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mrakus Offline OP
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Hi, I'm a beginner** and I'm struggling. I'm almost unable to play a piece in a different key. I like to listen to music and play it on the piano, but I have only now started to use another key than C.

**I have once been registered here and I apologize for having forgotten when, with what name, and what I said.

I have always been using a digital piano and I have been using the transpose function in the piano. I just need that because I find any piece to get boring if I don't change the key / chords.

Are there - maybe - easy pieces with lots of key changes? Like... for learning to get along with all keys and their chords, less about acurate playing and timing. Or .. is there some.. mentality about it? Like.. just trying hard to remember pieces in each key? I know to play in C a bit, much less in F and in G, even lesser in all others.

I remember having played (tried to play) the cakewalk from Debussy and managed to get something out of it because it uses either black keys for some time (?) and white keys for some different time (?). Meanwhile I forgot every single note of that piece in the original key and can now only re-play parts of it in C, some part of the start that begins with D#, but nothing that makes some broader sense, nothing that frees me from that black keys issue.

Could anyone maybe express their feeling about the fact that key changes make the playing technique different and how that might bring all my frustration and/or procrastination?

Thank you for reading

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You don't need pieces with key changes. You need pieces in different keys. There are plenty. Any beginner book will have some easy ones.

...if you talk about having difficulty playing written down music in other keys than C major. (Or A minor)

To "play a piece in a different key" i.e. transpose it in your mind or on paper or in a notation app first is then a more advanced concept.

Which one is the problem?

(Not that I'll have any specific suggestions apart from "just doing it" and slowly learning things, but others may have.)

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mrakus Offline OP
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Sorry, I forgot to tell about this. I don't really know how to read notation. I know how to read piano rolls and tracker views as this is what I started to use keyboards for. In my hobby it was always about hearing and re-playing and it has been fun like this until I was stuck in C major.

For me the more advanced concept unfortunately is to keep my eyes on the standard notation. I don't want to make any weird statement at all, but I dislike reading notes so much. I wish I could transpose in my mind much better.

In case I'm unwiling wink :S to learn really reading notes (with sharps and flats that I need to remeber my self for the whole line etc), aren't their ... techniques that are different? Literature oder youtube videos about... just any different learning approach.

Since you also mentioned just doing it, I think I might print some music as piano roll (just ink on paper), or in any of such notations, like C#3 D-4 pause...

I had a few lessons once and I know I should just have the (transposed) notes written down and the finger numbers maybe. Currently I have no concept at all.

Thank you very much

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Hi mrakus, and welcome to Piano World!

I'm not sure this will help, but it is certain that you and I have a lot in common. I too am a "by-ear" player, by choice. I have dabbled with learning to read music notation, but never spend much time and effort with it, because I enjoy playing by-ear so much. I also enjoy improvising, composing, writing my own songs, and playing what and how I want to. I even wrote a song entitled "Play it like you want to". smile

Now to your question/concerns about playing in other keys besides C. Fact is, a LOT of very well known pieces, songs and arraignments are written in the key of C. It is a standard and a benchmark, more or less. So, a lot of beginners/students do start out playing in the key of C because there is some simplicity to it, to an extent, or at least very few black keys, unless you're playing blues or jazz. smile

That said, over the years I've learned to play in other keys, besides C, and have come to like some of the sharps and flats, or the black keys, if you will. If you can play something in the key of C, you can play it in any other key, with some effort, and some practice. However, it does "feel" different, and seems awkward compared to the comfort of playing in the key of C. You just have work on it, and keep at it. There is a different "muscle memory" and "mental memory" when playing in keys other than C, and particularly the black keys, or the sharps and flats.

The hand shapes, key spacings, and intervals are very similar, and pretty close to the same. Again, you just have to keep working on it. Playing the scales in all the keys will help. After a while, you'll learn the musical "logic" of playing in the black keys.

Also, and this is drifting OT a little, the most difficult key for me to play in is the key of E major. On the guitar, E is probably the most popular key, like C is on the piano. But on the piano, E is just hard for me.

Hope this helps!

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Learning he sales are essential i think. Take one at the time. Don't rush them.
There is a login to them - meaning going down five notes for ever flat on the key symbol constitution what key your on in major keys. And up five notes for every share.

But in the end - it is a "memory thing" doing the scale also put the keys in your hand naturually. You learn what your fingers are expecting to play when in a specific key.
That is how I learned it anyway...

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mrakus Offline OP
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Glad to hear there are more people like me. I knew it is a topic, but often I realize I need to start doing standard things, kind of, in life in general. Anyway in some ragtime pieces the bridge is E major things, so can happily say that I know how to press E, A and B chords kind of.

