Introduction: Key Transposing Wheel for Chords

Picture of Key Transposing Wheel for Chords

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

Picture of What You Need
The materials  are very simple- 
  • 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'll also need a pair of scissors with a pointy end (or something pointy), and a design to print on your card. Oh, and a bit of sticky tape.

You can download a free PDF design from my website,

Step 2: Design the Wheel on the Cardboard

Picture of 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

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)

Picture of Laminate (optional)

For best results, laminate the card before cutting. 

Step 4: Cut Out the Wheels

Picture of 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

Picture of 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

Picture of 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

Picture of 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.

Have fun! 

P.S. If you'd like some easy songs to play or if you're learning guitar, check out my website,, for some old favourites and how-to-play tips. This site is free, with no ads.


Puzzledd (author)2010-11-12

Tragicsnowfall has posted an excellent link below for a free download to identify and make chords etc- it even has sound so you can hear the notes etc.

Here's the link:

Thanks, Tragicsnowfall!

TragicSnowfall (author)2010-11-11

I did something like this with straight pieces of paper, but it was much more specific. I suppose what I did couldn't be put on a wheel, but it included each cord form, rather than bass note. For example, in the key of 'E' a 'D' chord would be 'D#°'. 'D' in the key of 'C' would be 'Dm,' and so on. This is handy for both transposing, and finding that mystery chord that you just can't seem to figure out.
For those interested, the chords for 'C' are;
C, Dm, Em, F, G, Am, B°, and back to C. Every key has each note in it, whether sharp or flat, so you will always have "A, B, C, D, E, F, and G in some form or other.

Another very handy tool is the circle of fifths. You can look that up and find a bunch of them. I prefer the plainer ones, with minors in the middle. The circle goes along with standard notation, so the more keys to the right the more sharps you have, and the farther to the left the more flats. This way if you don't know standard notation you can still figure out what key you're in. It has plenty of other uses as well.

Puzzledd (author)TragicSnowfall2010-11-11

Thanks for this good information!

I have an old list of chords that I still use, arranged in keys so that it's easy to see the main chords and secondary chords in each key - but it's probably out of print but still copyright :(

TragicSnowfall (author)Puzzledd2010-11-12

Another ridiculously handy tool for finding chords, scales, notes, and whatever else is Guitar Codex. It shows you what notes are in a scale, what notes are in a chord, what chord you're punching into it, what intervals all the notes in a chord are, etc. It has a list of alternate tunings, and you can even punch in your own nonstandard tuning. Everything you never really wanted, but like anyway. You can get it here;

It's Java, so it will work on just about anything. I've probably learned more from that little program than anything other guitar resource I've seen.

porcupinemamma (author)2011-01-16

Hi :0) Can you please help refresh my memory? I don't know what i am remebering..."father Charles goes down and eats burnt fried chicken"... and "battle goes down..?????" and "second to the last flat in the key signiture" ?????means ???and one semi-tone up with sharps means???

What am I remebering? I actually had grade two Royal Conservatory theory, but I am truly gapping. I do in reality deal with post traumatic stress, and there are holes in my memory-which is really frustrating. I picked up my guitar and can only remember two chords. I know that I am not comfortable using the tab system- I learned with diagrams of the strings and dots on frets. If I have too many questions, hit delete and we can pretend that I was never here ;0)

father charles is the order of sharps in the circle of fifths, which goes FCGDAEB. flats are the other way, BEADGCF. the second to last flat/sharp tells the key, but i use the number of sharps and flats and use the circle of fifths to find the key. a semi tone is 1 key away on a piano or 1 fret on a guitar, and C# is 1 semitone higher that C.

Thanks SO SO much! I am printing off your answer. So... if I went from B to Bflat is that not a semi tone? Or would I have to go to C? also, I remember the way to draw the treble cleff, and bass, but can remember a 'K' and a capital 'C' I think. Are those key signatures? thank you again! I feel like I've lost who I was -I just have fragments of information. I picked up my guitar and have a complete blank. when I tried a flute, I couldn't even get an ombasure (spelling??) In school, in the music program, we were transposing and learning scales. I sang solos, and had both voice and flute lessons. I sang descant, then metso soprano. Now i don't know where my range is. Why do you think that might be.? Here's another question-hope you don't mind...when I hear some songs, they are either too low, or too high and I can't sing along. Is there anything i can do to join in without sounding really off key?
You've made my day by helping me. Hope you have an excellent day.

