How to Transpose Guitar Chords (with or without a capo)

Sometimes we want to play along with our favorite songs on guitar, but it doesn’t sound right: especially open chords. Or maybe we want to sing and play but in a better register for our voice. In those cases, we have to know how to transpose guitar chords.

A capo is the easiest way to shift guitar chords to a new key as it allows open chords to be played in any key. But identifying the root note of any chord progression and shifting each chord up or down in the same intervals also works for barre chords.

For example, to play F barre chords in G, all you need to do is move that position up two frets. That same F chord shape moves a whole step giving you a G chord.

Or, if we want to switch from C to G, we simply count. Start moving with the chord progression, keeping the distance of seven half steps between these keys. Remember, one half-step is equal to 1 fret on the fretboard except when moving from E to F or from B to C.

But don’t worry.

Below we’ll get into all the species, chord shapes, chord types, and the easy way to get this done without having to know a lot of music theory or anything like that.

But when is it necessary to transpose music? Does it matter if the song is a major scale or minor? And is it better to transpose guitar chords with a capo or without a capo?

Let us find out.

What does it mean to transpose +2 on guitar?

Transposing +2 on a guitar simply means moving all chords in the sequence up two frets. So, for example, F major barre chord to G major barre chord. Just make sure every chord in the progression gets moved up the same number of frets.

Let’s look at an example.

If we want to play the song “In the Air Tonight” by Phil Collins but need it to be transposed 2 steps up, it’s easy to do.

The original chords to that song are:

Dm      C         Bb    C

I can feel it coming in the air tonight…oh lord…

Dm             C         Bb    C

I’ve been waiting for this moment..for all my life..oh lord…

Dm       C        Bb     C

Can you feel it coming in the air tonight..oh lord?


Oh lord…

Now if you were playing open chords you will want to use a capo to transpose +2. But it’s easy to transpose without one just by using barre chords.

Just use these chords instead:

Em      D         C    D

I can feel it coming in the air tonight…oh lord…

Em       D         C    D

I’ve been waiting for this moment..for all my life..oh lord…

Em       D        C     D

Can you feel it coming in the air tonight..oh lord?


Oh lord…

How do you transpose guitar chords without a capo?

To transpose guitar chords without a capo, use barre chords, identify the root note of each chord in the chord progression and move each chord up or down the same number of intervals.

Here’s a handy chart for basic chords showing what the new chords would be transposed up:

Original Chord Transposed Up 1 Transposed Up 2 Transposed Up 3 Transposed Up 4
E F F# G G#
G G# A A# B
A A# B C C#
C C# D D# E
D D# E F F#

The idea is to support transposing chords without a capo.

So, here it is: I also learned along the way that in music theory, there is a concept called Nashville Numbering System that a young guitar enthusiast on the internet attempted to explain briefly.

Each primary key has seven chords; for example, C has:

  • C major
  • D minor
  • E minor
  • F major
  • G major
  • A minor
  • B diminished, or C, Dm, F, G, Am, Bdim

Now think of them as 1, 2m, 3m,4, 4, 6m, 7ldim.

Notice here that all the majors are 1, 4, and 5. Also, unless a learner plays jazz, they will never play diminished chords.

If you have a chord chart for a song in C and want to play it in G, use: 1-G, 2-Am, 3-Bm, 4-c, 5-D, 6-Em, 7-F#dim.

Assuming that you have understood the intervals of the notes I just mentioned, you will notice that you have just learned to transpose chords without a capo.

How do you transpose with a capo?

Using a capo makes it easy to transpose almost any song to any key. And whether the song is in major keys or uses a minor chord won’t matter. However, for the purposes of the chart below, I’m using major chords.

Follow this handy chart to see what the normal open chord formations become when you place the capo on different frets.

Open Chord Form Capo at 1st Fret Capo at 2nd Fret Capo at 3rd Fret Capo at 4th Fret Capo at 5th Fret Capo at 6th Fret Capo at 7th Fret Capo at 8th Fret
Emaj Fmaj F#maj Gmaj Abmaj Amaj Bbmaj Bmaj Cmaj
Gmaj Abmaj Amaj Bbmaj Bmaj Cmaj C#maj Dmaj Ebmaj
Amaj Bbmaj Bmaj Cmaj C#maj Dmaj Ebmaj Emaj Fmaj
Cmaj C#maj Dmaj Ebmaj Emaj Fmaj F#maj Gmaj Abmaj
Dmaj Ebmaj Emaj Fmaj F#maj Gmaj Abmaj Amaj Bbmaj

What key is the capo on the 3rd fret?

