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Learning to play in different keys

Posted by William Branner 
William Branner
Learning to play in different keys
February 23, 2007 02:31PM
I am a "play-by-guy", exclusively. I can't play by written music, but have a good memory...if I "know" a tune, I can usually play it, with pretty good chording. Trouble is, I can only do it in the key of C. How can I break out of this rut and learn to do it in at least a couple of other keys? I really need some advice. Thanks.
Re: Learning to play in different keys
February 25, 2007 04:29AM
I think, you're going to have to bite the bullet, and learn some basic music theory. A good start would be to get a music theory book, and surf the web, to fill any gaps in your knowledge (the drills on this website are a good reference tool).

Most early musicians, always believe learning music theory, will take a huge chunck of time, but really to get some basic theory under your belt (grades 1 - 3 or even grades 1 - 5) will not take too long at all.

Once you learn how to transpose pieces into different keys, you'll be able to change your tunes to any other key. At the same time you'll learn how to play written music, and understand how to make your own melodies.

I think for what you're looking for this may not be the 'quick fix', but will certainly improve your musicianship no end, and open up lots of doors to play what ever and in what ever key you feel like.

Hope that helps.

William Branner
Re: Learning to play in different keys
February 25, 2007 06:45AM
Thanks, Alex. I am in my 70's now, have been playing since I was about 15 years old. I've learned right many classics, by simply learning one measure at a time, believe it or not. Still have in my "repertoire" Claire de Lune, some Beethoven (Pathetique, Moonlight), right much Chopin. But as for pop music, religious, show tunes...I can almost always pick it out in a fairly presentable fashion...actually play in public...I follow chord progressions without much difficulty, but I am stuck pretty much only in the one key as far as playing by ear. People who hear me, at least those who are not musicians, do not recognize this. I use 7ths, 9th, and can jazz it up pretty good, but my limitations of keys keep me from playing with others which I would like very much to do. Still, due to my age I don't have years and years to "start from scratch", as most of you guys certainly have done/are doing. I thank you for your attention and comments, and in light of my further clarification would appreciate anything else you...or others...could add to help me out. Thanks so much, Alex.
Re: Learning to play in different keys
April 24, 2007 04:26PM
You can help yourself figure out other keys without too much theory, particularly dealing with fairly simple music. A good ear can still help you out quite a bit, since if you have some rough theory understanding you can probably get "most of the way there", and make the little adjustments and error corrections by ear.

I think maybe a smart teacher would be better for you than any music theory course (which wouldn't be tailored to you at all). I think you'd only need a few lessons to cover the scales and chord progressions you will want to practice. You seem pretty capable of explaining what you do now, and what you'd like to know -- just make sure you find a teacher who's willing to be flexible (I'd try to make sure he/she knows what you're looking for before the first lesson, to allow some prep time).

Basically, playing a piece in another key is exactly the same as in C... every single note is just shifted up or down a few piano keys. You should be able to learn the key of F quite easily -- play your C scale and chords like normal, but shifted up 3 white keys (technically, you're shifting everything up 5 keys, white and black included).. BUT you have to play the B flat piano key instead of B. Everything else is the same. That's the "terrain" of F major -- just like C but with that one black key in there. The key of G is similar -- just like C, but starting on G and with an F# instead of F in there.

I hope this helps!
Re: Learning to play in different keys
April 30, 2007 12:15AM
Everything you know about th C major key can be easily brougth to any other key.
Every key has same rules. The only things changing are the names of the notes and the keys to play on a keyboard.
To play in G major, for example, you have to add a sharp (F) and transpose each tone (7 half steps up).
I suggest you to learn and play all the major and minor scales.I believe you could learn them in few months.
Learning to read a score well requires much more time.


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