B to Bb is a semitone, as well as B to C. the K and C might be the alto clef, but i have no experience with it. i have no experience with playing wind instruments and singing, but youre embouchre problem is probably because the muscles used for flute have pretty much melted away. you could transpose the song youre trying to sing into a different key, but dont use a key that creates nasty sounding dissonance between the notes (think of chords- changing one note can change the entire sound in either a good or bad way). glad i could help.

Thanks so much for your help. Wondering...would B to C, possibly be a tone rather than a semi-tone? Not criticising, just trying to figure stuff out. Again, thank you for helping me :0)

Puzzledd (author)porcupinemamma2011-02-16

Think about a piano keyboard- there is no black key between the B and the C notes... so it's just a semitone from B to C; also from E to F (i.e. there is no B# /Cb note, nor is there E# /Fb). There's a diagram of a keyboard HERE if you can't picture it.

I remember going to a seminar once where they explained the history of music notation...was interesting at the time, but I don't remember why our Western musical scales are designed with odd intervals like that! 

porcupinemamma (author)Puzzledd2011-02-16

Ahhhhh, yes yes yes-makes perfect sense to me now. thanks! :0)

Puzzledd (author)porcupinemamma2011-02-16

Good ;) Don't forget to keep singing! (Remember, if you're playing guitar, you can play the songs in a key to suit your voice- handy, that!). There are plenty of nice, easy songs with the chord diagrams on :) 

porcupinemamma (author)Puzzledd2011-02-17

I wish we live closer, it would be fun to sing with you :0)

Puzzledd (author)porcupinemamma2011-02-18

Yeah, that would be fun!!
Well, if you're ever in Melbourne....

yes, its a tone, or full step, because there is a black key between them. a half step goes up a semitone, which is right to the next piano key or guitar fret.

Puzzledd (author)porcupinemamma2011-02-10

Your K and C notations are explained here:

Puzzledd (author)porcupinemamma2011-01-16

You're WAY ahead of me lol! I never learnt all that "second to the last flat in the key signature means..." stuff, just the very basics. I used to know how to work out a key from the key signature, but I no longer try to play classical guitar unless I remember the piece, maybe once a year. Too lazy, life's too short and yes, my memory and concentration are NOT good (never were great but now...) My 90-year-old mum says she has trouble remembering things, but I tell her it's because she's too busy with important things - she's still researching family history, and she can do that better than most. Just don't ask her where her keys are... I ask her for theory tips if I need them.

My method for guitar is: pick a couple of easy chords (D and E7 are good), practise them with a slow song (e.g. Rock My Soul), bash away with your right hand, sing along and have fun! Instant gratification, no sweat and tears (maybe a little blood if you play too long at first and use steel strings - ouch - need to let the fingertips harden gradually).

That's why my site is organised in levels, with simple chord diagrams on each song sheet (and large font for oldies like me)- you can start very easy and gradually pick up extra chords at your own pace, and you should be able to play some songs at each level as you go.

Some people are happy to only ever play the first few chords, and that's fine. Others get keen and go right through to bar chords. I haven't written those up yet - I think the basic stuff is what's most useful with my site. So keep picking up that guitar, check the chords you know on the simple chord chart  and find some songs with those chords ( list of songs with chords at

Have fun, and let me know how you go. Remember, it's great therapy  for you, and great if you have young kids around, too- they think you're SO clever;) 

porcupinemamma (author)Puzzledd2011-01-16

Thanks.:0) Good advice. Does anyone know what on earth I'm asking about? It's bugging me. So often I want to sing along to songs but they're out of my range. I guess the first step is to figue what my range is and then try the wheel lol ;0)

Puzzledd (author)porcupinemamma2011-01-16

Sorry, can't help with the theory! Sounds far too complicated, no wonder you have gaps in your memory. I only remember learning Every Good Boy Deserves Fruit for the treble clef lines) and FACE for the spaces- forgotten the bass, don't use it in guitar.

