2017 was our 20th year online!

Welcome to the Piano World Piano Forums
Over 3 million posts about pianos, digital pianos, and all types of keyboard instruments
Join the World's Largest Community of Piano Lovers (it's free)
It's Fun to Play the Piano ... Please Pass It On!

Shop our online store for music lovers
SEARCH
Piano Forums & Piano World
(ad)
Wessell Nickel & Gross
PianoForAll
(ad)
Best of Piano Buyer
 Best of Piano Buyer
(ad)
Faust Harrison Pianos
Faust Harrison 100+ Steinway pianos
Who's Online Now
65 members (AaronSF, clothearednincompo, danielp11, Charles Cohen, Classnika, ando, Catlady, 12 invisible), 516 guests, and 441 robots.
Key: Admin, Global Mod, Mod
(ad)
Estonia Pianos
Estonia Pianos
Previous Thread
Next Thread
Print Thread
Hop To
Page 1 of 3 1 2 3
Key Signatures
#3029916 09/28/20 01:59 PM
Joined: Jul 2015
Posts: 191
E
ee375 Offline OP
Full Member
OP Offline
Full Member
E
Joined: Jul 2015
Posts: 191
I posted a similar question a while back but cannot find the thread again. So I will restart it again.

When I look at a new score I determine what keys are sharps and flats. When I start practicing the piece I consciously note which keys are sharps and flats before pressing them. After a few days this becomes automatic and I don’t need to think about them all the time.

From day one with my teacher she has pushed be to learn the key signature of each piece. “Not knowing the key is like driving without a road map.” Up until that time I NEVER knew what key I was playing. But I ALWAYS knew which keys were sharps and flats.

Given the number of sharps and flats I can determine what the key signature is – but I haven’t memorized them so I have to go through the “calculation process.” First key above last sharp is the major key; count down 3 semitones to get the minor key. If the last note in the score matches the major key the piece is in the major key; if not, it is in the minor key. For flats go to the second-to-last flat and do the same as for sharps. So I feel I am doing tricks like the trained monkey with the organ grinder. Given some time I can determine the key of any piece.

But recently my teacher asked me to memorize the key knowing the number of sharps and flats and also go backwards by knowing the key, what are the sharps and flats? I am an engineer so I am very good at deduction; not so good at memorization.

I apologize for this lengthy introduction. But I wanted to describe my thought processes.

Now for the question: If I know the key, how does that help me play the piece? If I say “It’s in the key of C# Minor, that means 4 sharps.” I already knew it was 4 sharps – it’s right at the beginning of the score. Why would I want to go through an extra step to get the same results? For 2 years of instruction we always start by naming the key. Then I promptly forget it and start playing. The key never crosses my mind again.

I know that many of you and my teacher are far more advanced than I am so clearly I am missing something. How does knowing the key improve my performance? How should I use it to my advantage? What should my though processes be?

(ad)
Piano & Music Accessories
piano accessories music gifts tuning and moving equipment
Re: Key Signatures
ee375 #3029936 09/28/20 03:01 PM
Joined: Feb 2019
Posts: 1,235
S
1000 Post Club Member
Offline
1000 Post Club Member
S
Joined: Feb 2019
Posts: 1,235
Well a piece is not just a series of notes with sharps or flats. There is a logic related to the key in which the piece is written. Certain harmonies will occur which can be anticipated. With more complex pieces, there will be modulations and those to be understood require that you think in terms of keys and their relationships.

Your teacher is right. You eventually need to be able to know what key is related to the accidentals. You probably need to advance in theory to understand the usage of keys.

Re: Key Signatures
ee375 #3029940 09/28/20 03:16 PM
Joined: May 2001
Posts: 28,179
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member
Online Content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member
Joined: May 2001
Posts: 28,179
When you start learning harmony you will realize that knowing a piece is in a certain key will help with a lot more than knowing what notes are sharp or flat. This is basically what Sidokar's post said.

Re: Key Signatures
ee375 #3029944 09/28/20 03:24 PM
Joined: Feb 2015
Posts: 1,927
1000 Post Club Member
Offline
1000 Post Club Member
Joined: Feb 2015
Posts: 1,927
I'm an engineer too but perhaps with a little bit more piano experience, so maybe I can explain. smile

In the long run knowing the key helps you understand the structure of the piece better and learn it faster. If your piece is in C# minor then you're going to have a lot of chords related to that key - the III chord (E major), the iv chord (F# minor), the V chord (G# major), etc. You're also possibly going to have lots of scale passages in C# minor or E major. Over time, when you have practiced all your scales, chords, and arpeggios so much that you know them in your sleep, you'll be able to make the connection almost immediately between seeing these on the sheet and finding them on the keyboard. Understanding what the different chords are makes it much easier and faster to learn the piece.