There's too much going on in my head to tell what are the problems to untangle at first. But there are things like this: I put my right thumb on C and have an expectation what chord can follow. But if I put my right thumb on C#, my brain acts very differently. It probably will never feel safe. I have simply used C too much and there's currently no way to feel the same safety with my thumb on C#.

Another thing I'd like to mention is that the middle finger is longer, so it is natural to hit the D# with it, when I start from C (thumb C,indexf. D,middlef. D#,thumb E). So C,F and G as a start feel safe, but for all other keys there is so few thoughts in my head - just emptyness. It might become a good idea to try to forget C in the first place, not playing it, so that the other keys get a chance.

PS: With the thumb on C#, my middle finger hits the body of the digital piano unless I do something to avoid this.

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Originally Posted by mrakus
. . .

PS: With the thumb on C#, my middle finger hits the body of the digital piano unless I do something to avoid this.

Two things might help:

(a) . . . "Classical" scale fingering avoids putting the thumb on a black key:

. . . . . Learn it !

. . . . . Practice playing scales in B major, and Db major, until you can do them in your sleep.

There are lots of books available, and free PDF files. But you'll need _some_ facility in reading music (including sharps and flats), to use them.

(b). . . If you do have your thumb on a black key (necessary for chords, very often), keep your long fingers (2/3/4) _arched_, not flat.

That assumes that you're using a standard piano keyboard (acoustic or digital), with standard-length keys:

. . . What are you playing ?

I think, sooner or later, you're going to want to learn to read conventional music notation. There are lots of threads, here, about how to do that. Once you master it, you'll find that a new world opens up to you.

PS -- There are some jazz players who use the same fingering for all scales. They have good reasons for playing like that. But they're a minority. The question "Which is better?" comes up in the "Piano - Non-Classical" forum, if you want to investigate it.

Last edited by Charles Cohen; 05/19/22 10:28 AM.

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Originally Posted by Charles Cohen
. . . What are you playing ?

A Yamaha P-121. After I posted my middle finger hits it, I realized that I often don't hit it (when thumb is on C#) and there is finger arching going on, but I'm not aware of it and why I do it. There are so to speak just a lot of arching errors I do.

As for the jazz pianists, how can one play grace notes then? Will they use a finger mapping that makes it okay in every case, or do they just accept that in a certain key the grace notes sound better?.. I'll follow your advice and also will read the other forum. Thank you a lot.

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Sorry. Long complicated posting follows.

I'm decades late to ask this. I subconsciously struggled with this as a kid. Can someone point me to any sort of explanation, why - in programmers terms - the sheet lines in conventional notation are un-normalized (relative)? I mean, is it me who would find normalized (absolute) notes easier to read, but thereby created a problem learning to transpose in one's mind?

I had difficulties to read notes that share their flat or sharp at the beginning. I had difficulties with the mode / key. Had no difficulties with random F# in a C major piece, as they are notated absolutely.

So I went on using PC and notation that uses normalized notes (piano roll notes with distinct line heights and trackers with the mnemonics "C#3" etc). The octaves were not the problem. But I in fact forgot any sharp sign after 2 bars, and I never really learned to peek on the left side of the sheet.

So, let's say, I see 5 sharp signs in the beginning, what I should have thought as a kid was: Learning to 'sharp' these lines up will not only make me read notes, I will train to transpose from C to C# in my mind. Instead of my real thought: "That's an ugly thing".

It worked with F and everthing that had one or at most 2 flats or sharps. It worked a bit. I was also aware, that it's a way to learn to transpose (on the fly, while playing, something like this). Reality is, the thing was an IQ test and I scored 2 sharps out of 5.

Just wanted to let you know. I'm keeping on reading about it, just had to write down how it really felt when I had lessons as a kid, but I was not able to find any words back then.

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Originally Posted by Flygbladet
Learning the scales are essential i think. Take one at the time. Don't rush them.

Absolutely. Doing scales for a long enough amount of time - as long as it takes - will certainly get everyone to be used to playing the black coloured keys.

A local piano teacher really helps too - at least to guide the student through hand etc. techniques (hand/finger etc orientation, as well as fingers to use - not just for the scales, but for various piano scores). Otherwise, the other approaches include gathering relevant information from online (youtube, piano learning books etc) - basically still getting taught by teachers (as those teachers did the work in creating those lessons), but generally non-interactive --- which some people know it as 'self-taught', which isn't really 'self-taught' as such --- since genuine self-taught would be along the lines of having pretty-much no learning material at all (eg. no books, no online videos, etc). So it's more like 'information gathering' approach.

