Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Playing in Keys. The headache is worth it.

It's summer time (so they say). The piano goes more out of tune than at any other time of the year. I could do a quick unison tuning and that might help but I've been taking to putting in my ear inserts to tone down the sound in this small room I have with my lovely little 'Steigerman' grand piano. For some reason that helps to bare the out-of-phasing of the unison-piano-strings.  It would be nice to have it in tune because I've convinced myself that I need to play even complex songs in 12 keys.

I've been using some precious time to do this. I'm finding it helps in many areas:

1. It gives me a better understanding of the harmony because the new keys are harder to figure out without this understanding.
2. It definitely helps with hearing intervals, especially leaps.
3. It creates a better understanding of all keys.
4. It helps to play in keys that don't always get played in and breaks the tactile memory and makes the player work harder to overcome this.
5. It's great for technique and fingering issues.
6. It is good for the understanding of voice leading.
7. It helps with hearing and the understanding of tonality and all 12 tonal centers.
8. It helps in the development of piano texture-creation in the new keys which will influence the texture and understanding upon the return to the original key. I always come back to the original key refreshed.
9. It helps tremendously with improvisation and line creation. Now I can better improvise in these keys and others (I say to myself).
10. It mainly benefits the inner ear and solidifies the sense of a particular tonality.

The thing is that the songs might be played slower in unfamiliar keys but one rule of thumb is to play musically. Have articulations, dynamics and beautiful tone uppermost in the mind as the struggle to  play in unfamiliar territory proceeds. I find myself often more 'transported' playing in this way through these keys. In a way the sounds of these keys or at least 'piano keys' will sound new and are worth lingering on in a lyrical manner. In the jazz world (of old and even now) the keys of E, A, B, F# are played much less than the 'flat' keys so there is much territory to be explored. Its nice to be able to play Charlie Parker heads in keys as well and extrapolate phrases and run them through sequential root motion patterns.

I'll follow this article with another featuring one of my favorite and most useful aspects of 7th chord-tones substitution and the pathways that are present when one or more of the chord tone leads to an adjacent chord extension tone—it can contribute to the solo line concept as well.


  1. Ok, that just talked me into playing line six of Bebop through the cycle of fifths. I almost understand that line now.

    1. I was just thinking as I was attempting to play Laura (Raskin) in a few keys that this very process of playing in 12 keys makes us more aware of the brilliance of a tune like this—unlike never before. The structure of Laura is quite brilliant. It starts of with ii V in the relative min which sets up a broad sequence of keys descending in whole tones from the V major. Very cool. I noticed I have a tendency to go back to the original key especially if the key being played is a minor 3rd away from the original (C for me)..So playing in keys makes us aware of the Beauty of a tune and that is always good (and humbling). I'm beginning to know More that I don't know so much as I had assumed. So this is growth !! (New neurons or neuron connections being formed) !! in every good way.