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Freebie - Transposing for Guitarists

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I had cause to write this article a few years ago and am pleased to provide it free to fellow Songstuffers.  I believe it will be helpful to many guitarists, especially new-to-intermediate players as I wish someone had shared this sort of stuff with me when I started out!!


An understanding of transposing and capos gives a guitarist the power to play in any key, provide supplementary chord inversions in a duo/group, brings any song within the vocalist's main range, and can be a great aid for finger-pickers.


I went to great pains to avoid the usual gumph involving music theory and the piano keyboard as standard references. :)


Everyone is welcome to suggest better wording if that helps clarify (or even correct) explanations.  Let me know here (or via PM) and I'll update and reload the PDF.


Happy playing.





Edited by GregB
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2 hours ago, GregB said:

I wish someone had shared this sort of stuff with me when I started out!!

Great advice, Greg!  The PDF was done very well.


A related matter is I tune down a half step to E Flat.  I do this for three reasons.

  • Many keyboard players like Flat or Sharp key arrangements so this works well with them.
  • The slight loosening of the string tension makes bending easier and faster.
  • The tonality is much better for differentiating your sound, especially if you play the Cowboy Chords also known as CAGE as opposed to Barre Chords.


Regarding the last item, F Sharp,  E Flat, and B are much better tonality for Rock music than G, E, or C.  This change put them in the G, E, and C fingerboard range which is familiar to most players

Edited by Clay Anderson Johnson
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7 hours ago, Clay Anderson Johnson said:

A related matter is I tune down a half step to E Flat.


I'll see your half step, and 'raise' another half step down.  I've tuned down two semitones for the last 30 years.  I play 12-string exclusively, so your tension/bending/tonality apply more so, as well as matching the drop in my vocal range in middle age.  


While I would have loved to have played with REAL musicians (keyboard, orchestral etc. :) ), the opportunity never arose.  I've only ever dueted with guitarists.  High ethereal chord inversions on a 12-string meld really well with deeply resonant 6-strings.  



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49 minutes ago, GregB said:

I'll see your half step, and 'raise' another half step down.


A lot of Metal guitarists tune down to D.  I've tried it but it did not give me the results I was looking for.  Loosing the strings for bending is only an added feature.


I was looking to darker the tonality more than lower it.  Jimi Hendrix's Voodoo Chile is an excellent example of using E Flat rather than E for that purpose.  U2 also tunes that way for a more distinct, recognizable sound.  


Superstition which Stevie Wonder originally wrote for Jeff Beck is either in E Flat or A Flat, I don't remember which off the top of my head.  Beck plays on Stevie Wonder's version as well as his own.

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