Transposition Tips?
  • RCS333
    Posts: 19
    Fellow organists what are your tips for practicing transposing at sight? I’m getting marginally better at it, but I feel like there has to be some sort of “hack” that will help my practice bear more fruit.

    Thanks in advance!
  • 1) Practice -- OUTSIDE of the time when you need to transpose.
    2) Refuse to transpose, insisting on playing in the key in which the piece was written.
    3) Write out the transposition beforehand until you can do it at sight.
    4) [purple] Use the transposition key/knob/thingy[purple off]
  • Practice over and over and over and over and over. Just open the hymnal to any page and play it in a different key—close at first, then further away. For me, once I get started, I really don't pay attention to where my hands are—I just play the intervals I'm reading and do my best to let my hands work out what to play.

    Also, even though I'm pretty comfortable with transposing at sight (hymns, basic anthems, chants, etc...), if I had something big to play, and maybe it had a ton of accidentals, I might write it out just to be safe. I can't remember which key it went into now, as this was a few years ago, but I had to transpose the Rutter "The Lord Bless You and Keep You" for a choir I was accompanying and I wrote it out, as that's not the sort of piece I'd want to take chances on.
  • Thinking in terms of function (solfeggio, etc.) may help. Easier to remember "V chord in X position" than "these five notes each moved up a tone" on the fly.
  • CharlesSA
    Posts: 77
    The suggestions already made are good. There are not really any "hacks" - you just have to practice it over and over. It seems to me that once you know a given hymn perfectly, i.e. each of the 4 parts, then it will be easier to transpose to another key. Knowing the intervals and chord progressions helps immensely for this.

    I can transpose decently (or could, if I played hymns often enough, which I do not), but it is difficult for anyone who has perfect pitch. If someone has perfect pitch, it is very hard to see one note on the page and and hear another note being played...messes with the mind!!! For me, if I am going to transpose, I have to have a near perfect grasp of each part - have them memorized - and just learn the same parts in whatever key, without the music.
  • it is difficult for anyone who has perfect pitch. If someone has perfect pitch, it is very hard to see one note on the page and and hear another note being played.


    Even allowing for Jackson's critique of the term "perfect pitch", which seems valid, the idea of an expected pitch not being the same as the perceived pitch is jarring.
  • CharlesSA
    Posts: 77
    What is Jackson's critique of the term? In any case, I probably do not literally have perfect pitch, because I will sometimes be just a hair flat or sharp.
  • I would say that understanding what is going on (chord progressions) is more important than any kind of visual shortcut. I recently had to transpose some little Gabrielli versets for a concert (as transitional music to cover choir moves and introduce the key of the next piece). Simply writing the chord progression in Roman numerals underneath the score eliminated the nerves for me.

    Personally I play all hymns from the melody line only. It's harder in one sense, to come up with your own harmonization (in proper 4-part voice leading). But once you can harmonize the hymn tune in its written key it becomes easier to transpose it wherever you want. To me, transposing a written 4-part texture is much more difficult.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,005
    I don't do much transposing, am not particularly good at it, and the organ has a transposer. I keep that quiet because it has saved me a time or two. When the diva soprano comes in with sheet music under her arm, puts the other hand to her throat and complains about the piece being out of her range, and it is something I would rather not play, I feign ignorance of transposition.
    Thanked by 1Elmar
  • NihilNominisNihilNominis
    Posts: 416
    I have a very strong sight-reading technique. This is bad for transposition in only this way: my mind sees the key signature, and immediately prepares itself to play those and only those accidentals.

    Especially from flats-keys to sharps-keys, this is a brutal mind-game.
    Thanked by 1CharlesW
  • Personally I play all hymns from the melody line only. It's harder in one sense, to come up with your own harmonization (in proper 4-part voice leading).


    Do you strive to stay within the printed harmonic structure from the hymnal - or is your hymnal melody only?
  • I use the melody only version of the hymnal. I have a hard time re-harmonizing freely when the full texture is in front of me...
  • ghmus7
    Posts: 1,100
    I transpose by harmony. I think of what the harmony would be in the new key. So then, even if I don't get all the notes correct, I'll be in the right harmonic area.