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Hmm. I have rudimentary theory knowledge confined to one college course in theory.

I know my keys and the names for them are the common ones (I don't think it matters if you have your own sort of internal labels for them as long as you recognize them as distinct), but I would also like to make that information more relevant as I play, because I definitely cannot identify what's happening as I play unless the piece is in a very basic format.

It's interesting because I think my brain kind of knows, because I can see the shapes and anticipate them but could not describe in words what's happening.

I can take the time to work it out with the score, but only get so far. As I play, that information is of little to zero value as I cannot think about it at the same time as I am working out how to play it in the first place, unless, again, I just need to distinguish between the tonic and dominant. At best, I have a hazy understanding of what key I'm probably working my way back to if I've modulated my way decently far from where I started, but couldn't make on-the-fly decisions as to how to get back unless all you want me to do is generally know where I am so I can slam a V-I in there, at which point I can oblige instantaneously thanks to ballet accompaniment.

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Originally Posted by gooddog
My question then is this: what would be the advantage for me to become fluent at naming key signatures the customary way?

In your situation and with your approach there may not be an advantage. However, knowledge is power and if you can look at a key signature and recognise straight away that it is E flat major or C minor (same key signatures), that IS a certain amount of power. This power also increases your confidence, which is always good and which leads us to this comment..
Originally Posted by gooddog
Frankly, I usually don’t bother trying because I don’t see the point. (Better trained musicians please don’t gasp and hurl insults.) I am not interested in composition or transposition or a musical career; I play for pleasure.

Yes. all fair enough, but why do you need to go on the defensive to "protect" your outlook against people who by your very own admission, are "better trained"?

I think the the reason is fairly simple, and does not apply in your case, but here it is. If you are in a studio session with "better trained" musicians and you are told a piece is in E minor, you REALLY do need to know what that is. Or you will get gasps and insults, and rightly too, IMO. Learning basic stuff like that is a requirement. Nobody wants to waste valuable studio time while some kind soul explains how many sharps or flats there are in a key signature to somebody who said when they came in that they they were a "musician"!

But your point is valid for your personal situation, as you say, you are only doing it for fun, I just wonder if you have ever realised the mathematical simplicity of identifying key signatures? After all, if the key signature is sharps the key is either a semi-tone above the last sharp if it is major or a sixth of the scale if it is minor. Can it get any easier????

Hence, one sharp, F equals key signature G! I mean... c'mon! Or sixth note of scale E minor.

So, a key signature has 4 sharps, the last one is D sharp, the key MUST be E major or the sixth of the scale C sharp minor, because the c note is sharpened in the key signature of F,C,G and D.

With flats it is simply the 5th note above the last flat. If there are three flats, B,E and A, five notes above A must be E, the E is flattened by the key signature so the key must be E flat major or the sixth of the scale.... C minor.

You have really picked one aspect of theory of music, and to be honest, it is a pretty early learned and significant element, and decided it is not important to you.

Really. It is very easy. I would always argue that a knowledge of theory is vital just so you know what everybody else, and occasionally even yourself, know what you are talking about!

But also I can't help wondering WHY you haven't worked it out yet because for example, what ever must you think if a piece is described as "Chopin's Prelude in F"?
(Key signature, one flat..... surely...... EVERYBODY KNOWS that?)

BTW, I forgot to add, to help make it easier the gaps between sharps or flats are always the same.

Sharps... F C G D A etc, 5 letters between each sharp. Example: F - C = F,G,A,B,C -5 letters
Flats, B E A D G etc, always 4 letters between each flat. Example: B - E = B,C,D,E - 4 letters

Last edited by slipperykeys; 02/23/21 01:42 PM.
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Originally Posted by slipperykeys
....I just wonder if you have ever realised the mathematical simplicity of identifying key signatures? After all, if the key signature is sharps the key is either a semi-tone above the last sharp if it is major or a sixth of the scale if it is minor. Can it get any easier????...[etc.]

I never realized that!
And really, I wouldn't agree that that's simple. ha

I just came pretty easily to know that G major has 1 sharp, D major has 2 sharps, F major has 1 flat, etc. etc.
It's part of my basic knowledge of the "keys" -- knowing which key has which number of sharps or flats -- just like I knew, for example, that Rubinstein was a pianist, Heifetz was a violinist, Mickey Mantle was a baseball player, Ed Sullivan was whatever he was ha .....Associating a certain key with a certain number of sharps or flats was just the same as things like those.

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Twosnowflakes You and I are in a similar situation.

Slipperykeys I started reading your post and began thinking, this is going to be really insightful. Then you said
Originally Posted by Slipperykeys
Yes. all fair enough, but why do you need to go on the defensive to "protect" your outlook against people who by your very own admission, are "better trained"?...
...Can it get any easier????...
...You have really picked one aspect of theory of music, and to be honest, it is a pretty early learned and significant element...
...Really. It is very easy.