My thought process is a lot shorter. I see 4 sharps and immediately think "E major or C# minor". Then I look at the first few chords or the last chord to figure out which it is (BTW, the last note is usually correct but not necessarily - some pieces modulate to different keys without returning to the original key). You just need to memorize 15 key signatures. It's not really that hard. As an engineer you probably had to memorize a lot more than 15 things.

Re: Key Signatures
ee375 #3029986 09/28/20 04:48 PM
Joined: Aug 2007
Posts: 8,949
8000 Post Club Member
Offline
8000 Post Club Member
Joined: Aug 2007
Posts: 8,949
Originally Posted by ee375
I am an engineer so I am very good at deduction; not so good at memorization.

What kind of an engineer doesn't memorize stuff? How did you get this far in your career without the ability to know things? The foundation of all your knowledge and career-specific skills is memorization! In fact, your memorization ability is probably way better than most people.

You can get very far in piano without knowing any theory. You can easily poopoo the key signature stuff and still get by, and still play piano at a satisfying level. But, if you buckle down and learn the music theory, your level of understanding of the music will be dramatically enhanced. You can read the score faster and read chords/arpeggios much faster.

Re: Key Signatures
ee375 #3030138 09/29/20 05:23 AM
Joined: Jun 2020
Posts: 47
M
Full Member
Offline
Full Member
M
Joined: Jun 2020
Posts: 47
Seems to me that music theories have a language as well as theories etc. And a large chunk of the language, of things like western functional harmony, is keys; and: chords, degree numbers, alterations, extensions, etc... of keys. Together this allows one to look at or hear something and just "see" what is going on at some level. But it'll be hard to get off the ground if the keys and note of the degrees don't trip off the tong quickly.
Like resistors, diodes, capacitors and transistors are the language of electronics... but an electrical engineer who had to work out circuit theory from scratch (or use heuristics) each time they saw a diagram wouldn't last long. They are expected to be able to just look at a circuit and go "oh yeah, amplifier with low pass filter"...

I'm not there yet, either. I also have an appalling memory. None the less, when I'm practicing scales, chords etc. I do try to think about the what of where I'm putting my fingers (the 3rd of A) and not just the where.

Oh, and should you ever be interested in jazz... you'll really want to know stuff like what is the IV7b5 of the V of Bb7ø!

Last edited by mizmar; 09/29/20 05:26 AM.
Re: Key Signatures
ee375 #3030139 09/29/20 05:30 AM
Joined: Dec 2007
Posts: 3,945
3000 Post Club Member
Offline
3000 Post Club Member
Joined: Dec 2007
Posts: 3,945
Even people who play by ear know what key they are in...

Sam

Re: Key Signatures
ee375 #3030184 09/29/20 09:19 AM
Joined: May 2016
Posts: 1,828
I
1000 Post Club Member
Offline
1000 Post Club Member
I
Joined: May 2016
Posts: 1,828
It has been discussed several times lately. As others have already said correctly, in order to benefit from the knowledge of keys you need to know theory very well and be able to recognize elements of theory in a piece at a glance. There are many types of theory drills that need to be done regularly in order to achieve it.

It may even make sense if you work on key by key. For example you may say to yourself that in the following month you're going to study D major, and during that month for 30 minutes daily you're going to read, analyze and compare pieces only in D major. And also play scales, arpeggios and common chords of D major. I'm sure that after a month you'll feel much more confident playing pieces in D major and you'll begin to understand what keys are all about.
But you need to advance your knowledge of theory before trying that, otherwise it may not work.

Good luck!

Re: Key Signatures
ee375 #3030196 09/29/20 10:06 AM
Joined: Feb 2010
Posts: 5,539
W
5000 Post Club Member
Offline
5000 Post Club Member
W
Joined: Feb 2010
Posts: 5,539
> If I know the key, how does that help me play the piece?

For me knowing the key has almost zero relevance while playing. After a few play-throughs I know the notes anyway, whatever key it is. It's only helpful in these first play-throughs, and then I can also hear if I'm playing an off-key note so even then I rely more on my ears than on my memory of the key.

I think it's more relevant for people playing jazz, in a band, or improvising. So it does depend on which music style you're in.

It might help if you have all the scales ready, so that if you remember 'b#' you automatically would take the right sharps. You still would have to remember other things though, because there knowing b# does not give you the right next key, it only reduces the possible next notes from 11 to 7 (or 9, if you are in minor). Seems too much a hassle to me.

