My keyboard has a transpose function which lets me transpose its keys up and down a given number of semitones. This consists of a button with # and a button with b.

So lets say I'm playing a tune where I'm playing B, A#, G#, F#, F, D# C#. How do I use the transpose functionality so as to play this tune on the white notes only. So, the notes B, A#, G# etc will all be playable via white notes. I'd like to do this as quickly and as easy as possible each time I make up a tune with black notes in it. I don't wish to use paper to work it out but an online tool would suffice.

I play the keyboard in order to compose music.

Additionally, how many times do I press the # button in order to play a tune in E Major on only white notes?

  • 6
    I recommend learning to play with the black keys (in addition to learning how to transpose). Even moderate beginner-level pieces will have accidentals in them, meaning you'll quickly reach a point where being unable to play with black keys will hold you back.
    – Kevin
    Aug 5 '14 at 21:48
  • If you're ONLY using black notes to make up tunes, they're all in pentatonic - either F#/Gb maj., or D#/Eb min. To play the tunes on white notes only, put a sticker on B and F and avoid those. Alternatively, do the proper job, and learn your way round so you can eventually play in any key. Advantages well outweigh the disadvantages.
    – Tim
    Aug 6 '14 at 6:56
  • 1
    Firstly, there are many pieces where no amount of transposition will allow you to perform the entire piece using only the white notes (e.g. Paint It Black). Since you're composing your own music, you can avoid creating such a piece. I understand you might be composing for a diatonic instrument, but if that's the case, why are you making up tunes "with black notes in it" in the first place? Please explain! Aug 6 '14 at 9:53
  • @Lee Kowalkowski From time to time, a new tune will magically find its way into my head. I might then wish to play it on the keyboard in other to develop it further. However, up to this point it is out of my control whether it has black keys in it or not. Then since I'm not very good on the keyboard, I can transpose to white keys so that I can experiment around my original tune by playing around on only the white notes. Does that make sense?
    – Baz
    Aug 8 '14 at 5:03
  • +1 This question is also useful for very limited instruments, like the zither, or the monotron in its major scale mode. Aug 9 '14 at 7:26

The buttons

Pressing the # key once will move the transposition up half a step (from a white key to a black key, or between two white keys that don't have a black key between them). So from C to E: C#, D, D#, E, that's 4 steps.

Quickly recognising the transposition required

From the question, it looks like you know about scales and keys. So you probably know that E Major has 4 sharps as a key signature, for example. The note sequence you quoted above is F# Major, which has 6 sharps. The point is, C Major has no sharps or flats, so that means you'd be playing on only white keys (except for the occasional extra accidental).

So to get to C Major, count the number of half-steps (as explained above) from the hard key you're in to get to C. Note that your instrument might not allow you to exceed 6 half-steps, so you might have to go down instead and physically play an octave above. For F# major, you can transpose up or down by 6 half-steps to get to C.

Getting used to transposition

Making heavy use of transposition functions as a beginner can be entertaining and fun, but it's certainly not very good for training your ear and fingers. You will confuse your ear into thinking that a certain key will play a certain note, and instead it's just the transposing. And also you will never learn to play on the black keys.

  • Thanks for your reply @LS97! Recognising that the sequence of notes is from the scale of B Major does not come naturally to me. Your method would require me to learn the sharps or flats belonging to a key. I'm wondering if there is an easier way.
    – Baz
    Aug 5 '14 at 21:15
  • 2
    Actually, this collection of notes belongs to F# Major, and the note called F in the question is technically E#. Aug 5 '14 at 21:21
  • 1
    @Baz There aren't that many key signatures in common use, so in practice it doesn't take much to learn them by rote. If you want the general rule though, look at the circle of fifths. Aug 5 '14 at 22:56
  • @LS97 - if, as you state, this is in B, there would be an E in there.No E. It's in F#,(6#) and because a key will contain one of each letter name, your 'F' will be called E#, technically. It'll be written where E is on the music.So you need to move 6 semitones-either way!!- to get to C.
    – Tim
    Aug 6 '14 at 6:47
  • 1
    @Tim sorry, my bad. That's what happens when you rely only on counting the sharps :P Fixing the answer.
    – LS97
    Aug 6 '14 at 8:04

Here is a chart for you:

  • from G flat or F sharp major go up or down 6 half-steps.
  • from F major go down five half-steps, or up 7.
  • from E major down four half-steps, or up 8.
  • from E flat major down three 1/2 steps, or up 9.
  • from D major down two 1/2 steps, or up 10.
  • from D flat major down one half-step, or up 11.
  • from B major up one half-step, or down 11.
  • from Bb major up 2 half-steps, or down 10.
  • from A major up 3 half-steps, or down 9.
  • from Ab major up 4 half-steps, or down 8.
  • from G major up 5 half-steps, or down 7.

Ok I've figured out an easy way to do this! So here are the notes I'm playing:

B, A#, G#, F#, F, D# C#

There are two semitone steps here: A# to B and F to F#. So to play on the white keys, A# and F must map to a white key that has no black key to its immediate right. So, via trial and error, you can first map F to E and if that doesn't work you can map it instead to B and see of that works.

In other words, I pressed the # key once (F->E), but I still needed to play a black note in order to play the tune. I then reset the transposition and pressed the b key 6 times (F->B) and now I can play the tune on the white keys!

My guess is that the tune is in Ab Dorian. Am I right?:


Good idea to configure the keys to C major and A minor ie the white notes saving your self 1000s of hours of practice time. Enjoy!

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.