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#203051 - 05/12/13 11:39 AM [Woodshedding - Learning to Play!] Learning melodies in all 12 keys
PeterGannon Offline
PG Music Staff

Registered: 05/29/00
Posts: 13403
If we want to learn to be able to play well in all 12 keys, it is helpful to be able to play a certain song in all 12 keys for practice purposes.

Learning a song requires learning the chords and melody.

For the chords, if you think in terms of numbers (roman numerals or Nashville system) then it becomes easy to remember the chords to a song in all 12 keys. For example, we all likely know the chords to a blues using numbers
1 4 1 / 4 / 1 / 5 4 1 /
Since you know the numbers for a blues, you're ready to play the chords to a blues in all 12 keys.

Then there's the melody. How do you remember or a learn a melody in all 12 keys? For example, how would you learn to play the melody for somewhere over the rainbow? Would you think of the numbers of the melody relative to the key (ie know the number of very melody note relative to the song key) , or relative the current chord, or what?

I found a post on a forum that ha a very good method that I hadnt thought about before, from the great jazz educator David Baker.

Here's the post:

"I went to the Aebersold camp this summer and had the theory class with David Baker. On the last day of camp, he announced that we would all be able to play at least 5 tunes in any key within the hour. I never would have believe that a class of 75 would be able to instantly transpose the melody to "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" in any key. His method relies on knowing the intervals of the melody notes and knowing the functions of the chords. For example, the first couple notes of SOTR are: Starting Note, up an octave, down a halfstep, down a major third, up a whole step, up a whole step, up a half step. If you can learn to think of melodies and chords in this way, transposing becomes a piece of cake."


I'm going to try that method in next practice session. Try to remember the melody to Somewhere over the Rainbow, by remembering the intervals only. If it works, it should be much easier to play that melody in all 12 keys.

Have Fun!
Peter Gannon
PG Music Inc.

#203109 - 05/12/13 07:59 PM [Woodshedding - Learning to Play!] Re: Learning melodies in all 12 keys [Re: PeterGannon]
Mac Offline

Registered: 05/29/00
Posts: 38502
Loc: Chesapeake, Virginia USA
While I do know some great players who do indeed think that way, I'm guilty of leaning on some internal and innate ability to kind of automatically know the intervals from the sound of them.

Certainly not a sudden gift, I think it comes about by the repetition of practice, study and the familiarization that breeds contempt.

That said, I do use the numbers quite a lot. That too, is rather interchangeable in my mind at this point, after all these years it matters not whether I'm thinking say, the V of the key of Eb, or just thinking Bb.

Practicing all songs in all keys is the beginning of becoming a consummate Bebop and Modern Jazz musician.

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#204449 - 05/26/13 06:03 PM [Woodshedding - Learning to Play!] Re: Learning melodies in all 12 keys [Re: PeterGannon]
RickeG Offline

Registered: 06/19/09
Posts: 484
Thanks Gents,
You have added additional support to what I tell my students. If you can count to 8, you may not become a rocket scientist... but you may become a rock star!

I have taught the Nashville (numbers) system early on in their chord learning so that they can overcome the challenges I had when I first learned about transposition. But, I never thought about using that for melody.

Over the Rainbow is one of my favorites. I may take this challenge just to see how well I can learn this way.

Hey, Pete on the thought of learning. I wanted to ask if there were a way to extract the musical games/practices from BIAB to where I can install just that portion onto my daughter's PC. She would be overwhelmed in looking at the BIAB window. What I would like to do is install just the music games/exercises. I know she would really like to play them being the game addict she is.

#204527 - 05/27/13 04:23 PM [Woodshedding - Learning to Play!] Re: Learning melodies in all 12 keys [Re: RickeG]
PeterGannon Offline
PG Music Staff

Registered: 05/29/00
Posts: 13403
>>> I wanted to ask if there were a way to extract the musical games/practices from BIAB to where I can install just that portion onto my daughter's PC. She would be overwhelmed in looking at the BIAB window. What I would like to do is install just the music games/exercises. I know she would really like to play them being the game addict she is.

Yes, for the games Pitch Invasion and MusicReplay, you can just find the folders of those names inside the c:\bb\Ear Training folder, and copy them to your daughter's PC.

Note: The Ear Training modules (for intervals and Chord types) are built into Band-in-a-Box, so those can't be moved.
Have Fun!
Peter Gannon
PG Music Inc.

#204548 - 05/27/13 09:43 PM [Woodshedding - Learning to Play!] Re: Learning melodies in all 12 keys [Re: PeterGannon]
RickeG Offline

Registered: 06/19/09
Posts: 484
Great! Thanks. She's 9 so the Pitch Invacsion and MusicReplay will be fun for her. When she was 6, I bought her a Sibelius product that worked where she would build a song using zoo characters. Ear training is something I do using her keyboard. This would be something to have fun with music for her.

#204582 - 05/28/13 11:05 AM [Woodshedding - Learning to Play!] Re: Learning melodies in all 12 keys [Re: PeterGannon]
AlastairLC Offline

Registered: 02/29/12
Posts: 87
Loc: Scottsdale, AZ
Thanks, Peter.
I use something similar: scalar degree notation, whereby each note in the major scale is assigned a number 1-7. So for the C major scale, C is 1, D is 2, E is 3, etc. (Eb would be b3, etc.)
That way, any melody can be written as a series of numbers. (Over the Rainbow would be 1 8 / 7 5 6 7 8 / etc.)
All my music (over 100 standards and numerous pop tunes) consist of only 3 lines: chords, lyrics and degree numbers. With those, I can comp, play melody and improvise, and I can instantly play the melody in any key named.
It does away with the need for traditional music notation and tabs.
It works for me.
- Alastair
Cheers! -Alastair

#204614 - 05/28/13 05:42 PM [Woodshedding - Learning to Play!] Re: Learning melodies in all 12 keys [Re: PeterGannon]
PeterGannon Offline
PG Music Staff

Registered: 05/29/00
Posts: 13403
Hi Alistair,
Thanks, that number system for melodies looks good. Do you find that you remember melodies by the numbers, so that if I asked you for the melody to a song that you know, you could recite the numbers easily by memory?