That said, the theory of music is very helpful to *analyze* the music. Then you need to know the key and understand what it does , means etc. Having all keys ready thus helps your analysis.

This analysis process is not done real-time though. I analyze the piece beforehand, and that helps to make my interpretation like the function of the chords in the bigger picture, the dynamics, accents etc. When that is done, I don't really care about the analysis anymore. It's like the paperwork of your car, you do it but it's completely irrelevant for your driving.

In the far past, also classical music players could improvise at the spot in the same style. I think these days are long gone and nobody is expecting this anymore. To improvise at a high level you have to be a genius anyway. To compose a good piece in non-real time is already very difficult.


[Linked Image][Linked Image][Linked Image][Linked Image]
Re: Key Signatures
wouter79 #3030229 09/29/20 11:13 AM
Joined: May 2016
Posts: 1,828
I
1000 Post Club Member
Offline
1000 Post Club Member
I
Joined: May 2016
Posts: 1,828
Originally Posted by wouter79
It might help if you have all the scales ready, so that if you remember 'b#' you automatically would take the right sharps. You still would have to remember other things though, because there knowing b# does not give you the right next key, it only reduces the possible next notes from 11 to 7 (or 9, if you are in minor). Seems too much a hassle to me.
And how many sharps do you remember in b# key? wink

Re: Key Signatures
ee375 #3030258 09/29/20 12:50 PM
Joined: Oct 2019
Posts: 480
W
Full Member
Offline
Full Member
W
Joined: Oct 2019
Posts: 480
Originally Posted by ee375
Up until that time I NEVER knew what key I was playing. But I ALWAYS knew which keys were sharps and flats.

This is both confusing and telling. Using the word "key" in its different meanings was confusind to read. But it is also telling, in that you seem to be playing the piano keys instead of playing the music.

It's important to know the tonic in tonal music. Naming the key by letter for your teacher is not necessary but you needs to know the tonic (amounts to knowing the key) because that's your point of reference.

To refine your teacher's analogy, not knowing the tonic is like reading a map for directions without knowing your current location on the map. Or in engineering terms, understanding a graph without knowing where is the origin. The tonic is your home base.

As for sharps and flats, I think you should get away from always thinking of it as alterations of C major. Each key is legitimate in its own right. The music goes from the tonic, creating tension away, and resolving back. That is all in reference to its own tonic, not to C major.

Think about how people naturally sing Happy Birthday in any key, without having to sharp or flat anything. They only need to be given a starting point of reference, the pitch of "Ha-"

Have a look at F# major. Are you really going to tell yourself to alter six notes from C major? I think not. That's going to be very slow. But if you play from the tonic you'll naturally play on the right piano keys going by degrees. As already mentioned by I. Vasiliev above, play your scales and arpeggios!

Re: Key Signatures
Iaroslav Vasiliev #3030270 09/29/20 01:31 PM
Joined: Jun 2019
Posts: 69
F
Full Member
Offline
Full Member
F
Joined: Jun 2019
Posts: 69
Originally Posted by Iaroslav Vasiliev
Originally Posted by wouter79
It might help if you have all the scales ready, so that if you remember 'b#' you automatically would take the right sharps. You still would have to remember other things though, because there knowing b# does not give you the right next key, it only reduces the possible next notes from 11 to 7 (or 9, if you are in minor). Seems too much a hassle to me.
And how many sharps do you remember in b# key? wink

smile that was funny. But actually I seen notes written in b sharp major and never understood why.

Re: Key Signatures
Iaroslav Vasiliev #3030273 09/29/20 01:41 PM
Joined: Feb 2010
Posts: 5,539
W
5000 Post Club Member
Offline
5000 Post Club Member
W
Joined: Feb 2010
Posts: 5,539
Originally Posted by Iaroslav Vasiliev
Originally Posted by wouter79
It might help if you have all the scales ready, so that if you remember 'b#' you automatically would take the right sharps. You still would have to remember other things though, because there knowing b# does not give you the right next key, it only reduces the possible next notes from 11 to 7 (or 9, if you are in minor). Seems too much a hassle to me.
And how many sharps do you remember in b# key? wink

Yes I think I ment B key and mixed it up with remembering sharps :-)

From top of my head B# major would be 2 sharps 5 double sharps

B# minor would be 2 double sharps 5 sharps

LOL


[Linked Image][Linked Image][Linked Image][Linked Image]
Re: Key Signatures
ee375 #3030493 09/30/20 08:47 AM
Joined: May 2012
Posts: 2,539
G

Platinum Supporter until July 22 2014
2000 Post Club Member
Offline

Platinum Supporter until July 22 2014
2000 Post Club Member
G
Joined: May 2012
Posts: 2,539
Now for the question: If I know the key, how does that help me play the piece?

