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Greetings. I seek your input on this. For years, we keyboard players have been told, "now go learn that song in all 12 keys. What if you're in a small-group setting with a vocalist, and she says, "How High The Moon, but in D-flat?"

Well, in the modern world I can simply press a couple of buttons on my keyboard and play in what seems to me to be G (where I learned that particular number) but which sounds like D-flat, right? I get that this doesn't work on a grand piano, nor on, say, sax, but for regular keyboard, isn't it better for me to be perfecting the songs I know in the keys in which I know them, than to be practicing "Blues in F-sharp" or "A Foggy Day in E"?

Other sources say, well, learning those classic songs in unfamiliar keys will help your fingers, help your ear, that sort of thing. But my question is, is that the right use of my practice time?

What are your thoughts?
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A Guy Who Isn't Very Good

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Irving Berlin had a transposing piano as he only played in F#.

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Guitarists use capos all the time.
Steel guitar players use capos.
Even violins and violas have capos.

Capos are mechanical and imperfect transposing tools.

And most all of us players use them.


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The real question is what do you want to do? If you are happy then keep doing what you are doing. If not then learn the other keys.

There is no right or wrong way to make music.

Last edited by MarioD; 05/28/20 03:43 AM.

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Nope. You do not need to learn every song in all the keys.

I started my musical education as a piano student. Essentially we learned each song in one key. Started with C maj, then G with one sharp, then on to Bb with one flat and so on as time progressed. The idea was to learn the keys and the scales associated with each key and to learn to read and play in each key. Knowing that, you could play any song in any key with the sheet music. But that's the key right there... having the sheet music and being able to read it.

I have played with some really, really good piano players. I saw them sight read a new song for the first time, something in a key with a bunch of flats and they looked over it for a few seconds and then they played it to perfection. Didn't drop a single note to my ear. Then, they were asked to jam in the key of G major.... and that same person looked at me like I was speaking Mandarin Chinese. And telling them it was a 1,4,5 in G didn't help one bit. They were clueless.

It all depends on how you learned to play and what your goals are.

So... as mainly a guitarist now, I can play in any key without a capo. I can follow along on chord charts pretty well. Throw in an Eb7#9 and I might have to either look it up or whip out a good old Emaj7 or something.... I figured out that I really didn't need to be able to read music, so I focused on ear training and learning the chords and progressions and waaa laaa, here I am. I can be totally happy with the knowledge I have and not regret one minute of never learning how to read sheet music at a decent level.

For most musicians, find out what you need, and what you want to accomplish and go do it.

While I don't need a capo to play, I find that it does a really nice job on changing the timbre of the chords. So it doesn't sound like an open string chord, simply because the physical length is shorter with the capo. It's for the tone it imparts.

Last edited by Guitarhacker; 05/28/20 09:59 AM.

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Add nothing that adds nothing to the music.
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Originally Posted By: Guitarhacker
...........................

I have played with some really, really good piano players. I saw them sight read a new song for the first time, something in a key with a bunch of flats and they looked over it for a few seconds and then they played it to perfection. Didn't drop a single note to my ear. Then, they were asked to jam in the key of G major.... and that same person looked at me like I was speaking Mandarin Chinese. And telling them it was a 1,4,5 in G didn't help one bit. They were clueless.

...................


I had a really good chuckle over this paragraph. My wife is an excellent pianist. She can site read just about anything. But ask her to jam a 12 blues in C, or to play a 1,4,5, or just play C-Am-F-G7 I get the deer in the headlights look! If there is no sheet music she can't play it.


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As an interesting aside, I'm now trying to learn to play guitar scales, arpeggios, patterns in every key as well as memorize every note on the fretboard and names of notes visually, but that is really to develop my jazz guitar playing. It's hard work but I'm confident that my playing of guitar will be in a different league. It's part of a 1 hour + a day metronome driven practice session of the above. I'm seeing significant speed and dexterity improvements and of course my ropey timing at close to 60 years old. Also I just forced myself to memorize the keys, sharps, flats, cycle of 4ths etc. I have Jimmy Bruno to thank for persuading me to put an end to 30 years of fiddling/messing around etc. The aim is to be able to look at the fretboard and see a Gm11 or a C9 visually anywhere or any triad inversion.... I can but dream.


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I changed guitar instructors about 8 months ago. (Previous one went to Nashville and stayed.)

I have been working on scales for the full 8 months. I am very impressed on how much this has helped my playing.

...Deb

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I hoped this topic would draw some interesting remarks. I has.
Without boring us with my personal history, when I approached
music theory, I was informed piano playing takes one of at least
two tracks -- chord based and for lack of a better term, hymnbook
approach. I had to chuckle at Mario's comment. His wife, apparently, is classically trained.
Now, we find the country and blues players use chord based. Chord mastery permits playing in any key. Even as far as melodies go, the pianist has a good feel for 1-3b-3-4-5-7 and 7b. That's a pretty good start, if you ask me; though I don't know how I could get along without the 2 and 6.
The pianist is likely thinkng in terms of scale degrees instead of letters. How many great six string guitar players use a position based system with barres and triads? A lot.
Here is a site that was recently posted and demonstrates the chord approach.
https://martingureasko.com/
https://www.youtube.com/user/Martingur1
Over the years, I have concluded that church pianists built themselves a certain job security by learning to play the major keys by sight. As tastes have changed, many find themselves at a loss to play with a bass player. That's been the job of the left fingers. Martin Gureasko mentions several times how important it has been for him, a Nashville professional, to not step on the bass and rhythm lines,. just because he can.
I learned the guitar neck by playing single note lead sheets
with backing tracks.

