Transposing on the fly

LorenFL

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I know a lot of y'all are intimate with where all the notes on the fretboard are, and equally intimate with chord theory, and just inherently "know" how to play any chord almost automatically. You know which note is the root and which fret it's on tells you what the chord is and all that. Well, that ain't me! I've learned a lot of chord shapes and gotten pretty fluent with them, and I know a few scale shapes and can work with them pretty well (but have no idea what key I'm playing in, just noodling). Learning the fretboard is on my agenda, just hasn't happened yet.

Here's the weird part. When I switched from a Tenor to a Soprano uke, I experimented with different tunings, and I've found that I really like what I call "Low F" tuning. Low G tuned two steps down. Yeah, it's almost "loose and floppy", and I'm sure a lot of people would hate it, but it works for me. Give the sound that I want, and allows a lot of easy string bending and vibrato.

I guess that wasn't the weird part. THIS is the weird part. I learned all of my chords on standard tuning, and I still play all of those chord shapes from memory, and I've learned more "standard" chords since then. I don't sing (thinking about working on that), and I don't play with anyone else, so I usually just accept that I'm playing the song two semitones lower. As long as I like how it sounds, I roll with it.

But, with the notion of maybe someday wanting to jam with other players, I'm starting to think more about what chords I'm ACTUALLY playing. Like, when I'm playing a C shape, the chord is actually a B flat. To get a C chord, I need to play a D shape. So, I'm trying to learn to "transpose on the fly".

If I've got a song that I really like, or if I'm on a website that does transposition for me, I'll transpose the tablature to play it "correctly" easily. But, if it's a song that I've casually looked up (or... maybe eventually somebody hands me a sheet and asks me to play with them), being able to play it correctly rather than two steps down would be handy!

Anybody else gone through this? I guess anybody who learned on standard GCEA tuning and switches to baritone DGBE probably does the same sort of thing.

I know this is all just basic, basic music theory stuff. And the more I do it, the more it will become automatic.

On a similar note... I'm finding it curious that an awful lot of songs I look at one websites that do automatic transposition... if I transpose UP two steps to compensate for my tuning, the chords end up awkward, but going up THREE steps rather than two almost always yields easier chords. What's up with that?
 

ripock

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I understand and we're in exactly the same situation. I always tune my ukes to E A C# F# because I like the tension of that tuning. But I always use GCEA chords. I never bother transposing. I know how but it seems like a waste of energy to me. I always play in E in my mind, but I realize that means I am really playing in C# on my ukes and B on my baritone.
 

Jim Hanks

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I always think in terms of GCEA and do not usually try to transpose on the fly. I have ukes in way too many tunings for that to make sense. I always transpose "on paper" as you.

As far as the "3 up is easier than 2 up" - that depends entirely on your starting point. But if you take a lot of guitar-friendly keys like E, A, and D and you go up 2, you get F#, B, and E which are terrible uke keys. Going up 3 gets you to G, C, F which are great uke keys.
 
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VegasGeorge

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Well, most of the songs online are initially shown in the key of C, G, F, or D. The reason (IMHO) for that is that those keys have the least number of sharps or flats to deal with. I'm told that Guitar players prefer sharp keys, and bearing that out, I see most tunes in F showing A# instead of Bb chords. Odd, that. Anyway, you'll notice that if you go up 2 steps from those keys, you get E, B, A, and F#. Those keys, with the exception of A, have a lot of sharps in them. But, if you go up 3 steps, you get F, C, Bb, and G. All of which are easy keys to play in, with Bb being just a tad more difficult.
 

LorenFL

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As far as the "3 up is easier than 2 up" - that depends entirely on your starting point. But if you take a lot of guitar-friendly keys like E, A, and D and you go up 2, you get F#, B, and E which are terrible uke keys. Going up 3 gets you to G, C, F which are great uke keys.

That makes sense. Most of what I try to play is either vintage blues/jazz or classic rock composed on either guitar or piano. And the keyboard stuff is usually impossible to do on ukulele.

