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Posted By: ee375 Key Signatures - 09/28/20 05:59 PM
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?
Posted By: Sidokar Re: Key Signatures - 09/28/20 07:01 PM
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.
Posted By: pianoloverus Re: Key Signatures - 09/28/20 07:16 PM
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.
Posted By: Qazsedcft Re: Key Signatures - 09/28/20 07:24 PM
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.
Posted By: AZNpiano Re: Key Signatures - 09/28/20 08:48 PM
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.
Posted By: mizmar Re: Key Signatures - 09/29/20 09:23 AM
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!
Posted By: Sam S Re: Key Signatures - 09/29/20 09:30 AM
Even people who play by ear know what key they are in...

Sam
Posted By: Iaroslav Vasiliev Re: Key Signatures - 09/29/20 01:19 PM
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!
Posted By: wouter79 Re: Key Signatures - 09/29/20 02:06 PM
> 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.
Posted By: Iaroslav Vasiliev Re: Key Signatures - 09/29/20 03:13 PM
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
Posted By: wszxbcl Re: Key Signatures - 09/29/20 04:50 PM
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!
Posted By: Flygbladet Re: Key Signatures - 09/29/20 05:31 PM
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.
Posted By: wouter79 Re: Key Signatures - 09/29/20 05:41 PM
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
Posted By: Greener Re: Key Signatures - 09/30/20 12:47 PM
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.
Posted By: scirocco Re: Key Signatures - 10/01/20 04:51 AM
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.
Posted By: Animisha Re: Key Signatures - 10/01/20 05:58 AM
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.
Posted By: Greener Re: Key Signatures - 10/01/20 12:09 PM
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.
Posted By: jeffcat Re: Key Signatures - 10/01/20 01:23 PM
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.
Posted By: Iaroslav Vasiliev Re: Key Signatures - 10/02/20 02:23 AM
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.
Posted By: Qazsedcft Re: Key Signatures - 10/02/20 05:51 AM
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.
Posted By: Colin Miles Re: Key Signatures - 10/02/20 07:50 AM
As someone who has always been overly reliant on my sight reading ability I am probably an outlier in all of this, but I have long ago forgotten most of my theory and never think about the key signature of a new piece, or the names of anything. I just glance at the sharps or flats and take off from there, no matter whether major or minor - they may well change along the way and you adjust. It helps to be a fast reader and to be able to take in patterns and be able to quickly 'get into the piece'.
Posted By: Sidokar Re: Key Signatures - 10/02/20 08:25 AM
I dont know of any great pianist that is not also a top musician, which includes excellent theory knowledge, but also music history, structural and formal knowledge and other skills. All these skills participate directly or indirectly to improve the playing ability. The idea that one can become a good musician by simply reading notes without any clue of what one is playing, nor how it is organized is ......(one can choose the appropriate word). It can work out to a certain point after which it will become a blocking point. Thats why all programs like RCM or ABRSM include theory as a requirement. The fact that one is not necessarily always thinking consciously about what key is in progress does not mean it is not usefull. When i read arpeggios or chords, i know what those chords are within the key i am in. I recognize immediately inversions, 7th and so on. I know when i am in a cadential formula and it does help also to remember what to play, it acts as a sign post. Thats why rcm or abrsm also includes the practice of those chords and arpeggios in all keys, as well as the cadential formulas. It is like grammar in a language. You can learn to speak just by imitation and oral practice, but to get further and be able to read and write more complex sentences, grammar is necessary.

But if one is only interested to be like a playing machine, a sort of human robot reading notes and pressing ad hoc keys on a keyboard, then of course no addtional knowledge is necessary. Just like people who dont need to become proficient in a language and just need to be able to interact in casual everyday life situations dont need to know the grammar.
Posted By: Iaroslav Vasiliev Re: Key Signatures - 10/02/20 11:02 AM
Originally Posted by Qazsedcft
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.

