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I have a digital keyboard that has a transpose function which can shift the pitch up or down by the number of semi-tones I want. I hear some say that most good keyboardists frown up using the transpose function.

I understand their reasoning - that to be be considered a proficient player one has to be comfortable with all scales. For eg, on the occasion that I am provided with an acoustic piano there would be no transpose option. But my counter argument is that, as long as an enjoyable music is produced, should we really care if transpose is used or not. In some sense, aren't chords on the guitar 'transposed' from the previous keys down the fret board? the chord shapes look pretty similar, just at different points on the fret board.

It may seem I am arguing in favor of using the transpose function, but I might be missing a whole lot of perspective. Curious to know some additional insights for and against.

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  • I remember asking something very similar (now closed and deleted as opinion based...). Looking forward for the answers !
    – Tom
    Jan 5, 2023 at 17:36
  • How many keys? Smaller keyboards rely on transpose to reach a wider range. Jan 5, 2023 at 19:12
  • @AndyBonner 88 keys
    – Neb Uzer
    Jan 5, 2023 at 21:54

3 Answers 3

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On occasions, I use the transpose facility on my keyboard.

Seldom to accommodate the key I can't play in - although if there's a complex number that the rest of the band plays in a key different from the one I'm used to playing it in, I will use the button. Like if the fingering in the elected key could be problematic. Or if there are dots to read that would put that part in the wrong key.

More often though, I'll use it the 'opposite' way. Getting fed up with the 3rd or 4th piece in the same key, I'll hit the button, so as to effectively play in a 'different' key from the others. Helps to keep the grey matter stimulated, which can be a good thing!

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You'll have real fun ad-hoc-ing a key-changing bridge in a medley without skipping a beat while using your keyboard's transpose function.

Essentially if you want to be using the functionality, you better practice being as handy with it as an organ or accordion player when switching registers.

It also seems way awkward for doing smooth modulations which pass through several different keys and harmonies.

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I've only ever had this backfire on me in performance. I was teaching and accompanying my students. First I played with a sax player, but I didn't have a copy of the music in the concert key. So I transposed using then button and played along. All was great.

After that I accompanied a singer. She was understandably inexperienced and so didn't really notice that anything was wrong when I played the introduction- but when it was time to sing she couldn't find her starting note and sang horribly off key.

I realized the mistake and owned up to it, but the KID was embarrassed and suffered through an awkward start.

I recommend either learning to transpose at sight until you are rock solid at it, or insisting on using music printed in the right key, but never using the transpose button. Asking for trouble!

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