How to Transpose Up a Minor 3rd: A Music Theory Guide

By Jade Bultitude
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Transposition is essential skill for any aspiring musician. At their heart of it, transposition allows you to alter music so that it can be played on different instruments or in different ranges of pitch.

So let’s take a dive into how to transpose up a minor 3rd. This is both for music theory students and for musicians seeking to understand the concept of transposition.

Need to transpose using another interval; check out all our transposition guides here.

What Is A Minor 3rd?

A minor 3rd interval is created when we move from the 1st degree of the minor scale to the 3rd degree to the scale. This interval is called a ‘minor’ third because it is the 3rd note of the minor scale. This would also be the same as a major 3rd that was lowered a half-step.  

Another way of thinking about a minor 3rd is that it is 3 half-steps above the lower note.

minor 3rd C to Eb

It’s worth remembering that 2nd, 6th and 7th intervals can also be major or minor, whereas 4th and 5th intervals are described as ‘perfect’.

Why 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!

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).

So if we want to move from concert pitch to written pitch, new will need to transpose UP a minor 3rd. You could use this to write a piece for the clarinet: you know what you want the notes to sound like and now you need the music that the clarinetist will read.

clarinet sounding pitch and written pitch

How To Transpose Up A Minor 3rd

This method has three steps:

  1. Transpose the key signature up a Minor 3rd
  2. Move all the notes up a 3rd
  3. Deal with the accidentals

(If you thought we could transpose each note one at a time, click here to see why NOT to do this)

Let’s try an example. Have a look at the melody below and let’s see how to transpose up a minor 3rd.

c major melody one bar

Step 1- Transpose The Key Signature

First, let’s transpose the key signature. Our melody is the key of C major, so what is a minor 3rd above C natural?

c major scale with C and eb highlighted

As you can see above, a major 3rd above C is E natural. If we lower this by a half-step we will get a minor 3rd- E flat. This means that we now need to put the key signature of E flat major at the start of our melody. 

Important: It is crucial to remember that even we are going to transpose up a minor 3rd, the piece will still move to another major key signature. Pieces do not change from major to minor (of the other way around) when we transpose them.

The other way we could find a minor 3rd above C is to use the C natural minor scale. The 3rd note of this scale by definition must be a minor 3rd. As you can see below, Eb is a minor 3rd above C.

C minor scale with minor 3rd highlighted

The key signature of E flat major has three flats – Bb, Eb and Ab.

C natural minor scale key signature

Here it is in our melody.

e flat major melody
  • If you are unclear on your key signatures, please make sure you are familiar with your Circle of Fifths

Step 2- Move The Notes Up A 3rd

Once you have changed your key signature, we then need to follow this with moving all the notes in the melody up a 3rd. As with all intervals we include the starting note, so effectively this means moving the notes up twice.

e flat major, transpose up a minor 3rd

And we have our transposed melody! Below is the original melody with the tranposition underneath.

There are no accidentals in this melody so no need for step 3 this time.

Example 2

What key is our melody in below?

B flat major melody

You could say this melody is in B flat major, but the F sharp makes it G Minor. That is because G, A, Bb, C, D, Eb and F# is the G harmonic minor scale. By treating it as a piece in a minor key, it also gives us the chance to practise transposing in a minor key.

Step 1- Transpose The Key Signature

First let’s transpose the key signature. Can you transpose up a minor 3rd from G?

g minor scale with minor 3rd highlighted

Here we are using the G natural minor scale. The 3rd note of the G minor scale scale is B flat. This means we now need the key signature of B flat minor. B flat minor has five flats -Bb, Eb, Ab, Db and Gb. (Remember: the original melody was in G Minor, so the new key must be a minor key too. In this example it is B flat Minor).

B flat minor scale key signature treble clef

Here is the new key signature at the start of our melody. 

b flat minor one measure

Step 2- Move The Notes Up A 3rd

Now we have changed the key signature, simply move all of your notes up a 3rd. 

b flat major moving notes up for transposition

As you can see, we have not moved the F sharp note yet. This is because it is not in the notes of the original key signature and so will need to be treated differently.

Step 3- Accidentals

In our original melody we have a F#. This note is not in the G natural minor scale and so it will not be transposed correctly by the first 2 steps.

To transpose up a minor 3rd, this note must be treated on its own. We can ask: what is a minor 3rd above F#? F# minor actually has 3 sharps in it (F#, C# and G#). The 3rd note of this scale is A natural. Here is the final transposition alongside the original melody.

transpose up a minor 3rd, orginial melody and new melody

Suppose we didn’t know that F# minor had three sharps, is there another way to make transposing this note easier?

The easiest method in this case would be to lower the F# a half-step to an F. Finding a minor 3rd above F is much easier: it is A flat. Then we raise the Ab up a half-step to correct it to A natural.

minor 3rd F to Ab and F# to A natural

Can We Transpose One Note At A Time?

This is the slowest method of transposing, but it works! Here we are going to move each note up a minor 3rd interval to create our transposed melody.

transpose up a minor 3rd one note at a time

Remember that for each different note we need to count up a 3rd in a different key. Because of this it can be way easier to make mistakes. You will also need to look at your notes to figure out the key signature for your new melody, otherwise you may have a lot of accidentals to read!

What’s Next….?


How Can I Transpose Sheet Music Up A Minor 3rd Automatically?

There are a variety of apps that can transpose sheet music such as Sibelius and Musescore.

What Is a Minor 3rd: A more in-depth explanation

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!!

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Jade is a flute player and music educator with a passion for educating the next generation of musicians. She is a Masters Graduate from Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. Jade has been helping people learn music theory for more than 10 years from pre school children all the way to degree level studies.