So, I've never tried this... I don't play with others. Maybe someday. But, how awful would it sound if I were playing one note off of everyone else in a group? I'm guessing it would just plain sound like I was playing "off-key", because I effectively would be. Would there be a point (if I kept moving off a half-step at a time) where the "dissonance" would start to actually work?
 

Wiggy

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Coincidentally, I'm trying to learn how to transpose "on the fly" also. The reason is, I can't reliably sing a low G. But I am OK hitting low A most of the time. It is frustrating because many songs I like are in G.

Here's my strategy to learn. I chose only one key, one step, and one direction - in my case, it is up. This limits what my reluctant brain has to manipulate. Transposing from G to A is what I have to do, so that's what I'm working on. G, one full step up to A.

The two songs I chose are 'Don't Get Around Much Anymore' and 'The Hawaiian Wedding Song' both from the Yellow Book. I picked a song and wrote out the chord sequences as in the book. Then rewrote the sequences 1 step up.

Repetition. Played them by how I rewrote them (in A) until comfortable. Then played them as I rewrote them while looking at the original but mentally inserting the transposed chord. It is working to train my brain.

Note that I am only attempting key G to key A, otherwise it would be overwhelming, as it has always been in the past.

I can now look at chord names (for that chord family*) in key of G and transpose them to A with little delay.

It will get better, and I will find another key to focus on.

*chord family charts here: https://rockguitaruniverse.com/guitar-chord-families/

- - -

I don't play in standard tunings, but when I play a G chord (in GDAE or CGBE), it is a G chord. It may be voiced differently, but it is compatible with a group.
 
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ripock

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check this out:
cover-large_file.jpg


it is pretty cheap and it allow you to visually transpose. Over the years I used it a lot.
 

Jim Hanks

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how awful would it sound if I were playing one note off of everyone else in a group? I'm guessing it would just plain sound like I was playing "off-key", because I effectively would be. Would there be a point (if I kept moving off a half-step at a time) where the "dissonance" would start to actually work?
Dreadful. Don't go there. 😝
Use transposition, a differently tuned uke, and/or capo to get you in the proper key as the group.

I presume you have the low F on the tenor. One of the cool capo tricks here is that you can capo 2 to transpose up to "C". You can also capo 1 to overall transpose *down* a half-step. For example, the song is in B, you write the chart in C and capo 1, and you're there.
 

VegasGeorge

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Allow me to pass on a mental trick I use for sight transposition. When I see a chord symbol, such as "G," I immediately see a G on the second line up on the treble staff. Now, I can quickly transpose up or down, using my mental image of the staff as a guide. Lets say the original is written in the key of C. And I want to transpose up a third, to the key of E. So, I know up a third means that if your chord note (in this example, G) is on a line, you just visualize up to the next line, which is a B on the treble staff. If your chord note is on a space, say an F, then you jump up to the next space, which is an A. So, your transposed chord is an A. You do need to know your key signatures, and account for sharps and flats in your transposition. But that isn't hard if you just visualize the staff in that particular key. That is, if your original key is C, and you are transposing up a third, your new key will be E, which has four sharps, F#, C#, G#, and D#. So, when your transposition lands on one of those chords, it is sharped accordingly. After some practice, I got good enough at this so that could sit and sight read studio jazz band parts while transposing by sight. Of course in that case, I had the staff in front of me and didn't have to imagine it. But, then again, I was reading lines of notes, not chords, and notes typically go by a lot faster than chords. But, the principle was the same. Using the lines and spaces on the staff as a transposition guide.
 

merlin666

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I have played for a while and transposing the simple triad songs is second nature, and in a jam when they call the key and even if I don't know the tune I get it right most of the time. What is challenging are more complicated songs with key changes and complex passing chords. As I am not good in memorizing such songs anyway I sometimes have chords written in multiple keys on printed sheets, and I also use songbook apps and websites that have transpose function.
 