Four question marks? The answer to what you labeled as "defensive" is because I was looking to understand the usefulness of identifying the key while trying to avoid confronting condescending people like you. Your tone is pedantic and patronizing. I'm not so stupid I can't figure out what key something is. My point is, it's not automatic and I have to mentally go through, what are for me, cumbersome steps to find something I haven't found helpful, when it's easier for me to just remember which notes are accidentals. I was looking for reasons to make the effort, (Thank you Mark), not a lecture pointing out my stupidity. Good grief.


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Originally Posted by Mark_C
I never realized that!

No, nor did I until I read it in the "Rudiments and Theory of Music" published by the ABRSM many years ago and defined thus:

"The last sharp is always the seventh degree of the scale; therefore, the key-note will be a semi-tone above."

It actually comes in the Grade 1 (Primary) section of the book.
It continues,

"If a passage contains flats only (there is only one flat key in this grade) the key-note will be four notes below this flat".

All much easier explained than my way.

Originally Posted by Mark_C
And really, I wouldn't agree that that's simple. ha
Reading it all back, you are probably quite right!

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A couple of things occur to me about this. One is that automatic key identification is way easier to acquire in early youth (like language learning). The other is that we naturally forget things we aren't actively using. So memorizing principles of the circle of fifths will not translate into automatic recognition without a lot of application in practice.

I know that my teacher doesn't have to ask himself, what key or chord is that? It's obvious to him when he looks at the score or plays it. I still go through intermediate cognitive steps (especially with e.g. Chopin's inversions that spread a chord over the whole keyboard!).

I think the question for those of us without automatic recognition is--are there efficient ways to integrate the theory into practice so that it has staying power? Thinking about the circle of fifths as a separate thing, and memorizing rules, doesn't seem like the best path. For me, paying attention to the chord patterns in pieces I'm learning has been helpful. I don't think it will ever get me to the point I would have reached if I'd started doing this as a child, but I'm definitely getting better at it.


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BTW, I've recently been learning Chopin's nocturne op. 48 #2, in F# minor (true confession: I went back to the score to confirm that I'm remembering the key correctly, argh!). This is a piece in which identifying chords really has helped me with learning, because otherwise the LH leaps and accidentals can seem so random (even though I "know" the piece aurally).


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Originally Posted by jdw
....automatic key identification is way easier to acquire in early youth (like language learning). The other is that we naturally forget things we aren't actively using. So memorizing principles of the circle of fifths will not translate into automatic recognition without a lot of application in practice....

Just thought I'd mention, even though I've been saying how natural and basic it is for me to know about keys and numbers of sharps or flats, I haven't said anything about "circle of fifths" because that wasn't part of my early knowledge, I never heard of it till much later on, and "circle of fifths" per se has nothing to do with what I'm saying is important or valuable for me personally. I don't think in terms of it at all. I do know that G is a 5th away from C, and D is a 5th away from G, and that each next one has an extra sharp -- but "circle of 5th's" isn't anywhere in my concept of all this I regard it as an interesting thing but not a thing of any particular importance except when it occurs in a piece of music -- and then I find it useful to know that that's what is going on.

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The half step above the last sharp works for sharp keys. The simple trick for flat keys (except for F), is the next to last flat is the key (for major). For instance - 4 flats in the key signature - Bb, Eb, Ab, Db. Ab is the next to last flat, so that is the key (for major).

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For most of my piano life I felt just as you.

Then one day I decided I did not want to play notes but music.

Notes, what is written on the music score.

Music, what is played from the soul.

Knowing theory (circle of fifths, etc) enables me to take notes someone else wrote and turn it into the music of my soul..


The hard is what makes it great. If it was easy everyone would do it!
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Originally Posted by Panama
For most of my piano life I felt just as you.

Then one day I decided I did not want to play notes but music.

Notes, what is written on the music score.

Music, what is played from the soul.

Knowing theory (circle of fifths, etc) enables me to take notes someone else wrote and turn it into the music of my soul..
Your soul doesn't work without knowing the key? laugh

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Originally Posted by Iaroslav Vasiliev
Your soul doesn't work without knowing the key? laugh

Good question. grin
I almost said something too.

But to me he does have a point.
Having a sense of the key, and the various keys that the piece goes through, and how they relate, which all gives a richer sense of the structure and indeed the nature of the piece, gives it more soul. smile

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Yes. There's more to music than playing-the-notes-with-feeling, essentail though that is.

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Originally Posted by Mark_C
Originally Posted by Iaroslav Vasiliev
Your soul doesn't work without knowing the key? laugh

Good question. grin
I almost said something too.

But to me he does have a point.
Having a sense of the key, and the various keys that the piece goes through, and how they relate, which all gives a richer sense of the structure and indeed the nature of the piece, gives it more soul. smile

That begs the question: What is "soul"?

Regards,


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I love playing soulful music, just as I love soul food (which I'm eating right now).

If you ask me what soulful music is, well, it's whatever I choose to play....... whistle


"I don't play accurately - anyone can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life."
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Without a good understanding of a piece's harmony, one cannot play a piece at the highest level.

