How to Transpose Up a Minor 3rd

By Jade Bultitude
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Let us know how you have got on with the other transposition questions! So far we have covered keeping the notes at the same pitch, transposing an octave, transposing a major second and transposing a perfect 5th! The final transposition we need to look at now is how to transpose by a minor 3rd. Today we will break this down in very much the same way. Firstly, we will focus on transposing up a minor 3rd

Which instruments do we have to think about when learning how to transpose up a minor 3rd?

When transposing a minor 3rd we are thinking about instruments in the key of A. The most common instrument we think of in A is the Clarinet in A!

But what do we actually mean when we say that an instrument is in the key of A?

If we say that an instrument is ‘in the key of A’ this means that when the instrument plays a ‘C’, the audience will hear an ‘A’. So, for example, if a Clarinet in A is playing a piece written in the key of C major (no sharps or flats) we will hear the piece in the key of A major (3 sharps)! 

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 that we have to transpose by a minor 3rd?

Think carefully about the two notes we have:

We hear an A

We read a C

Let’s have a look at the piano below… How many notes do we have between the A and C? 

piano, minor 3rd, interval, up a minor 3rd

That’s correct, we have three: A, B and C! This means we are looking at an interval of a third, simply because the distance between the A and C is THREE notes. 

Remember that we do not need to count the sharps and flats between the notes to work out the intervals number. We can simply focus on the letters… A, B, C. Three letters, three notes. 

Now we know the interval is a 3rd, how do we know what type of 3rd we have?

As you know from your theory education, our intervals always 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, which in this case is an A. If you look at the piano above, A is below C. The notes on the piano are lower to the left and higher to the right! 

Below is the scale of A Major. 

A major, scale, a major scale

Is our upper note (C natural) in the key of A major?

As you can see the note C natural is NOT in the key of A major, meaning that this is NOT a major interval. 

But what type of C is in A major? Take a look at the scale above… it is a C sharp!

So, is C natural higher or lower than C sharp? (remember the notes on the piano are lower to the left and higher to the right!)

Piano, C natural, C sharp

That’s correct, the C natural is lower than the C sharp… 

One semitone lower to be exact…

Making this interval a minor third!

That’s a lot of steps… is there a simpler way?

We could make this even easier. In a minor scale the third is always a minor 3rd. So if we write out the A minor scale…

A minor scale, A natural minor, minor scale

We can see that the 3rd note is a C natural, meaning this is straight away a minor 3rd

If using this method, make sure you are really confident with your minor scale key signatures. Be sure to revise your circle of fifths!!

How can I transpose up a minor third?

Remember if we are transposing up, we are going from sounding pitch to written pitch. 

Below is a melody in the key of C major…

melody, C major melody, A minor melody

We could look at each note individually and move them up a minor 3rd, 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. The most efficient way would be to change the key signature… As we said earlier, the piece is in the key of C major (no sharps or flats). But as we are transposing a minor 3rd, the most effective way to transpose this piece is to think in the relative minor!

What is the relative minor? Take a look at the circle of fifths below…

circle of fifths, transposing

That’s correct, it is A minor!

To transpose the melody, we need to change the key signature to C Minor (which is a minor third above A minor) and then move all of the notes up a third.

C minor melody, melody, Melody in C minor

Shall we try another example?

What key is the below melody in? Remember to think in the minor key.

E minor, E minor melody, melody in E minor

That’s correct, we are in the key of E minor. What is a minor 3rd above E?

Write out your E minor scale

E minor scale, E minor

What is the 3rd note of E minor? The third note is G!

Let’s write out the key signature of G minor. 

B flat major, G minor, key signature

The next step is to move all your notes in the melody up a 3rd. As you have already changed the key signature, you do not need to think about each note. 

Melody in G minor, G minor key signature, melody, transpose up a minor 3rd

Unless, as we have seen before in the other transposition blogs, you have an accidental. You will then need to work out each accidental separately, by thinking in the minor key of that particular note. 

Remember

If you think about your key as a minor key, the scale you transpose to should also be a minor key. If you think in a major key, the scale you transpose to should also be a major key!

Just remember if you transpose in a minor key, your third will automatically be a minor third. If you transpose from your major key, you will have to complete the additional step of bringing that note down by one semitone. 

Let me know how you get on with your transposition!

Jade x

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AUTHOR
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.