Exactly. I think what many people don't understand is that theory requires drilling just as well as technical things. If you know that interval X consists of Y semitones this knowledge gives almost nothing to you practically. You need to get a book with very simple pieces and practice naming and playing every interval there one by one. You know, in Russian music schools music theory is a weekly lesson and that is what's mostly going on on these lessons - theory drilling. With time your eyes and your hands will remember every interval from every note, and that is where true intervallic reading begins, when after one note your eyes and your fingers automatically identify interval, and for some neurological reason it's faster than identifying next note individually. From intervals you then go to triads, then to 6th and 7th chords, then maybe to extended chords, and you become good sight reader. That is how it works.
Posted By: jeffcat Re: Key Signatures - 10/02/20 11:40 AM
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.

There is NO TIME to think theory when it comes to sight reading.

That brilliant sight reader is not drawing on his theory knowledge when sight reading. He may well know more about what he's reading than another person, but he is NOT using that knowledge when performing the act.

What's happening in the brilliant sight reader, vs a lesser, is that the more experienced guy has more SETS of muscle memory facing the music, which covers significantly more Fingering variations.

It's like a person who types faster, simply knowing more words. YES he does know more words, but that's not why he types faster. The bulk of the speed actually comes from having practiced muscle memory for digraphs and trigraphs. For example, typing -stewart-. The user has st, ew, and art as muscle memory. He may have never typed the name stewart in his life, but he's typed alot of ART from words that end in that, and alot of ST for words that begin in ST, and EW for words that end in EW.

Music is the same way, again, You can type really fast without knowing the word or what it means. Just as you can play and sight read fast without knowing what ANY of the key signatures are.

The REASON you'd have people who sight read well also being familiar with the theory is simply due to the fact that anyone spending that much time physically practicing piano would've also spent some time hitting the books. But, those books are not the primary reason why that person is FAST at sight reading.

You know a ton of stuff about cars from reading engine manuals, does that mean you can transcribe on a qwerty keyboard an essay about cars faster than an essay about dinnerware ? No , they both come out about the same pace.

Sight-reading just like typing, as an act, is quite independent from indepth knowledge of english and music theory.
Posted By: Iaroslav Vasiliev Re: Key Signatures - 10/02/20 11:47 AM
^ I think I've addressed it in my previous post some minutes ago.
Posted By: jeffcat Re: Key Signatures - 10/02/20 11:52 AM
Originally Posted by Iaroslav Vasiliev
^ I think I've addressed it in my previous post some minutes ago.
No you haven't, you critically misunderstand sight reading. Lots of people do.

Fast sight reading has everything to do with building large sets of muscle memory. Knowing the key signature doesn't hurt, and it gives a person a NAME for the set of muscle memory which he's built. That name does not make him fast, the LARGER SETS of muscle memory makes him fast.
Posted By: Iaroslav Vasiliev Re: Key Signatures - 10/02/20 01:10 PM
Well, I think for now I did my best trying to demonstrate the connection between theory and sight reading. Sorry that I've been unable to convince you, maybe some other day.
Posted By: zrtf90 Re: Key Signatures - 10/02/20 01:24 PM
Originally Posted by jeffcat
Originally Posted by Iaroslav Vasiliev
^ I think I've addressed it in my previous post some minutes ago.
No you haven't, you critically misunderstand sight reading. Lots of people do.

Fast sight reading has everything to do with building large sets of muscle memory. Knowing the key signature doesn't hurt, and it gives a person a NAME for the set of muscle memory which he's built. That name does not make him fast, the LARGER SETS of muscle memory makes him fast.
I'm not surprised at the large number of educators misunderstanding sight-reading. I meet the same thing in other activities.

But where are your concepts coming from? I don't consciously use names when sight-reading nor do I suspect those names are helpful but I do associate particular groups of notes with particular keys and get thrown a curve ball when a key turns from many sharps or flats to the other side, e.g. Chopin 28/15 or 64/2.

Your supposition, if that's what it is, would seem to belie that. I'd be interested in any supporting documentation you could point us to or any further help in understanding your thoughts. If it were greater muscle memory without theoretical understanding of some sort I would have thought that the better or faster sight-readers would be little better than guitar-hero type players but this is not the case; they are typically excellent musicians who interpret well on the fly.
Posted By: Greener Re: Key Signatures - 10/02/20 02:01 PM
Originally Posted by Iaroslav Vasiliev
Well, I think for now I did my best trying to demonstrate the connection between theory and sight reading. Sorry that I've been unable to convince you, maybe some other day.