Last edited by edshaw; 05/29/20 03:51 PM.

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Thanks to everyone for the many helpful comments.

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Hey Buttrey

I started jazz guitar in my twenties, couldn’t read harmony, was playing rock, wave, punk for years. It’s only when I started practicing chords, scales, pentatonics, arpeggios in all keys that my playing really took off. I used the Jerry Bergonzi books one and two, did all exercises and in all keys.

Though it was not fun to do the exercises, in jazz classes and jams, I really started to be able to play good.

When I switched to piano a few years ago, I thought I didn’t need to practice everything in all keys, the piano having a more logical lay-out than guitar. I just played tunes and try to improvise. I already “know” all the scales from my guitar. But when I play, I struggle. The things I play on my Youtube and Soundcloud are testimony to that. And I got so frustrated with my playing.

So, a few weeks ago, I started to do 12 key exercises again. I noticed how difficult It was to play fluently.... so, I think there lies my problem: I have to think all the time, it’s not automatic, it’s not a reflex yet.

The more I practice my scales, arps, pentatonics in every key and on every chord, the more I feel free when playing. As Lambada remarked and

Some people just want to play some tunes. In that case, you could do without 12 key playing, but if you want to play a lot of tunes, sit in on jams or with bands.... 12 key playing is super important. And it will free up your playing.

Have fun.... and practice.:))

Last edited by Dzjang; 05/30/20 12:58 AM.

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Buttrey, like everyone has said it all depends on what you think is important, not what we think. However, I think you know the answer to your question already.

I'm a keyboard player and I use that term rather than pianist. I mostly play B3 organ but no longer on a real B3 of course, I use clones now and various synth keyboards. I also have a grand piano in my living room. I never learned to play everything in all 12 keys but that is certainly what most pros can do. It doesn't matter if they read music, were classically trained or not. The point is someway, somehow they can do it and that's why they are pro level players.

I'm not at that level but what I can do very well is read charts including jazz charts in any key. Note I said chart, not music. I can read but slowly, if someone hands me a piece of two handed piano music, I can't play it at all. But, if it has the chord names written above the staff like Gm7b5 I can fake it pretty good because I can sight read a melody line and incorporate that into how I voice the chords. But reading a chart is not soloing. Soloing in all 12 keys is difficult if you haven't practiced all the scales, modes and your favorite solo licks. You're mentioning jazz tunes so I assume you solo too.

If I need some help with a chart like your example of Fly Me in Db I can pull it up on my phone using IReal, transpose it and play it fine even if I can't transpose it in my head from G. When it comes to soloing I'll certainly admit some keys are better than others, I need more work on modes and scales too. It's a never ending quest but then it's not supposed to be, it's music. I never use the transpose button on my keyboards because I want to think and play in the correct key. You're not going to learn anything by doing that. Plus what do you do if you get a gig and the place has a real piano and you're expected to play it? That's happened to me several times too.

I joined a band some years ago that did some Stevie Ray Vaughan songs. He was well known for tuning his guitars to Eb and most of his biggest hits are either in Eb or Ab. Reese Wyans was his piano and organ player for years and is on all of his big albums. Reese said in an interview that he got called one day to come to a session with SRV and he finds out the current keyboard player simply failed to show up for the session. Want to get fired real quick? Miss a recording session. He gets handed the charts in Eb and Ab and he said he wasn't expecting that but it wasn't problem and he did say he had to concentrate a bit more than usual. When it came time for his solo's he nailed it first time. I don't know if he's classically trained or how he learned to do that but that's my point about being a pro. He showed up at a studio with no notice and absolutely killed it. No transpose button on an upright piano or a B3. Why did SRV do that? He said in an interview Eb just fit his voice better. My ears are not good enough to say musically it sounds better in Eb rather than E but we're talking about a human voice now. He said it's better for him and that's it. Reese showed up for a session, SRV is the boss and that's the end of it.

For me, doing a swing jazz solo in Eb is nothing like a hard hitting shuffle blues piano solo in Eb. I had to work on it and I never considered transposing my Hammond SK1. I've played rock and blues in E since the 60's and now I have to do it a step down? I could have easily taken it up and played the song in E at the push of a button but I just didn't want to. Time for something new, you know? Guitarists can talk about using capo's and that's great but we're not talking guitar we're talking piano.

So yes, I think you should expand your horizons not because you need it or anybody cares but you. It's because you're playing music and music is written in 12 keys for a reason.

Bob


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