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victoria Williams Music Theory

Victoria Williams

LmusTCL BA Mus (Hons) MISM

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10. Transposition

Grade Three Music Theory - Lesson 10: Transposition

In the grade three music theory exam, you might have to transpose a short melody, at the octave, between clefs. What does that mean, exactly?!


Transpose at the Octave

Transpose means "write in another place". Transposed music can be written in a different clef, different key, or different octave, or any combination of these! But you won't have to transpose music into another key at grade 3 - that comes later. At this grade, you need to transpose between clefs, at the octave.

"At the octave" means that the music is transposed either up eight notes or down eight notes. For example, we can transpose this C:
c5 treble
down an octave (8 notes), to this C:

c4 treble


Between Clefs

This means that we change the clef used – from treble to bass or the other way round. For example, we can transpose the same C:
c5 treble
down an octave AND put it into the bass clef:

c4 bass



Middle C is known as C4. The C above it is C5, and the C below it is C3. You don’t need to know this for your grade three music theory exam, but it’s a really useful way of referring to notes by octave, when you are talking about them, so it’s worth learning!


Transposition Examples

Here is the scale of C major in the treble clef, transposed at the octave and to the bass clef:
tranposition examples at the octave


Here’s a short melody transposed at the octave and to the treble clef:
bass clef melody

treble clef melody


How to Transpose

If you get a transposition question in the exam, you’ll be told which clef you need to transpose into.

The new clef will already be in place.

You will sometimes have to add the key signature, time signature and bar lines, (but sometimes they are already written for you).

Then you need to add the notes and rests, as well as any accidentals, and also any other things such as dynamics, articulation (e.g. staccato) and phrasing marks.

  • Don’t rush the first note. Triple check you’ve got the first note right, and all the others will follow naturally.
  • Look at clef and the first note – make sure you’re not thinking in treble clef, when in fact it’s bass (and vice versa!) What note is it?
  • Work which octave the first note is in. Is it above or below middle C?
  • Carefully write the new first note, one octave higher (or lower, depending on the question), immediately below the original.
  • Continue with the rest of the notes.
  • Write all the notes and rests directly below the original ones. This will make sure that you don’t run out of space and that the notes are aligned properly.
  • Use a ruler to draw the stems and beams.
  • Make an effort to be neat. You will lose marks if the examiner can’t read what you’ve put.
  • Make sure you haven’t forgotten to copy any of the phrasing or dynamics markings.



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