Also, there are some 'live' online interactive student-teacher options as well.

And - also - if some music theory is learned, then knowledge such as 'key' (eg. 'key of c major', 'key of a minor' etc) also definitely helps piano players get their bearings very effectively. But - as always - there are other pathways/techniques too - that can be workable (for particular purposes).

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Unfortunately, when you try to learn how to play piano without any idea of how to go about it, you are experiencing what happens.

I would suggest you stop doing "whatever" and either hire a teacher or purchase a piano method book and go through the book page by page and do what it says.

If you do one of those things and practice 30 minutes each day on "Lessons" from the method book or any book your teacher suggests .... you will get better.

Good Luck


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Originally Posted by dmd
Unfortunately, when you try to learn how to play piano without any idea of how to go about it, you are experiencing what happens.

I would suggest you stop doing "whatever" and either hire a teacher or purchase a piano method book and go through the book page by page and do what it says.

If you do one of those things and practice 30 minutes each day on "Lessons" from the method book or any book your teacher suggests .... you will get better.

Good Luck
I agree. Although at the beginning things may seem harder, eventually you will save time and progress much faster/further by doing/learning things correctly.

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This caught my attention:
Originally Posted by mrakus
............

I'm decades late to ask this. I subconsciously struggled with this as a kid.

..............

I'm keeping on reading about it, just had to write down how it really felt when I had lessons as a kid, but I was not able to find any words back then.

I think that everyone is assuming that you are new to the piano, trying to figure things out on your own - saying you should get a teacher (because you never had one). But "when I had lessons as a kid" .... "struggled with this as a kid" ........

It seems you had lessons. Can you give more of a background so that we can try to help you sort this all out. Sometimes what we got taught first gives us premises we go out from that might have been wrong in some way.

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Originally Posted by keystring
Can you give more of a background so that we can try to help you sort this all out.

I had organ lessons in the 90s. Yesterday I knew that from C one plays with fingers 1,2,3 but I did not know that from C# you play 2,3,1. I cannot remember whether I was tought it or not. The almost only thing I remember is that notation was too difficult for me and so I never went on learning.

And I should tell you that I'm a bit handicapped. Certain movements are difficult for me. I guess I want to stick with (e)-books and - I think - some meditation technique in order to be relaxed enough.

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mrakus .... this is where digital transpose or pitch shift by choice of semitones can come in handy.

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Originally Posted by mrakus
Originally Posted by keystring
Can you give more of a background so that we can try to help you sort this all out.

I had organ lessons in the 90s. Yesterday I knew that from C one plays with fingers 1,2,3 but I did not know that from C# you play 2,3,1. I cannot remember whether I was taught it or not. The almost only thing I remember is that notation was too difficult for me and so I never went on learning.
.

What I suspect is that the way you were first introduced to organ playing, i.e. notes and the keyboard, created some wrong associations which are now handicapping you. It is not uncommon.
I just finished working through some concepts with someone who was starting piano, before he had found a teacher (now has), and there were some wrong ideas that would have created long term problems, which we worked through via explorations.

Ok, I'll try a bit of that here - tell me if it helps. You wrote "from C one plays with fingers 1,2,3". I'd like to introduce a much different angle to the whole of it. It's what we worked through recently.

You've got the keyboard with its black and white key groupings - 2 blacks, 3 blacks, over and over. The blacks are higher and further back. C is to the left of each set of 2's; D is in the middle between the two blacks. (2) You have hands with 5 fingers. The two outer fingers are short: the three middle are long. If you put your fingers on adjacent notes you'll have a span of 5 piano keys - C to G; G to D; Eb to Bb etc. If you spread your hand out, depending on your span, from thumb to pinky you might be able to span an octave, or 7 nots, or 10.

This is what you're working with: a "landscape" which is the keyboard, with its characteristics, and your hands with their characteristics. You are trying to travel over that landscape as conveniently as possible keeping those characteristics in mind.

So when you play music, for a while, all the notes will "fit nicely" into one area that your hand can cover. Say all the notes go from C to G or C to A (RH). It makes sense for your thumb to be on the lowest note (C) and your other fingers to fit upward (to the left) of that. You'd play C with the thumb. But if your notes went from A to E, your thumb going to the lowest note, which is A, and C would naturally fall under the 3rd finger. Rather than "memorizing" any of this, you could just explore "what works conveniently".

