You have probably heard the best pro sax players talk about learning a melody or a lick in every key – but that’s difficult to do if you’ve never done it before.
Unless you know how transpose on saxophone, that is.
All this month inside Sax School, our members have been working on a Transposing Challenge. And the kind of transposing I’m talking about here, is where we take a melody, and we move it into a new key.
So just then I played Happy Birthday in the key of C. And then I moved up into the key of C# (sharp).
Now, I bet if I asked you to play Happy Birthday in the key of C sharp, you’d probably find that a bit tricky, right?
Well, don’t worry, because in this lesson you will find out it’s much easier than you think.
Why transpose on saxophone
So I want to show you two techniques that you can use to transpose on saxophone pretty easily.
But first, let’s talk about why it’s important.
So when we learn a melody in multiple keys using our ears, we do a couple of really important things.
Firstly, we strengthen our knowledge of that melody. You’ll know a melody inside and out, once you go through this exercise.
And the second thing is we are building a very strong link between our ears and our fingers.
I’m talking about that ability to hear a melody, and play it straight away on your saxophone.
Now, this is such an important technique and it’s essential for any style of playing, but definitely if you’re doing any type of improvising.
Technique #1: Chromatic Method
The first technique I want to show you to transpose on saxophone is the chromatic method.
Now, this is super-simple. We just take the melody and then we shift every single note up, a half step, or a semitone.
So I started in the key of C Major, and you can see the notes here on the top line.
So if I take all the notes from that first key G G A G C B and I move them up a half step or a semitone, I get G# G# A# G#, C#, B#. By the way- B# is the same as C Natural.
Trying it out
Let’s try playing this together. We’re going to start by playing the first phrase in the original key of C and just see if you can work the notes out. I’m not going to put the notes on the screen. I want you to use your ears.
Now you can rewind this section as many times as you need to get it right. But remember we start on the note G, and we’re just playing that first phrase. So it sounds like this.
Now let’s try it in the new key. So remember we’re going to take all those notes, and move them up a half step, or a semitone. That means we’re starting on the G# this time. Let’s see if we can do it together.
So you can take that process through the rest of the melody, and it’s a pretty quick and easy way, even using your ear, to move a melody up, a half step into a new key.
Technique #2: Interval Method
Okay, let’s talk about the second method to transpose on saxophone. I like this one. This is called the Interval Method.
For each note in the melody, we’re going to identify the note from the scale. It sounds complicated – but let me explain.
Let’s look at Happy Birthday. It’s in the key of C, and our first note is G.
So G is the fifth note of the C major scale – C, D, E, F, G. So now we can go through and number each of the notes. 5, 5, 6, 5, 1, 7.
Let’s move it to a new key of G Major now.
We know our first note is the fifth degree of the G major scale. So we’ve just got to go up our G major scale, G, A, B, C, D, and that’s our starting note.
Now we apply that pattern number to the new scale. 5, 5, 6, 5 1, 7.
Now, this second method does take a bit more thinking, but it’s a great way to move through the circle of fifths with a melody, and that’s something our Sax School members have been working on this month.
Trying the interval method
Okay, let’s try playing that interval method together. So let’s start by playing it in the first key of C Major.
Here we go.
Now let’s move from C Major up to G Major. Remember our first note now is going to be a D.
Okay. Let’s see if we can work it out.
Which technique do you think works best?
So, which of those methods to transpose on saxophone do you like best? The chromatic method or the interval method?
It’s been pretty interesting to see how our members in Sax School have been tackling this Transposing Challenge. And we’ve seen some great videos inside our community, of members doing this with all sorts of different melodies.
Now the great thing about being inside our Sax School membership is you get challenges like this every month. But also you get access to our huge library of thousands of lessons and dozens and dozens of courses. There are over 70 courses in there now.
The other lovely thing is our members can make videos, send them in, and get direct feedback from our whole team of tutors, which is amazing.
And I have to say, one of my favourite things about running Sax School is seeing our members progress every single month when they’re sending their videos in and getting feedback like this.
If you want to try it out yourself , the 14-day trial is still running as I’m filming this, so go check it out. There’s a link down below.
So there are two methods that you can use to start transposing on saxophone right away. Have a go in your next practice session.
Take a simple melody and see if you can learn it in a couple of different keys. And if you master that, see if you can do the same thing with a jazz standard, a pop melody, or even your favourite lick from a jazz standard that you’ve been working on.