Key Fluency
Posted by Chase Sanborn

If you are like most reasonably accomplished students (and some professionals) you have 7-8 keys you are reasonably comfortable with and 4-5 that are murky. Developing key fluency will do wonders for your musical confidence and competence. It’s not as hard as you think! Simply devoting a few minutes a day to the task will lead to significant progress over the course of a year.

Pick a very simple phrase and play it on each starting note. For example: the first three notes of a major scale. From any note this will be two consecutive whole steps. When this is easy, add the fourth note (a half step above the third). Eventually work up the entire scale, following the pattern of intervals: W-W-H-W-W-W-H. Next, try transposing simple tunes like nursery rhymes by assigning scale degrees to the notes. For example, the first line of Twinkle Twinkle in any key is 1-1-5-5-6-6-5 4-4-3-3-2-2-1.

Start with the ‘hard keys’ and work towards the ‘easier’ ones. There really are no harder keys, just ones that we use less often. Here are a few tips to help you remember the ‘hard’ key signatures:

The key of C has no sharps or flats.
The key of C# has all sharps (seven).
The key of Cb has all flats (seven)
The key of seven sharps (C#) is the same as five flats (Db). Five of one = seven of the other.
The key of seven flats (Cb) is the same as five sharps (B). Seven of one = five of the other.
The key of six sharps (F#) is the same as the key of six flats (Gb). Six of one = six of the other.

Now you can easily remember the keys of 5,6 and 7 sharps or flats. All that’s left to learn are the keys of 1, 2, 3 and 4 sharps and flats.

Remember: There are only twelve distinct keys (fifteen if you count enharmonic keys e.g., Db major and C# major). Developing the ability to play equally well in all keys is not an overnight job but neither is it a lifetime pursuit.

Chase Sanborn

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