Suggestion re your range: some songs need a wider range than others, and it can be tricky to work out the best key to sing in. Our Friday Folkies group has male and female voices, so we tend to do a lot of songs in D (a bit high for me, and the guys would prefer Eb, so it's a compromise; some of the women prefer to sing higher, too).

This is where a capo is so great - you can try out a key, then if it's a bit low, try it with your capo on 1st, 2nd, 3rd fret.. you may be able to go higher if your neck isn't too wide.

Try singing a song like Rock My Soul, which has a narrow range and only 2 chords - start in the key of D (D, A7 chords). For my voice it's OK in D if I sing low, but if I try an octave higher, it's too much of a stretch. If neither works for you, try a capo, or even a different key - the A and D7 chords are easy to play. I'll often try a song in the key of C (or D), then in G, to get a quick idea of a good key for a song - then I can use a capo to bring it up a bit if needed.

Once you get an idea of your favourite key to sing in, you can try that one first for a new song, then use a capo, or transpose if needed. I do find that my voice changes from day to day, too;) Some of our group songs have 2, 3 or even 4 sets of chords written in, as we've tried out different keys at different times. One group member used to call these one "alphabet soup".

Singing along to songs is a bit of a trap- so often the recording artists have a great range (they are professionals, after all) and if it's a male voice, that can be hard, too. I like Peter, Paul & Mary and Simon & Garfunkel to sing along to as I can usually do one of the voices. John Denver is OK for me, too. Otherwise I have to turn up the volume to drown me out! Perhaps you can find a good "sing-along" artist for you - or just accompany yourself on guitar :)

porcupinemamma (author)Puzzledd2011-02-10

Re-reading your kind message. Can you please tell me how to determine that the key of D has D7 chords (what are D7 chords?)

Puzzledd (author)porcupinemamma2011-02-10

The D7 chord actually goes with the key of G... So, if I remember rightly, the key of G will have a Tonic chord (G), a Sub-Dominant (C), a Dominant Seventh (D7) and a Relative Minor (Em). These are the main chords we use to play simple songs with guitar accompaniment (or chord-style keyboard, etc) in whichever key.

In the key of D, the Dominant 7th chord that you would use would be A7.

The D7 (or A7 chord etc) is actually a "Dominant 7th" chord, which has the minor 7th added to the major chord/triad. The Dominant 7th chords are used frequently, and are commonly just referred to as "seventh" chords, which is a bit misleading... for guitar, I find it easier just to learn the main set of chords for each of the common keys;)

Hope this makes sense...

A thought about singing: If you want to sing along with a song that's not in your key and you used to sing descant, can you try some harmonies? Also remember that if you practise singing scales, you can maybe extend your range again?

porcupinemamma (author)Puzzledd2011-02-11

I am going to read and re-read your post. all terrific info and suggestions. thanks ever so much!!!

Puzzledd (author)porcupinemamma2011-02-11

You're welcome;)
I went looking for a good chord chart online- I have a really good one that I've had for over 40 years which shows the main chords in each key, the key signatures etc, really clearly laid out. I don't know if it's still in print, but it's probably still copyright, or I'd scan it, (I may still do that one day, just not sure of the legality - maybe OK for study purposes).

I found a similar chart that you can download- not a very clear scan, but a good layout- check it out at

If you're a visual learner like me, it may help you to get a good "overview" of the chords and keys - though if you want to get back into all that complex theory, good luck with that one- sounds too much like hard brain work for me;)

Hope you have fun - and keep playing and singing- even simple songs can be fun!

porcupinemamma (author)Puzzledd2011-01-16

Wow! Great thoughts. Thanks :0) ) bass= "All cows eat grass" ;0)

Puzzledd (author)porcupinemamma2011-01-17

Oh, that's right! How could I have forgotten?
I tried playing your "father Charles.." notes, but they didn't sound like anything to me ;I

porcupinemamma (author)2011-01-16

Where were you during high school music classes? Brilliant!

could it be that the father charles was all sharps?