A capo on the 3rd fret means that your 6th open string is now a G instead of an E. If you play the E major shape with a capo on the 3rd fret, it would be a G major. 

Let me explain it like this, think of your capo as the index finger of a bar shape.

Do you know barre chords? Have a look at the F major shape.

And now look at the same shape at fret 3rd, a G major. 

So, if you have that same shape at the first fret, it is an F major, and at the 3rd fret, it is a G major. The big black bar is your index finger that does full bar chords.

Instead of using your fingers, you can use a capo on the 3rd fret in place of your index finger.

And, then only have remaining frets that are the same as an E major. And that same chord shape could be moved down to the 2nd fret or up to the 4th fret or anywhere else you need it.

And where you see the “0” marked on the diagram above, those notes are pushed by the capo.

Technically, it pushes across the entire fretboard, but since those 3 are open strings, those are the only 3 notes you will hear directly from the capo.

How do you know when to transpose up or down?

If a song’s vocals are too high to sing, transpose the song down to an appropriate key. Alternately, if the vocals are too low to sing, transpose the song up appropriately. But certain instruments such as clarinet are tuned to B♭, so transposing 6 steps down is ideal in those cases.

But if you’re using a capo, you can’t transpose down, and you won’t want to tune the guitar strings that low. So, in that case, you’ll want to place the capo on the 6th fret to make the root note of the e strings a B♭.

But in most cases, you’ll be transposing to better accommodate a singer whose register is different from the original singer of the song you want to play.

For example, if I wanted to play a Maroon 5 song, there’s no way I can hit the high notes that Adam Levine hits. So on any of their songs, I’d have to transpose way down. (but trust me; you don’t really want to hear me try and sing like Adam).

Sometimes, transposing keys up and down on guitar can be difficult for young learners.

And this is also one of the reasons why many start learning bass first instead of guitar because it helps them get a basic understanding of the keys, notes, and chords.

But is bass really easier than guitar?

Take a look at my recent article where I have shared my knowledge about whether the bass is easier to learn than guitar. I play both and definitely have an opinion!

Just click that link to read it on my site.

Is there an app to transpose guitar chords?

Several apps like Chord Transposer Helper are available to assist guitar players in quickly transposing guitar chords. You can do that by simply entering the guitar chords of the songs and it tells you the new chords.

The app takes the mystery out of transposing for guitar players.

Learners can quickly get help transposing the chords using the in-built features. These apps are designed based on highly interactive user interfaces to record the notes carefully and scan them.

With simple clicks, they transpose the original key into desired chord progressions. To achieve the chords, you can increase or decrease chords a half or a whole tone.

Here are the five apps to help you transpose guitar chords (not paid endorsements):

App Name Available on Reviews
Chord Transposer Helper Apple Store 5⭐rating
Guitar Capo Apple Store 4.5⭐rating
Chord Trans Apple Store (paid, for iPad) 4.3⭐rating
Guitar Chord Transposer Simple Apple Store, Google Play Store 4+⭐ rating
Chord Transposer Google Play Store 4⭐

Just click those links to go right to Apple or Google Play Store respectively.

How to TRANSPOSE | reAL guitar


In a nutshell, you’ll need to transpose guitar chords at some point.

And this is where the player needs to understand the entire progression or chord sequences, how to move between different keys, and keeping the same interval structure.

Transposing a piece of music is done for several reasons, including when you’re first starting out on acoustic guitar and mostly learning cover songs. Still, the real benefit of it is offering the players the ability to shift a chord progression into a more comfortable vocal range for vocalists.

Now, if you study how transposing is usually done. You will find that there are two ways to do it. You can do it via using a capo or without a capo.

But primarily, the function revolves around core steps, including identifying the chords in the original progression, identifying the chord root notes on the fretboard, moving the root notes unit to the desired pitch, and finally, rebuilding the chords into the new key.

And that’s how you can transpose the guitar chords. Happy Playing

Image by aalmeidah from Pixabay

Another image which requires attribution:

Open in G by Alan Levine is licensed under CC2.0 and may have been cropped, edited, and had a text overlay added.

Jeff Campbell

Hi, I'm Jeff Campbell, a former DJ, music journalist, musician, and music lover. I'm old enough to have seen all the cool bands and young enough to still remember them.

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