How to transpose up a major second

By Jade Bultitude
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How do you transpose up a major second?

By now you should have a good understanding of how to keep your note the same pitch between treble, bass, alto and tenor clef. You should also be able to confidently move up and down an octave in all four of these clefs and between them! If you are still a little unclear, please ensure that you revisit the previous transposition basic blogs, here!

Before we go on, I just wanted to revisit why we transpose and what we mean when we say an instrument is ‘in a key’. 

What does it mean when we say an instrument is ‘in a key’?

If we say that an instrument is ‘in the key of Bb’ this simply means that when the instrument plays a ‘C’, the listener will hear a ‘Bb’. So, for example, if a Clarinet in Bb is playing a piece written in the key of C major (no sharps or flats) we will hear the piece in the key of Bb major (two flats)! 

It is important to learn how to move between written pitch (the notes that the performer sees on the music) and concert pitch (what we, the listener, will hear). However, how do we know what interval we need to transpose by? 

How do we know what interval we transpose by?

Think carefully about the two notes we have:

We hear a Bb

We read a C

Let’s have a look at the piano below…

keyboard, piano, major second, C natural, B flat
How many notes between Bb and C?

How many notes do we have between the Bb and C? 

That’s correct, we have two! This means we are looking at an interval of a second, simply because the distance between the Bb and C is TWO notes. 

Hang on, do I count that B natural between the B flat and C? Surely that would mean three notes?

Remember, when we talk about the notes in the scale we just focus on the letters and not the accidentals. 

All of the intervals written below are a 2nd!

major second, major seconds, major second examples
All of these are the interval of a 2nd!

How do I know what type of 2nd we have?

As you know from your theory education, our intervals have a descriptive word. We won’t go into this too much today but just as a brief overview, our intervals can be described as major, minor or perfect (there are more descriptions but watch out for more blog posts coming soon to help you to understand intervals further…! This is not necessary for our transposition).

When naming an interval, we always start with the note with the lowest pitch, in this case Bb. If you look at the piano above, Bb is below C. The notes on the piano are lower to the left and higher to the right! 

Below is the scale of Bb Major. 

B flat major scale, degrees of the scale, B flat major
Scale of Bb major

Is our higher note (C) in the key of B flat major?

The note C is in the key of Bb Major, so the interval we have is a major 2nd. This means that a piece of music written in C major for the clarinet will be heard in the key of Bb major. 

Or put another way, the clarinet’s written pitch is a major second above its sounding pitch. 

How can I transpose up a major second?

Here is a simply melody in Bb Major. 

melody, B flat major
Short melody in the key of Bb major – sounding pitch

We need to transpose it up a major second for the clarinet to be able to play the music. 

We could look at each note individually and move it up a major 2nd, but this would take a really long time! It would also involve lots of intervals, rather than transposing the whole piece in a quick and efficient way. 

To transpose the melody, we need to move the notes up a second and change the key signature to C Major (which is a major second above Bb major as we saw earlier). 

melody, C major
Same melody transposed UP A MAJOR 2ND to C major – written pitch

Let’s try another example

The below melody is in D major (two sharps). This is the sounding pitch that we will hear the clarinet play. 

melody, D major
Short melody in the key of D major – sounding pitch

Now let’s transpose it so that the clarinet can read the music. Up a major second. 

What is a major second above D… Let’s write out D major and see! 

D major, D major scale, degrees of the scale
D major scale

As you can see, a major second above D is E natural. This is because E natural is the second note in the D major scale.  

Now we can move all the notes up a second and change the key signature from D Major to E Major. The music is now transposed up a major second (written pitch for the clarinet).

Melody, E major
Same melody transposed UP A MAJOR 2ND to E major – written pitch

Again, if you are still a little unclear on your key signatures then I encourage you to have a look at the interactive circle of fifths and take advantage of the free worksheets available on my website. 

What happens if I have accidentals?

Accidentals in the music are notes that are not in our key signature. These need to be treated differently and will not necessarily be transposed correctly by changing the key signature. 

With these you must double check the interval as if it is an interval on its own. For example, is your top (higher) note of the interval in the scale of the bottom (lower) note in the interval? Same way we explained changing the key signature earlier in the post!

Don’t worry if the accidentals are a little confusing, I will go into this more in the next blog post. For now practice transposing your music up a major second with particular focus on moving that key signature!

If you have any questions, drop me a comment below!

Happy transposing!

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Jade is an experienced musician and teacher as well as being the founder of Music Theory Foundations. She has been helping people learn music theory for more than 10 years from pre school children all the way to degree level studies.