Puzzledd (author)porcupinemamma2011-01-16

Thanks :D I actually never got all the theory, but this works. I got sick of working out each chord separately; guitar should be fun!

Puzzledd (author)2011-01-03

You're very welcome :)

Mr Steve (author)2011-01-03

Thank you

yamon (author)2010-11-13

Great idea! I'm definitely going to recommend this. Most excellent Instructable

Puzzledd (author)yamon2010-11-13

Thank you :)!

belleque (author)2010-11-11

Thanks Cathy! Very handy!!

Puzzledd (author)belleque2010-11-11

You're welcome!

rcarlyle (author)2010-11-11

I made one of these about 40 years ago and it was very useful. Thanks for posting it Puzzledd.

Puzzledd (author)rcarlyle2010-11-11

You're welcome. I hadn't come across one but I'm sure they're around. I used to write all the letters in a circle and count the intervals each time until I thought of this - guess I was re-inventing the wheel. Now with computers, I was able to update to a neater version, too :)

phredw (author)2010-11-11

A help for people like me who sometimes want to transpose music on the treble staff but don't have a very firm grip on what note goes where might be to add graphics of the note positions on the staff in the possible octaves.

Puzzledd (author)phredw2010-11-11

That's a good idea, if you're using the transposer for notes. Mine is mainly designed for chords, and it just shows the letters so that you can add back in any variations such as minor, seventh etc.

You could always make a larger version and write in the notes if you wanted:)

CherylTX (author)2010-11-11

Brilliant! Love it!

Puzzledd (author)CherylTX2010-11-11

Thank you!

dfwsupergeek (author)2010-11-11

This is really cool! I've been playing for about 25 years, and know I'm going to get a lot of use out of this!
Your website is great too- a must see, especially for folks just learning guitar!

Puzzledd (author)dfwsupergeek2010-11-11

Thanks for your comments! :)

Mike73 (author)2010-11-07

Really awesome. I have been looking for something like this when I played more guitar. Now I stumbled over your instructable and immediately downloaded the template for when I'll be playing more again.
Thanks for the effort.

You should add the direct link to the key transposer, too. I didn't really find the link on first glance on your web page when I went there (but I also didn't want to put the link right here in case you don't want this).

Puzzledd (author)Mike732010-11-07

That's fine- the link is - I put it in a couple if places in the Instructable, and it's on the menu bar at the top of all the pages in my website.

Thanks for your comments- and keep playing :)

Puzzledd (author)Puzzledd2010-11-11

I've put a note about the menu bar on my home page, to make it easier for people to find the pages - I realised it's not necessarily that clear- so thanks for pointing me that way:)

danishlace2002 (author)2010-11-11

Will this same wheel work for transposing piano music, say it's in F and you want to sing it in C?

Puzzledd (author)danishlace20022010-11-11

The problem with that is that you play so many separate notes on a piano (i.e. the melody, rather than just chords to accompany your singing). You would have to transpose each note.

If you know the tune, and just want to get the right key to sing without an accompaniment, you could just transpose the first few notes to start you off.

If you're singing, you may like to take up guitar- it's easy to learn a few chords, then you can sing heaps of songs. Have a look at my site if you think you'd like to try guitar-

Puzzledd (author)2010-11-07

I haven't had any trouble (but I only made the laminated version at the start of the year). If the laminator is hot enough it should work, but your idea is a good one, thanks!

My original wheel was hand-drawn on thick cardboard, and it's lasted many years - though it does look a bit the worse for wear.

Puzzledd (author)2010-11-06

Thanks! I've been using one of these for a while now and thought others may find it useful, too. I had it on my website but it still takes a fair bit of work to make an Instructable for even something easy like this. I'm glad you think it's worthwhile!

kelseymh (author)2010-11-06

This is great! Even though the topic is a bit specialist (at least to a non-musician like myself), it's very well written, clear, and with excellent photos with plenty of detail. Featured and rated!

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