It is all part of a bigger picture which eventually will all tie together. Also, it is necessary to understand the Lingo in order to communicate with other musicians.

Directly, it really doesn't help you much as a solo pianist. I agree, and personally, I really couldn't care less what key I am in with most of what I play or am about to play or learn.

You should still learn it though. What's the harm?

When I jammed with my Dad, he always would say "what key are you in?" and I would always respond "what? ... well my melody starts on F" ... "OK you're in ... He'd put up with it when I was young. Not sure he would have forever.

Re: Key Signatures
ee375 #3030762 10/01/20 12:51 AM
Joined: Jun 2019
Posts: 261
S
Full Member
Offline
Full Member
S
Joined: Jun 2019
Posts: 261
Originally Posted by ee375
Given the number of sharps and flats I can determine what the key signature is – but I haven’t memorized them so I have to go through the “calculation process.” First key above last sharp is the major key; count down 3 semitones to get the minor key. If the last note in the score matches the major key the piece is in the major key; if not, it is in the minor key. For flats go to the second-to-last flat and do the same as for sharps.

Ouch, that sounds painful. I'm going to suggest cheating. Even for engineers it's okay to cheat - remember the left and and right hand rules for induced conventional current?

So I use mnemonics. Charlotte Gets Drunk And Eats Butterflies. There's 0, 1, 2, 3 and 5 sharps. And F Bead 1,2,3 and 4 flats. Pretty quick - it's not like you're doing it every five minutes.

I'd suggest getting hold of a copy of the circle of fifths (just google it). Once you see the pattern it will stick in your head and you will remember it without having to work it out from first principles.

Minor keys are always two letter names less than the major but some do have sharps and flats because it's actually three semitones. But it's easier to learn it based on the principle of two letter names and remember where the sharps and flats kick in around the circle.

And none of this helps your playing, of course. If you're not aware of where the tonic is it's like driving down a road without knowing where the centreline and edges are.


Yamaha U1. Yamaha P-45. Yamaha RD-250 (a long time ago). smile
Re: Key Signatures
ee375 #3030778 10/01/20 01:58 AM
Joined: Jun 2018
Posts: 1,281
1000 Post Club Member
Offline
1000 Post Club Member
Joined: Jun 2018
Posts: 1,281
Originally Posted by ee375
If I know the key, how does that help me play the piece?
Actually, if you always play music from a sheet, if you never improvise, never change some notes, I think it is not important at all to know which key you are in. It might be a little easier to learn the piece when you know the key and its root chord, it dominant and subdominant, but once you have identified any chords and arpeggios that may be used in your piece, it doesn't matter much.

I started with Alfred's, and played a lot of pieces using the chords C major, F major and G7. I did not know that these pieces were in C major, and I had never heard of dominant and subdominant. I cannot see how I would have played these pieces any better with the theoretical knowledge that I have now.


Playing the piano is learning to create, playfully and deeply seriously, our own music in the world.
*
... feeling like the pianist on the Titanic ...
Re: Key Signatures
ee375 #3030855 10/01/20 08:09 AM
Joined: May 2012
Posts: 2,539
G

Platinum Supporter until July 22 2014
2000 Post Club Member
Offline

Platinum Supporter until July 22 2014
2000 Post Club Member
G
Joined: May 2012
Posts: 2,539
Understanding what and where tonic, sub-dominant and dominant etc. is, within the key or piece you are attempting is yet another layer of theory to understand.

If you don't need to know the key to play something better, than you won't need this either.

It is not hard to keep on the path when every step of the way is marked out for you, and this would be the case with any kind of score. Where I would try and figure out the key first is if I were trying to pick up something by ear. This way it would narrow my chances in finding chords and melody notes. Though, someone with a great ear could easily by-pass this step.

Everything contributes, but some things are more towards your musicianship and overall understanding and not immediate pay back in terms of playing better. Important in the long run, but not that helpful to your playing in the short run. Helpful to playing in the short run is how well you can hear in your head what you want to produce and accurately replicating it. Practice and intent listening will improve this ability directly and noticeably.

Re: Key Signatures
ee375 #3030881 10/01/20 09:23 AM
Joined: May 2020
Posts: 585
J
500 Post Club Member
Offline
500 Post Club Member
J
Joined: May 2020
Posts: 585
No, you don't need to know any of that.

