Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Transposition: your fingers' autopilot

In improvisation it is of vital importance that the fingers find their way on the keys/fretboard/... 90% subconsciously (I like to call this my fingers' autopilot).

This is a goal, but to get closer to it the best exercise is transposition.

I already mentioned in a previous post but I really want to stress the vital importance of transposition.

This is how I do it:

1) I choose a piece I LIKE. Can be 8 bars or even a full composition (now I am working at transposing by memory the full Franck's Choral no.3 for organ)
2) I progress 4-8 bars at a time. I first learn to play it by memory.
3) Then I transpose the excerpt in all the 12 keys. Some keys will be more difficult. For example if bar 1 is in C major and bar 8 is in E major ("4 Sharps away"), when I transpose in B major bar 8 will be in B major + 4 sharps = D# Major. But this is Eb Major. So in those cases there is the extra task of doing the enharmonic change in mind. It seems impossible at first but after a little it starts to be more and more doable.
4) After you transposed several excerpts, put them together and play them in all keys.

This exercise will make you be a better improviser, even if you don't do any other kind of improvisation study. Of course if you have no harmony knowledge it is a really hard task and so I suggest you study at least some basic harmony+musical analysis, to do it better.

Anyway transposing is also a lot about patterns, so if you are good at indentifying patterns you can do the job even without a solid harmony background. Anyway for any advanced improvisation good harmony+composition skills are necessary.

This incredibly powerful transposition exercise will give you also full control on all the 12 keys, this will improve your music reading skills too. You’ll be also better at analysis because you’ll know all the chords, in all the keys. Only a methodical approach like this one will guarantee this result.

Before doing this I was simply a master in C major, now C major is still my favourite (of course :) ), but I can play also in Eb minor, something I considered impossible years ago.

So... Try it out! And have fun!