Continuing from the previous article on transposing a tune, we’re going to look at the same tune, The Ships are Sailing, and this time transpose down by just two semitones.  This article is aimed mainly at fiddle players, but the theory of transposing applies to all instruments.

Here’s the tune again, in the original key of E dorian, with fiddle bowings added.

Each note from the original, if found in column twelve of the transposing chart below, will move two columns to the left.

Here are all the notes used in The Ships are Sailing transposed down.  Notice that there are now no sharp notes used.  This is reflected in the key signature that follows (having no sharps or flats after the treble clef is a key signature, too).  The key will now be D dorian.

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

Here it is, fully transposed:

Having transferred the bowing from the original version exactly, you’ll see that there are a few places in this new version that are pretty awkward.  The slurs in bars 2, 3 and 6 take away from the fluidity of the tune.

Here are some ideas for sorting out the bowing, with helpful notes below.

  • 1 – Change the melody of bar 2 to make for smoother bowing.
  • 2 and 6 – remove the slur, to avoid an awkward D-C-D slur.
  • 3 – A simple shift of the slur will make for smoother playing and have the effect of shifting emphasis – this could also be done easily in the original version.
  • 4 – Insert a roll – an alternative way of dealing with the same problem found in point 1.
  • 5 and 7 – An optional touch here.  When rising to a D, like this, it is common to sharpen the C, but by no means compulsory.  The same thing in the original key is not so common (D# to E).

You may wonder if you have the right to change tunes around like this.  Messing about with the melody in order to make it smoother to play for the fiddle.  Well, in my opinion, we should feel free to experiment with tunes – the best players are natural improvisers, after all.  Their “repertoire” isn’t a fixed set of tunes played the same way each time.  It’s far more flexible than that.  Feel free to try out new ideas – it’s the way to find your own unique voice.

See the next post with further thoughts on transposing


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