I am quite confused about transposing from one key to another. I have got an orchestral piece in C major and I would like to change it to e minor. The harmony has plenty of chromatic chords. How should I proceed? From CM to em there is four semitones; should I move all notes a perfect third and then fix any pitch that do not belong to target key?

  • 5
    Generally, transposing means changing from one key to another. najor to major, or minor to minor.
    – Tim
    Commented Apr 13, 2019 at 20:14
  • I think the word you’re looking for is “transcribe”, not “transpose”. You want to basically rewrite it in an entirely different key. Commented Apr 14, 2019 at 1:40

3 Answers 3


You cannot directly transpose from a major key to a minor key. It will need a degree of re-writing. Particularly where there are chromatic chords.

  • Right now I have seen some lessons online about transposing a melodic line from one key to another; a melody chromatically transposed following a specific numbers of semitones. If my piece is in C major and I want it in E minor, Is it wrong to move all notes a perfect third up? Thank you very much. Commented Apr 13, 2019 at 23:30
  • ...I have just realized that I am wrong : ( Commented Apr 13, 2019 at 23:48
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    @FrankGarcía First of all, thirds cannot be perfect. Only unisons, fourths, fifths, and octaves can be perfect. Second of all, if you move the whole song by the same interval, no matter what it is, you will never change the song from major to minor.
    – user45266
    Commented Apr 13, 2019 at 23:49
  • Do you know any book that explain this issue? Commented Apr 13, 2019 at 23:49
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    I think you have just explained the issue perfectly!
    – Laurence
    Commented Apr 14, 2019 at 9:29

E minor is relative to G major, so you could also move it up seven half steps and then reharmonize. For example, if you had a C chord (C,E,G) you could change the G to an A and have an a minor chord that still shared two common tones.

Also, thirds are either major or minor, not perfect. You refer to a major third. But if you took it to G major instead, that would be a perfect fifth. Perfect intervals invert to perfect intervals (5ths to 4ths, and 8ths to 1sons), whereas major intervals invert to minor intervals.

  • if you had a C chord (C,E,G) you could change the G to an A and have an a minor chord this is true, but if you want to transpose the piece to G major (or its relative scale E minor), the C chord would have to turn into a G major chord, not a A minor one. Commented Apr 16, 2019 at 14:41
  • you are right of course-- my example was referring just to the local operation of reharmonizing a particular chord (for example C as the IV chord of G becoming a the ii), not the compound operation of transposition and reharmonization, which in your example C would transpose to G and then reharmonize to e.
    – Nick G
    Commented May 10, 2019 at 13:19

Your idea is correct. You move all notes the same number of semitones. Then figure out what key this will be. There are two possible problems. First, the new key may cause notes to be out of range for a given instrument (considering a human voice an instrument.) This m ay require some re-orchestration or trying another target key. Second, the tessitura may move in a way that makes some chord voicings sound squeaky or muddy; some rearrangement of inner voices may be required

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    While a perfectly reasonable answer about transposition generally, this doesn't address the specific problem in the question of "transposing" from a major key to a minor key.
    – user48353
    Commented Apr 13, 2019 at 23:38
  • Specifically, C major to E minor. Perhaps you thought it was E major?
    – user45266
    Commented Apr 13, 2019 at 23:46
  • Same problems. Move the notes. Adapt the chords. (I wrote somewhere else how to convert major to minor and vice versa). I swaps with i, IV with iv, V with v non cadence and V with V cadence, iii with III, v00 stays the same, VII applied to correct voice leading, ii swaps with ii0, vi with VI. Sevenths and inversions as needed (usually same as original). Neapolitan, German, French, and Italian Sixths stay the same. Diminished and augmented chords mostly stay the same. Voice leading has to be adapted to avoid the usual mistakes.
    – ttw
    Commented Apr 14, 2019 at 2:52
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    It simply doesn't work in a lot of cases. It will work in pieces that are very basic, with I, IV and V only, but include chromatics and the 3 minor harmonies, and it's all but impossible to do it as simply as you allude.
    – Tim
    Commented Apr 14, 2019 at 7:19

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