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Originally Posted by jdw
A couple of things occur to me about this. One is that automatic key identification is way easier to acquire in early youth (like language learning). The other is that we naturally forget things we aren't actively using. So memorizing principles of the circle of fifths will not translate into automatic recognition without a lot of application in practice.

I think you are partly right, but I learned this stuff when I was around 14 years old and had been reading music and playing it for around 8 years by then. And I didn't really memorize the way the circle of fifths worked - it was just something my teacher showed me, and that was that. It went something like this -

Scene: teen at piano, teacher to the side.

Teacher: I want to show you something. Put your right thumb on middle C.
Teen does that.
Teacher: If you are in the key of C, there are no sharps or flats. So play an octave, C to C, all white keys.
Teen does that.
Teacher: Now, starting on middle C, play five notes upwards.
Teen does that.
Teacher: What note did you land on?
Teen: G
Teacher: Okay, say we want to be in the key based on that note, the key of G. To do that, you will add one sharp - F sharp. Now, play an octave upwards from G to G and back, with the F sharp.
Teen does that.
Teacher: Great. That was the G major scale. Now, starting on the G, play up five notes.
Teen does that.
Teacher: What note did you land on?
Teen: D
Teacher: Okay, say we want to be in the key of D. To do that, you will add one sharp again - this time it is C sharp. Now, play an octave from D to D and back down, adding the C sharp plus that F sharp from the previous key.
Teen does that, and starts to intuit that a pattern is forming.
Teacher: Good. So that was the D major scale. Two sharps. Now, starting on D, play up five notes.
Teen does that.
Teacher: What note did you land on?
Teen: A
Teacher: Okay. Say we want to be in A major. To do that, once again just add a sharp to the key signature - a G sharp. Now, play an octave from A to A and back down, with that added sharp.
Teen does that, and pretty much gets the pattern, up to a point.
Teacher: Do you see what is happening?
Teen: Yeah. Starting on C with no sharps or flats, just go up five notes, add a sharp, and you've got the key signature for that key.
Teacher: You got it. Now, where do the flats come from? I'll show you. First, continue going up five notes, and adding sharps to the key signature, until you are on F sharp.
Teen does that.
Teacher: Now, in theory, we could just continue that procedure until we got back to C major, and there would twelve sharps in the key signature. But we don't want that - too cluttered. Instead, we'll conveniently shift into flats. Here's how we do that. Now that F sharp you are on can also be called a G flat, right? (Teen nods yes.) So, let's say it is a G flat, and then do the same with all the other sharps in the key signature - turn them into flats. Then play up five notes.
Teen struggles mentally for a moment, starts playing, makes a mistake, fixes it, and ends up on D flat.
Teacher: What note did you land on?
Teen: D flat.
Teacher: Okay, say we want to be in the key of D flat major. To do that, remove the C flat from the previous G flat key signature, so you just have five flats left. Then play an octave from D flat to D flat and back.
Teen does that.
Teacher: Okay, let's do one more. Play five notes up. What note are you on?
Teen: A flat.
TTeacher: Now, say we want to be in the key of A flat. Just remove a flat from the D flat key signature you were on. And so forth. Get it?
Teen: Got it. That's amazing!!
Teacher: Yes, it is. It's called "the Circle of Fifths", because of how you move five notes up to move around it, and you'll always end up back in the same place. So, you might want to go through it again a few times in the next few days. And at the next lesson we'll can do the minor keys.

Teen goes home and mildly berates himself for not having figured this out earlier, from all the music he has been playing, for years. "It's so obvious," he thinks, "how could I not have seen it?"

End of lesson.

I typed that out in laborious detail because that was the way in which I learned it, one little step at a time, and that's one reason it was easy to absorb. My teacher did not give some abstract explanation of the theory first, which is why I was able to grasp it immediately, I think. Instead, he just demonstrated it directly, by having me do it. Only afterwards did he tell me what it was.

But I will say it did take some more work to learn to apply key names to everything. The big help there was in the process of learning fingerings for scales and arpeggios, since they start on the note that is the name of the key signature. Somehow, doing that never seemed like I was really memorizing something, it was just applying that circle of fifths thing, and it got internalized very quickly (I'm sure it would take a bit longer these days, though, almost sixty years on). Nailing down the fingerings for scales and arpeggios was where actual memorization came into play.

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What's wrong with father Charles goes down and ends battle? It's a lot quicker (far less typing too smile ).

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Originally Posted by chopin_r_us
What's wrong with father Charles goes down and ends battle? It's a lot quicker (far less typing too smile ).
It took me a moment to understand what you meant. I never learned it as a sentence; I had to memorize just the letters, (beadgce,fcgdaeb) I’m guessing, by the time I was 11.


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Originally Posted by chopin_r_us
What's wrong with father Charles goes down and ends battle? It's a lot quicker (far less typing too smile ).

Well, for one thing, it doesn't begin with a blank slate.

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