Your C# - the C# is a black key which is "in" (toward the fallboard) - your thumb is short. It is more convenient much of the time to play black keys - esp. several of them adjacently, with the longer middle fingers. Thus it's "convenient" to play C# with 2 of for example you are playing C# major or minor.

-------
To make things go fast, often shortcuts are given in instructions. If you're told there is a "C position" and a "G position", and then have corresponding finger numbers, then you're quickly able to play the music you're given. But you may fail to develop an understanding of how anything works. Then when you get other music not geared to that instruction, you're lost. (Some of us have that t-shirt).

Does any of this bring you anywhere?

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In the beginning I was a poor reader. I could read the easy stuff. A lot of songs I rely on listening and trying different finger sequences what “feels” natural.

I played violin in school and learned a lot of music theory like major & minor scales, chords. A song can have no black key or 5. My ear would tell me what to play. Having a good ear helped me get through the first year not good at reading.

Your hand position is where you can reach the most notes you need to play in 1 handful. As you play more difficult pieces, your hands jump around.

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Absolutely. Part of the enjoyment of playing keyboard instruments .... combined with some accumulated knowledge of playing techniques .... is taking time to figure out what way to play the various passages ... fingers to be used etc. Options if any.

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Originally Posted by keystring
Does any of this bring you anywhere?
Yes!

So, the "landscape" is the broader picture and a starting point, right? It believe it helped me to understand how a standard way (e.g. Db scale fingering) became what it is.

I guess it's the best to lookup the standard fingering for every scale and piece, and to go back to the landscape concept in case there is no known fingering, or in case I might have a real problem and a good reason? I mean, I might end up using a wrong fingering temporarily, which needs to be replaced eventually.

A few minutes before I saw that the amount of fingering mistakes I make is a varying number that goes from zero when I'm focused, up to some number X when I'm not focused.

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Originally Posted by mrakus
Hi, I'm a beginner** and I'm struggling. I'm almost unable to play a piece in a different key. I like to listen to music and play it on the piano, but I have only now started to use another key than C.

I have always been using a digital piano and I have been using the transpose function in the piano. I just need that because I find any piece to get boring if I don't change the key / chords.

Wait, what?
So if you don't change the key / chords then the piece gets boring? How does that work? So the original key is boring, but C is not?
What on earth do you mean?
In order to transpose, you need a knowledge of the keys, what they are, what are not.
How can you even consider transpose if you really don't know what it means, what it does, and how it works?
What does having a digital piano have to do with it?
Are you somehow magically copying and pasting notes or are you talking about doing all this on a computer, inside a DAW and transposing with mouse-clicks?
But then we're back to the ... unless it's in C it's boring.
Just what the.... yeah I'm totally confused.

Originally Posted by mrakus
Are there - maybe - easy pieces with lots of key changes? Like... for learning to get along with all keys and their chords, less about acurate playing and timing.

Wait, what?
So you do want music with lots of key changes?
But I thought unless it's in C it's boring?
Less about accurate playing, and timing. So let's leave out what music is really about?
If it's boring, and not accurate, and not in time, then what is left?
I'm getting more confused.

Originally Posted by mrakus
Or .. is there some.. mentality about it?

Yeah! Some. Duh. Actually a lot. I think.
More confused.

Originally Posted by mrakus
Like.. just trying hard to remember pieces in each key? I know to play in C a bit, much less in F and in G, even lesser in all others.

Remember pieces in each key?
What do you mean. Remember a piece in different keys?
Why would you want to remember a piece, in any key?
Why would you want to remember a piece, if you are unable to play it, in any key?
Are you trying to learn a piece, remember it, and then transpose it on the fly, in your head, in any random key?
Why?
Even if that were doable (and it is), it is so far beyond your ability right now, you may just as well attempt to be walking on water.

Originally Posted by mrakus
in the original key and can now only re-play parts of it in C, some part of the start that begins with D#, but nothing that makes some broader sense

I don't believe that it could possibly make sense to you, in a narrow or broader sense. How could it?
You're trying to do something which is so bizarre, it's not going to make sense to you. Or anyone else for that matter.

Originally Posted by mrakus
Could anyone maybe express their feeling about the fact that key changes make the playing technique different

LOL my feeling is that either you're full of it, or you're a troll.
Either way. I'm about as confused as I've ever been.
I can't help you, but I can say dang!

PS: Jeez man, stop being lazy. Learn some music theory, learn to play scales, read notation, play like you're supposed to play. Ignore the BS about .... yeah I didn't learn how to read music, I play by ear.... It's nonsense. Learn to play music right, or don't do it at all. And maybe you'll get past your whole transpose obsession. Good luck

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