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Learning Music Quickly, Part 4: Transposing I, IV and V

In my last blog, we looked at learning the I, IV, V and VI minor chords in the key of C. The truth about most pop, rock, and country music is it is built on only a few chords that we use constantly. Every once in a while you’ll find a song that is a little more complex than that, but it doesn’t happen very often. It was a lot more prominent before the 70‘s, and, of course, in music like latin or jazz, it’s still a cornerstone of the style.

But for most modern music, the “changes” (what musicians call the order of the chords in the song) is pretty basic. Which is why learning some basic harmony can really help you learn a lot of music quickly.

But the real key to this is knowing how to transpose. Transposition means being able to leap from key to key and still play the song and hear how the changes are moving. Obviously, you don’t want to manually go through and have to learn every song you want to play in every position on the fretboard or the keyboard, or have to write out all the chords in every key. It’s far better to just know the I, IV, V and VI minor chords in every key and be able to jump from one to another without thinking much about it. Doing this means whenever you hear a song and can figure out it’s key  – you have a logical roadmap in your head already about where the song is going. This not only makes learning music a lot simpler, but it means if you’re ever stuck out there on a stage and somebody wants to play a song you don’t really know all that well – by listening to the other players and just knowing what key you’re in – you can easily jump right in since the song is most likely going to contain the I, IV, and V chords.

From the music theory standpoint, the one thing you have to learn that isn’t optional is the Circle of  5ths. Even though it’s complicated, it’s really worth getting out of the way. Because once you learn it, it makes your musical life so much easier.

The Circle of 5ths tells us how many sharps or flats exist in any key. So playing in C is easy because there aren’t any, right? But what about Db? How do you know which notes are flat and how many are in the key?

I’m going to do a video next blog on that, but for now, check out this online explanation. Try to wrap your head around the numbers – because these numerical relationships in music are a huge part of getting the basics of theory out of the way.

Transposition, on the other hand – can be really easily cheated. And, this is how it works.

Say you’re in the key of C. The song you’re working on uses C, F and G. The I, IV, and V. You want to play it in the key of F. The key of F has one flat: Bb (see the circle). We write a really simple legend that tells us what all of the chords will be in F:

The Chords in C in order:

C Dminor Eminor F G Aminor Bdim

Below that, let’s write out the chords in F:

F Gminor Aminor Bb C Dminor Edim

You can simplify this by just writing:


This little cheater legend now tells you that the IV chord in F is B. (Remembering, of course that it’s Bb because that note is flat in the key – again we need to reference the Circle). The V chord is C. And the VI minor is D minor.

So our I, IV, V, VI minor progression in the key of F is now F, Bb, C, D minor.

Here is the one featured in my video:


In the key of G – there is one # – F#. So the progression in G is: G, C, D, and E minor.


Do a couple of your own using this method and the Circle of 5ths to see how it comes together in other keys. I could, of course, just give you a master cheater chart, but the truth is that won’t you much in the real world – you want to really know this without having to reference a chart. So work through some transpositions yourself and figure out what makes sense for your brain.

My next blog about learning will include a video explaining how I teach the Circle of 5ths to my students. It’s a lot easier than looking at a chart, so stay tuned!

About the author

Andrea Bensmiller

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