How to "transpose this exercise in all keys"?

Bought a couple of courses from TrueFire. First one I am working on has some basic scales and arpeggios exercises–play a scale going up a third, then back to the second, then up a third, etc. At the end the instructor says to “transpose this in all 12 keys.” I have seen other instructors say to do that with etudes. How do I do that? My only experience transposing is back from my days playing clarinet where I would sometimes have to transpose a piece from C to Bb and I would literally take out staff paper and re-write the part a half step down on every note–a process taking hours do so. With a scale, the pattern is the same, but how does one transpose an etude in all 12 keys? Do people actually sit down and write out a 3 page part 12 different ways? Whats the easiest way to do this, mechanically? Work out the intervals or just add “X” steps to each note?


You can try playing your scales, arpeggios, exercises, etc. through the Cycle of Fourths, starting with C.

So play your stuff with C as your root, then follow that up by playing it in the next key, F.

For example, to find the next key in the cycle from C, the fourth in the key of C is F (C D E F).

To determine the subsequent key in the cycle, just count up a perfect fourth from the root note you played previously.

In short, the Cycle of Fourths, by key, is:

C F Bb Eb Ab Db Gb B E A D G (back to C).


Take a look at this Talking Bass video by Mark Smith.


transposing exercises and etudes in all 12 keys honestly just means moving your hand around and repeating the same pattern.
Sure, you need to sort the notes, but the same pattern will exist, unlike the loveable saxophone.

These are great exercises IF you know all your keys inside and out.
If you don’t, I suggest learning them cold first (warning, at our age, this takes months and months) otherwise you will throw things around the room and give up.

Since each scale is simply the same pattern moved around the bass, the best way to learn is to:

  1. know your fretboard cold
  2. say each note as you play it - up…and down…then whole fretboard (until you run out of strings or frets in each direction
  3. repeat #2 until just slightly before you want to quit playing bass.
  4. do same but start on the second note of the scale, then third, etc until you hit the octave (you will be surprised how starting one note in can screw with you).

#s is really important becuase anyone can move a pattern around and only find root notes to get going.
I take my ipad and onenote and draw the circle and then write out each scale over and over and over and over, practice them out of order, etc. - (on sax at least).
I have no interest in doing this on bass, i have no desire to improvise on bass.

The best advice I can give you in this area is to take talkingbass’ sight reading courses V1-3.
It is chock full of the rote learning you need to learn the fretboard, then his scales class (which, BTW, I did not do every scale in all 12 keys cause I didn’t know the fretboard and gave up, so someday) that allows you to drill things into your head.
A lot of these edute books and classess assume you have the foundation burned in, or, simply say it to make sure you have years of practice from them for the low low price of them not having to do anything other than saying “transpose to all 12 keys”.

I have done a lot of random “all 12 keys things” and they randomly get you nowhere in the more important burning in of all the prework you need.

I am currently doing a circle of 4ths on sax.
C scale up, F scale down, etc round the circle
Then crank up until you can hit 150bpm 1/8 notes, currently at 120, been working on it for about a month and a half every single day.
If I try to do it with saying the notes as I play…~20-40bpm.


It literally just means “play the same note intervals in each key”. So, yeah. On the bass, just move the pattern around to different root notes. If there were any open strings, you’ll need to finger them when you move them.

For more advanced play, use different scale fingerings. i.e. play the same notes, but not in the same pattern; elsewhere on the fretboard, instead.

Which is a very simplified way to say what John just did.



It’s not all that complicated to be able to transpose scales, exercises, etc. You just need to have a system you can rely on. Mark’s Cycle of Fourths is logical and straightforward, and well worth the time to learn it.

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Mark is a stickler for playing everything up and down the keyboard. While trying to remember the patterns, notes and such
It surely is the path of the tortoise but it definitely pays in the end.
This is actually a great post with awesome answers and direction

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What everyone else said!

It’s nice when you do this - if the first and basic pattern is getting familiar - to try a few things.
I mention this because I have found myself getting pretty complacent, since we have a potentially identical fingering for every key. So I get a simple pattern to make sure I know a nice place to play all my root notes, and then - bam - run the pattern.
That’s a good starting place, but it doesn’t stretch the brain the way running 12 keys in other instruments does. In order to keep it potent and challenging, here are some 12 key options:

Challenges for doing things in all 12 keys on the bass.

  • Try different fingerings/forms of whatever scale you’re playing in.
  • Don’t play the easy to find roots - make yourself find new and less familiar places to start.
  • Work on playing scales on two strings, rather than always starting on the E and A string, try starting some scale forms on the D string.
  • Do a position thing. Try and go around the circle of fifths playing from the nearest available root note for whatever position your fretting hand is in. (Trying to build up a “change your scale fingering rather than your hand position” mind-set)

Those have been my ways to try and keep my brain out of pattern mode when I’m doing the “play it in every key” thing.
Anyone have other ideas? Is this a thing folks do?


I run major and minor scales through the Cycle of Fourths, using three fingerings for each scale.

I also alternate running single-string scales, two-string scales, and modes through the Cycle.

well i am in luck. the true fire lesson i bought transcribes the lesson and then has a slider that will transpose it in any key


The bummer is the cool lightbulb moments come from figuring this out on the fretboard yourself.

This is honestly the biggest thing I have gotten out of Mark Smith’s Chord Tones course. I already knew most of the theory, it’s the neat applied playing stuff going outside the box patterns that really had value for me. It also tangibly illustrates the stacking thirds concept.