Key Transposing Wheel for Chords

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Introduction: 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

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, 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.

Have fun! 

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.
 

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    50 Comments

    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:  http://www.microtools.de/gcplus/

    Thanks, Tragicsnowfall!

    guitarcodex plus.gif

    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.

    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 :(

    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;
    http://www.microtools.de/gcplus/

    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.

    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)

    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!