How to Transpose F to C: The Step By Step Guide

By Jade Bultitude
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Being able to transpose F to C is a great skill to have for any musician. It will allow you to play pieces written for transposing instruments, like the French horn, and piece together ensembles so that everyone is playing in the same key!

Transposition is a tricky subject and it is really easy to make a mistake. But don’t worry, I have your back, so let’s look at how to transpose from F to C. 

Transposing Instruments

When we say we want to transpose F to C most people do not mean that they literally have a piece of music in F major that then want written in C Major. They are referring to transposing instruments that play in F.  

Common instruments in F are the French Horn and English Horn. 

french horn and cor anglais, transpose F to C
Hustvedt, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

For these instruments, when the player reads a C on the staff and play a C, we hear an F below. In other words, their written pitch is a perfect 5th above their sounding pitch. 

If you play the french horn and you want to compose music that harmonises with the piano, your sheet music will be a perfect 5th above the notes in the piano’s sheet music (or any other non-transposing instrument). Or you may want to play a flute piece on your French horn, so you will have to raise each note a perfect 5th (7 half-steps) to play it in the same key as the flute. 

Another use would be if you are a flute player and you want to play a piece written for French horn. To play in the same key as the French horn you would need to lower the music a perfect 5th.

How to Transpose from F to C

To transpose F to C involves up moving the notes up 7 half-steps (semitones) or 3½ whole-step (tone). This is the same as moving up an interval of a Perfect 5th as C natural is the 5th note in the F major scale.

There are two different methods to transpose F to C. 

Method 1- Move notes up one at a time

Have a look at the melody below.

d major melody f sharp, e, f sharp

The melody is written in key of D major. We could move all the notes up a 7 semitones, making sure that we take into account the F# and C# notes in the original key.

Here is the new melody. As you can see, only have a C# because of the original melody.

However, we are actually in A Major. Below is the final transposition. Check out Method 2 for a more complete way to transpose F to C (or up a perfect 5th).

Method 2 – Transpose the key signature

  1. We could move up all the notes up a 5th
  2. Transpose the key signature up a perfect 5th
  3. Deal with any notes outside the original key 

Look at the melody below.

a flat major melody for transposition up a perfect 5th

It is in Ab major so we have Bb, Eb and Ab. First let’s move all the notes up a 5th. Intervals always include the starting note so in effect, this means moving up four positions on the staff.

notes moved up a perfect 5th

Now we can transpose our key signature. A perfect 5th above Ab is Eb. Another way to put this is that Eb is the 5th note of the A flat major scale. So our new key signature is for E flat Major, which has a B flat, E flat, and A flat. 

Here is our transposed melody with the new key signature. 

transposition from A flat major and e flat major

If there were any accidentals that were outside the original key of Ab, we would not use this method. Instead we would treat these as individual notes and transpose them on their own. So if we had a C# then this would move up to a G# (7 half-steps above). 

Both these methods work when either transposing up or down by a perfect 5th. 

Transposition chart for F to C 

Here is a handy chart for helping you transpose F to C. You can use it to transpose a single note, for example E to B, or you can use it to transpose the key signature of a piece. For example a piece in D Major would transpose up to A Major. 

transposition chart C to F copy

Using computer software

A far quicker method of transposition is to use software to do it for you! Apps like Musescore, Sibelius and Finale will transpose whole pieces with the press of a few buttons. You can then export, print and share your new transposed sheet music. 

What’s next….?

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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.