For this article on transposing, I’ve chosen an Irish reel, The Ships Are Sailing.  The aim is to transpose the whole tune down, looking in some detail at the process involved.

Firstly, here is a pretty standard version of it:

And, here is the same tune, with some suitable bowings added:

This tune is in the key of E Dorian – for a fuller explanation of keys and modes see my other articles on this subject

So, now to transposing the tune.  We’re going to transpose it down so that the first note will be A, instead of E.

Referring to the transposing chart below, find E in column 12 and count along left to A, which you will find is seven columns to the left.  Remember, when transposing down, start from column 12.

You’ll have to do the same for every note in the tune – seven steps to the left.  Below are the other notes used in the tune.  Each note has been counted seven columns (semitones) to the left from column 12.

  • E becomes A
  • F# becomes B
  • G becomes C
  • A becomes D
  • B becomes E
  • C# becomes F#
  • D becomes G

Here it is, fully transposed:

Note that the key signature of the original version has 2 sharps (C and F) and the transposed version has only 1 (just F).  That’s because the new version is in the key of A dorian now.

Notice also, if you’re a fiddle or mandolin player, that the tune has simply moved string.  The bowing/fingering/fretting/picking is all the same.  So, you may say, this would be pretty easy to do without having to bother with the transposing chart.  This is true, but I chose an easy example to start with just to introduce the process of transposing.  The next post will be a bit more complicated!  But it’ll be worth it, as the process will bring up fresh new ideas for variations.

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