Ziret

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Allow me to pass on a mental trick I use for sight transposition. When I see a chord symbol, such as "G," I immediately see a G on the second line up on the treble staff. Now, I can quickly transpose up or down, using my mental image of the staff as a guide. Lets say the original is written in the key of C. And I want to transpose up a third, to the key of E. So, I know up a third means that if your chord note (in this example, G) is on a line, you just visualize up to the next line, which is a B on the treble staff. If your chord note is on a space, say an F, then you jump up to the next space, which is an A. So, your transposed chord is an A. You do need to know your key signatures, and account for sharps and flats in your transposition. But that isn't hard if you just visualize the staff in that particular key. That is, if your original key is C, and you are transposing up a third, your new key will be E, which has four sharps, F#, C#, G#, and D#. So, when your transposition lands on one of those chords, it is sharped accordingly. After some practice, I got good enough at this so that could sit and sight read studio jazz band parts while transposing by sight. Of course in that case, I had the staff in front of me and didn't have to imagine it. But, then again, I was reading lines of notes, not chords, and notes typically go by a lot faster than chords. But, the principle was the same. Using the lines and spaces on the staff as a transposition guide.
Why did I never think of this??!!
 

LorenFL

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Dreadful. Don't go there. 😝
Use transposition, a differently tuned uke, and/or capo to get you in the proper key as the group.

I presume you have the low F on the tenor. One of the cool capo tricks here is that you can capo 2 to transpose up to "C". You can also capo 1 to overall transpose *down* a half-step. For example, the song is in B, you write the chart in C and capo 1, and you're there.

Yeah, I figured playing a step off would sound funky. Had no desire to just jump in and try it!

I've tried playing with a capo a few times. I have a lot of trouble working around them for hitting frets that are close to the capo. Maybe I just need to find a more compact capo?
 

Jan D

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Yeah, I figured playing a step off would sound funky. Had no desire to just jump in and try it!

I've tried playing with a capo a few times. I have a lot of trouble working around them for hitting frets that are close to the capo. Maybe I just need to find a more compact capo?

The D’Addario NS Ukulele Capo Pro is one of the smallest, lightest capos I’ve seen. Designed specifically for ukuleles, it has very clean lines, and might work better for you.
 

anthonyg

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I'm not an expert on this, and this is easier to do on a guitar rather than a ukulele, yet this is where barre chords come into full use.
An important learning exercise on guitars, is to learn the relationships between I, IV, and V majors, and their corresponding II, III and VI minors as purely barre chords.
Once you see the relationships between these chords, you are free to slide them up and down at will.
So, if you know a song in Dmaj, playing barre chords, and someone asks for you to play it in E maj, then you just slide it up 2 frets. F#? slide it up 4 frets. C#? No sweat, slide it down one fret.

Now yes, this is harder to do on ukuleles as they don't always sound so good playing every chord around the 8th fret, yet this is the theory.
Trying to transpose all open position chords on the fly, is a whole different matter indeed.
 

cdkrugjr

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Honestly there’s no substitute for experience. Consider the key of D. Am I playing kanakapila shapes in D, or do I capo and play C shapes? Or do I bar chord C shapes. Huh . . If I bar an F it’s the same it’s the same shape as a G . . . And “D shape” can be ”barred” as if it’s C or as if it’s E . . . Huh…

But you only learn that after playing around with it for a while.
 

chris667

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If you want to learn to play with others in different tunings, you need to learn to transpose.

@ripock 's advice re: the chord wheel is sound.

It's like learning to drive. Seems impossible at first, but after a few years you don't have to think about it.
 

LorenFL

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Haha, I'm a driving instructor. Good analogy. One of the things I say a lot is that teaching someone to drive is difficult because it's like teaching someone to walk. It's something that most people just DO, they don't think about HOW they do it.

Learning different shapes is a good one. I find I'm already doing that. Like, the epiphany that I had when I suddenly realized that the "B-flat" shape is actually the "A" shape moved off of the nut.

And I agree, there's no substitute for experience. I've gained more of that on the uke over the past 2 years than I did in the 8 years prior. I'm still not a "serious" player, but I play nearly every day.
 

chris667

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Just remember CAFGD are the only shapes you need to play all over the neck. The shapes can go anywhere on the neck you like so long as your finger replaces the nut.

You'll get there!
 

cdkrugjr

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And one day you’ll notice that C and E are the same shape and your whole world changes…

(It’s easier to see with G and B on guitar, which is where I first noticed)