For example, if you've got 2 sharps, C, F. Before reading anything, just play that scale 7 notes from C to B with those sharps.

In your mind, make a conscious note that C and F are now represented by the Black note under your hand, temporarily delete the existence of the C and F white keys.. And that's it. that's all you need. Given time, you will get more comfortable with the chords as well. It's muscle memory far more than music theory. I'm not saying music theory is bad, it won't hurt to know, but it's not a requirement for the sake of playing/ sight reading.

Most people read faster when it's all white keys, because that's their default mental map of the keyboard. It's important to remember that no matter what key signature, it's always 7 keys + accidentals. You're always on a 7 key map. The only slight difference is the additional black keys require different fingering, this is the added muscle memory part.

Last edited by jeffcat; 10/01/20 09:27 AM.
Re: Key Signatures
jeffcat #3031123 10/01/20 10:23 PM
Joined: May 2016
Posts: 1,828
I
1000 Post Club Member
Offline
1000 Post Club Member
I
Joined: May 2016
Posts: 1,828
Originally Posted by jeffcat
I'm not saying music theory is bad, it won't hurt to know, but it's not a requirement for the sake of playing/ sight reading.
I'd disagree about sight reading. The most brilliant sight readers that I knew were all experts in theory.

Re: Key Signatures
jeffcat #3031149 10/02/20 01:51 AM
Joined: Feb 2015
Posts: 1,927
1000 Post Club Member
Offline
1000 Post Club Member
Joined: Feb 2015
Posts: 1,927
Originally Posted by Iaroslav Vasiliev
Originally Posted by jeffcat
I'm not saying music theory is bad, it won't hurt to know, but it's not a requirement for the sake of playing/ sight reading.
I'd disagree about sight reading. The most brilliant sight readers that I knew were all experts in theory.

My thoughts exactly. You can sight read much faster when you can take in a whole arpeggio at once instead of reading individual notes.

Originally Posted by jeffcat
For example, if you've got 2 sharps, C, F. Before reading anything, just play that scale 7 notes from C to B with those sharps.

No! Play the scale of D major, from D to D. See, this is exactly where theory meets practice. You shouldn't think in terms of which keys should be sharp or flat. You should just know that 2 sharps = D major and then D major becomes your mental map of the keyboard.

Page 1 of 3 1 2 3

Moderated by  BB Player 

Link Copied to Clipboard
(ad)
Pianoteq
PianoTeq Karsten Collection
(ad)
PianoDisc

PianoDisc
(ad)
Piano Life Saver - Dampp Chaser
Dampp Chaser Piano Life Saver
(ad)
Mason & Hamlin Pianos
What's Hot!!
News from the Piano World
Our October 2020 Free Piano Newsletter is Here!
---------------------
3,000,000+!
------------------
Posting Pictures on the Forums
-------------------
Forums RULES & HELP
-------------------
ADVERTISE on Piano World
New Topics - Multiple Forums
Shopping for a hybrid digital
by Zora - 10/28/20 12:45 PM
Steinway Model M concerns?
by calenadariel - 10/28/20 12:41 PM
Got my job back after COVID but now...injury.
by TwoSnowflakes - 10/28/20 11:37 AM
Yamaha p125 question
by U3piano - 10/28/20 11:17 AM
Your Sight Reading Trials!
by peterws - 10/28/20 10:17 AM
Download Sheet Music
Virtual Sheet Music - Classical Sheet Music Downloads
Forum Statistics
Forums41
Topics202,455
Posts3,018,104
Members99,057
Most Online15,252
Mar 21st, 2010
Please Support Our Advertisers


Faust Harrison 100+ Steinways

Dampp Chaser Piano Life Saver

 Best of Piano Buyer

PianoTeq Bechstein
Visit our online store for gifts for music lovers

Virtual Sheet Music - Classical Sheet Music Downloads



 
Help keep the forums up and running with a donation, any amount is appreciated!
Or by becoming a Subscribing member! Thank-you.
Donate   Subscribe
 
Our Piano Related Classified Ads
| Dealers | Tuners | Lessons | Movers | Restorations | Pianos For Sale | Sell Your Piano |

Advertise on Piano World
| Subscribe | Piano World | PianoSupplies.com | Advertise on Piano World |
| |Contact | Privacy | Legal | About Us | Site Map | Free Newsletter |


copyright 1997 - 2020 Piano World ® all rights reserved
No part of this site may be reproduced without prior written permission
Powered by UBB.threads™ PHP Forum Software 7.7.4