Monday, March 17, 2008

Familiarize with the 12 keys

Hey, I didn't write here since long, anyway I am adding some new stuff.

A good thing indipendent from your ABILITY LEVEL is to work to feel at home in all the 12 keys (major/minor + other modes).

I would suggest AVOIDING starting without 7 modes, or the so called "common practice" (="Bach harmonization"). Just use scales, one scale at a time. Mark 5 notes as wrong, 7 as good and go on.

C Major good notes: C D E F G A B
C Major bad notes: C# D# F# G# A#
(call this C Major, A Minor, C Ionian... the concept is "I choose 7 notes")

A Major good notes A B C# D E F# G#
A Major bad notes: A# C D# F G


So the first step for mastering the keys is to start to play ANYTHING on a single key. Just sit there and let your fingers flow. Stick to one key, don't alter the 7 tones yet.

It is nice if you can in basic way give a structure to what you are doing. The easiest thing in this case is to try an A-B-A form. So start with a mood, then switch to another one (a constrasting mood), then back to the first.

This is a very elastic concept. You can adapt it to your level of knowledge of course.

Why not try this:
A: Walz
B: Tango
A: Back to Walz


A: some riffing in Heavy Metal style (great on the organ, but fun on piano too)
B: solo melody with rich chords as accompainment (we stick to 7 notes remember!)
A: back to Heavy Metal


These are just suggestions, the idea here is to have some fun WHILE BEING ABLE TO MOVE THE FINGERS ON THE 7 notes.

You have to thing to:

1) don't hit the wrong 5 notes
2) keep the music flowing.

Start with the white keys ("CMajor"). Play for as many days/weeks you need to master the exercice. Then go one step through the circle of fifths (1 flat or 1 sharp as you prefer).

The goal is not to go through the 12 keys in 1 week, but to master ONE KEY AT A TIME.

Master means moving fingers in the key without thinking too much to the scale notes. (this is easy in C Major, since you just have to skip black notes, anyway use C Major as a start so you can familiarize with the A B A form and the "letting go" part of the task...

PLEASE NOTE: Add 1 sharp/flat only when you master the previous scale!!!


Santiagokorrespondenten said...

Hello, nice blog!

I have an idea about piano fingering that I suggested on a piano forum, mainly for classical pianists, but they rejected it. Still, I think this is useful for improvisers on the keyboard:

Use the same fingering for major and minor. Apart from being easier to memorize, you get the melodic minor "for free". And since a lot of music, especially jazz, but even classical music moves between major and minor it makes a lot of sense musically.

I haven't heard anyone suggesting this, please have your say.

fx said...


What you suggest can or cannot be right. It depends on the context.

I make 2 examples:
1) Chopin piano Etude: in this case fingering must be studied with scientific precision, adapting it to your hands. Here you want to get the most out of your technique, so fingering must be really well defined.

2) Sight reading some easy pieces: in this case fingering must be decided in real time, there is a compromise between best fingering and "brain advice" (=what brain suggests for realtime fingering). Only experience can improve "brain advice".

Anyway I would say you are more right than wrong, expecially if you are making a compromise between perfect technque and "play it".

In improvisation there are no strict rules, while in learning Chopin there are many more.

Santiagokorrespondenten said...

Hello fx,

yes sure your right, but I wasn't suggesting any total solution to fingering for playing piano. I was suggesting a fingering used when learning scales. For these scale excercises to be musically relevant, I think a fingering that lies close to what you use in a real situation is the best.

I think when improvising, many people like to wander between major and minor (melodic minor is about that!) so that's why I think my fingering makes sense for practising scales.

fx said...

Yes, ok.

I personally practice scales regularly and I... Use same fingering for major and minor.

I find it much more "human". Of course there are cases where this it is not possible ("Chopin concept").

I think it depends on fingers too, if you have a quite big hand as I have it is doable, with small fingers/hands maximum optimization must be done and so it is better to stick to "best" fingering.

I am an organist, every organ has a different keyboard, so every keyboard has different ideal fingering.

There are some times keyboards with short keys... In that cases you have to adapt, so general rules doesn't exist.

But to close this speech I'd say: if you use same fingeringfor Major and Minor and you can play it well... It is the best choice!

Good luck!