continue transposing a melody, but also how to transpose chord changes and even whole tunes into other keys.

Thanks for learning, and see you in the next Quick Tip!

Blog written by Austin Byrd / Quick Tip by Jonny May

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