#204620 - 05/28/13 07:00 PM [Woodshedding - Learning to Play!] Re: Learning melodies in all 12 keys [Re: PeterGannon]
rharv Offline

Registered: 05/30/00
Posts: 18495
Loc: Marysville, Mi. USA
Can't answer for Alistair, but for me, yes
I can recite the numbers for songs I know.

This is how I learned early on. The interval method lets you play in any key .. and on any instrument. So playing a melody on trumpet is the same as on keyboards when you think of it this way, even if you need to play in C on trumpet and Bb on piano .. or Eb on a sax. Knowing the intervals makes it much easier than transposing in real time while thinking about which instrument you are holding.

My second trumpet teacher (think I was around 8 years old) used to make me play my practice piece in a new key at my lessons. On the spot. Once I caught on to the 'intervals' method it helped in a lot of ways. I stopped memorizing fingerings and started memorizing the piece!

As Mac mentioned; this expands as you begin hearing things in intervals, and then you'll recognize the notes for a given key. Even if you don't end up acquiring perfect pitch (like some lucky ones); as long as you know the key you know the notes you are after by their relationships. At least it seemed to work like that for me and others I have worked with.

I can't say I can hear a chord and tell you the exact notes out of the blue .. with no reference for key like some people can. But I can hear what they did in the key I'm thinking in.

In other words I know they went up a fourth, just not always sure if it was C->F or D ->G without knowing the key.

Long as I know the key I'm usually OK.
It should be a fun exercise for those who haven't tried it.
Make your sound your own!

#204637 - 05/28/13 09:19 PM [Woodshedding - Learning to Play!] Re: Learning melodies in all 12 keys [Re: PeterGannon]
Joe V Offline

Registered: 02/19/06
Posts: 981
Loc: NYC
A question for all you musical Pythagoreans - how do you handle songs with many key changes, accidentals, chromatics, passing tones, and melodies that span octaves ?

For example, if a song is written in the key of C, and the notes of the melody are:

A C(viii) Bb C E Eb D C(i) C(viii), what would your numbers be ?

Would they be:

6 1 b7 1 3 b3 2 1 8

#204648 - 05/29/13 01:49 AM [Woodshedding - Learning to Play!] Re: Learning melodies in all 12 keys [Re: Joe V]
lkmuller Offline

Registered: 07/11/00
Posts: 1144
Loc: Aiea, HI, USA
That's exactly how I would think of them, yes, but depending on the progression, the numbers may or may not be degrees of the original key.

For example, Desafinado is in the key of F, so when I think of the melody, it's like 5-6-7-1-7-6-b6-6-1-b6-b6. The bridge, though, does like a I-VI-II-V motif in A, then again in C, so when I'm playing the melody there I'm thinking in terms of those keys. The first thing in A would go something like this: 3-4-5-6-5-4-3-4-5-2-2 (in the key of A); then change key when it goes to C.

A little convoluted, and maybe not for everyone, but that's just the way my brain's been working for a long time, and probably will never change, lol.
Music Page

#204684 - 05/29/13 10:11 AM [Woodshedding - Learning to Play!] Re: Learning melodies in all 12 keys [Re: PeterGannon]
AlastairLC Offline

Registered: 02/29/12
Posts: 87
Loc: Scottsdale, AZ
Hi, Peter.
I don't exactly memorize number sequences - my memory isn't that good.
For guitarists, these scale numbers translate into patterns on the fretboard (which can easily be moved up or down the fretboard to change key).
So when I'm playing, I'm picturing in my mind the pattern and the number, so the memorization involves both.
BY the way, BIAB supports this system. For any song with a melody, click on the eighth note icon (Notation or chord sheet window), then in Options, set Note Names to Relative to Key.
Cheers! -Alastair

#204690 - 05/29/13 10:33 AM [Woodshedding - Learning to Play!] Re: Learning melodies in all 12 keys [Re: Joe V]
AlastairLC Offline

Registered: 02/29/12
Posts: 87
Loc: Scottsdale, AZ
Hi, Joe.
Lkmuller has it exactly right. As the human voice is generally limited to one and a half octaves, melodies do the same. For numbers above the main octave of the song, I use 9, 10, 11, etc. ; for numbers below, I use bold/italic font.
You can even indicate note duration: for eighth notes, one underline; for sixteenth, two; dotted quarters get one dot; half notes, two dots; whole notes, three dots.
Have fun!
Cheers! -Alastair


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We are excited to announce the release of a new project: The Birth of a Song (w/Floyd Jane)

Songwriter Floyd Jane shows the songwriting process from inspiration to performance and publication:

The idea for this project came about when many members on this forum and elsewhere were asking questions about the song writing process. There are many aspects, and many parts of it necessary to create a song, get it arranged, performed, and then published on the internet. So we asked the great songwriter Floyd Jane, who is a regular member on this forum, if he could help. Floyd agreed and was even able to collaborate with other forum members, Janice and Bud. The result is this video we put together that you can see on YouTube or Facebook, called "The Birth of a Song (w/Floyd Jane)".

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