If you play chord-style guitar, banjo, ukulele or autoharp (to sing along to), you may find many songs are written in a key that doesn't suit your voice or your playing style.
You may be able to use a capo to raise the pitch a few semitones (but you can't lower the pitch), or you can count up or down as you play each chord (which is OK for one or two intervals). Otherwise, it can get complicated remembering different keys or all the sharps and flats.
Here is a quick, easy and cheap transposer to easily change the key of any song. You just decide which key you want to change from and to, then set the wheel so that the two keys line up- and you can instantly see every chord you need to change to. Full instructions for how to use it are in Step 7 (and also on the free PDF download with the wheel design from my website - see below).
Step 1: What You Need
- A4 cardboard (best) or thick paper. I got coloured card from a $2 shop, or you can get it in a craft or stationery store. If you're using thick paper, it's best to laminate it.
- paper fastener - the split type that you push through and open put. If you can't get one, you could try using a twist-tie.
- laminating pouch if you have access to a laminator; you could use contact plastic. If you have reasonably thick card, you don't need to laminate or cover it - you can easily make a new wheel when it gets tatty.
You can download a free PDF design from my website, www.cathyschords.com
Step 2: Design the Wheel on the Cardboard
You can draw your own wheels, or just print or photocopy mine onto the card.
My design (with instructions for use) is available as a (free) PDF at http://www.cathyschords.com/keytransposer.htm
Just print the first page straight onto the card if your printer can take the card; or you could print it onto paper and the photocopy it onto the card (I find this is easier as the copier takes the card well).
If you're doing your own design, remember that you'll need 12 equal segments (on a larger and small wheel) to allow for the semitones- see my picture. I used MS Word - a pie graph, then Wordart for the letters so I could rotate them as I wanted.
Step 3: Laminate (optional)
For best results, laminate the card before cutting.
Step 4: Cut Out the Wheels
Cut out the small wheel, and cut around the frame with the large wheel in it. (If you prefer, you can cut out the large wheel, too).
If you are using contact plastic, you could cover the square which has the large wheel after you've cut it out (and fold extra covering over to the back), but you can cover the small wheel before cutting.
I don't really recommend contact plastic for this- you'd be better off using thicker card if you can, if you don't have a laminator.
Step 5: Make a Hole in the Centre
With your pointy scissors or other object (e.g. a nail or skewer), make a hole in the exact centre of each wheel.
Step 6: Fasten the Wheels Together
Slip the paper fastener* into the hole in the small wheel, then through the large wheel. Check that the spokes on the wheels line up, and wriggle the fastener a little to make a snug fit. The top wheel should be able to turn but it should not be loose.
Turn the whole thing over and open out the paper fastener (or twist tie). Press the ends flat against the card. You can tape over the ends to stop them sticking out and catching on things.
*If you are using a twist-tie instead of a paper fastener, make a fairly large knot in the middle of the twist-tie. Push the ends together and insert through the holes in the wheels as above. Flatten the knot as neatly as you can, making sure it's wide enough to stop the small wheel from slipping off.
Step 7: The Finished Transposer- How to Use It
To use the key transposing wheel:
First, decide what key you want to change to. This may be
• a key that is easier to play on guitar, banjo etc (e.g. if your original key is in Eb, it’s much easier to use the chords in the key of D or C on a guitar- you can use a capo if you still want to sing in Eb), or
• it may be a key that’s easier for you to sing in (e.g. if the song is in D and it’s too high for you, you can drop it 2 semitones to C).
Select the main (tonic) chord of the original key (usually the first chord in the song; nearly always the last). Locate this chord on the inner wheel. Turn the inner wheel until this matches up with the new key on the outer wheel. Keep the wheels in the same position to work out all the other chords.
Now, transpose your second chord. Don’t worry if it’s a 7th, a minor (m or min.) etc- (but it IS important if it’s a sharp or flat). Find it on the inner wheel, and check what letter is next to it, on the outer wheel. Make a note of the new chord letter- and add back any suffix, such as 7th or m/min., which were on the original chord.
Do this for all the chords in your original key.
That's it! Once you've got the hang of it, you'll find it easy and quick.
P.S. If you'd like some easy songs to play or if you're learning guitar, check out my website, www.cathyschords.com, for some old favourites and how-to-play tips. This site is free, with no ads.