I'm convinced of the connection completely. The OP though was inquiring of the connection of this theory to their playing better. Reading may be part of playing better, but this is more in a overall sense.

For example, if you have something up to tempo, but are struggling to play it better, than having an ability to read faster is of no help to you now. It isn't the issue. Tone quality and expression is more likely the issue.

Long term though if you wish to become a better musician and play better too, everything will need to advance together and this is where what you're suggesting makes sense to me. But not for day to day playing better.
Posted By: Iaroslav Vasiliev Re: Key Signatures - 10/02/20 04:27 PM
Originally Posted by Greener
Originally Posted by Iaroslav Vasiliev
Well, I think for now I did my best trying to demonstrate the connection between theory and sight reading. Sorry that I've been unable to convince you, maybe some other day.

I'm convinced of the connection completely. The OP though was inquiring of the connection of this theory to their playing better. Reading may be part of playing better, but this is more in a overall sense.

For example, if you have something up to tempo, but are struggling to play it better, than having an ability to read faster is of no help to you now. It isn't the issue. Tone quality and expression is more likely the issue.

Long term though if you wish to become a better musician and play better too, everything will need to advance together and this is where what you're suggesting makes sense to me. But not for day to day playing better.
Yes, I fully agree, theory doesn't help to play better physically, except maybe for some confidence that it gives, and it makes sense to procede to theory training only when good physical, technical foundation is already built.
Main benefits of theory which are better memorization and better reading are relevant at a later stage, when you need to work on pieces faster.
Posted By: Farmerjones Re: Key Signatures - 10/03/20 12:45 AM
Once upon a time, i had a devil of a time with more than one church organist/pianist. I would enquire the key to a given hymn, they would shrug thier shoulders. They could have exclaimed "four flats," or "one sharp." I had to learn how to ask them. Then translate.
I have to agree, key or tonic center, is part of chord/harmony theory. If your road hasn't taken you there by nessesity or otherwise, you simply don't know.
Posted By: Animisha Re: Key Signatures - 10/03/20 07:50 AM
Originally Posted by Farmerjones
Once upon a time, i had a devil of a time with more than one church organist/pianist. I would enquire the key to a given hymn, they would shrug thier shoulders. They could have exclaimed "four flats," or "one sharp." I had to learn how to ask them. Then translate.
Obviously, more than one church organist/pianist manages perfectly fine without knowing the key that they are in. wink

Actually, personally, I am always aware of what key I am in, because I want to know what I am doing. But if you are not interested, and especially if playing the piano is a hobby for you, just don't bother. smile
Posted By: Greener Re: Key Signatures - 10/03/20 11:45 AM
Originally Posted by Animisha
... if you are not interested, and especially if playing the piano is a hobby for you, just don't bother. smile

What would an interested hobbyist do? grin

Are these really the only realistic scenarios?

Some people just have a need to know why they need to learn something. Once acknowledged they may feel differently. Or not, but if you have a desire to play better, even as a hobbyist the same things apply.

To my knowledge, everyone around here is a hobbyist. Most of them though are also very serious about getting better.
Posted By: Animisha Re: Key Signatures - 10/03/20 12:16 PM
Greener, I meant, If you are not interested in knowing what key signature your piece is in, then just don't bother about key signatures.

And if you have a desire to play better, there are many ways to do that without learning key signatures.
Posted By: wszxbcl Re: Key Signatures - 10/03/20 09:36 PM
Actually you can also ask why you need to know the note names in order to play. You can just look at the position of the note head on the sheet music and press the corresponding piano key. So the OP may ask, "how does knowing that note is called "B" help me play better"? I think it doesn't. In my opinion, knowing the key (tonic) and the scale degrees and resulting chords help you play better. Knowing the letter names of the notes, not so much, except to communicate with others.
Posted By: keystring Re: Key Signatures - 10/03/20 09:58 PM
Originally Posted by wszxbcl
So the OP may ask, "how does knowing that note is called "B" help me play better"?
I went close to 50 years without knowing note names, and yet playing from sheet music. Don't even ask. Learning the parts I didn't know opened a lot of doors, and made some things faster and easier. Having what I had accidentally gave me other avenues.
Posted By: AZNpiano Re: Key Signatures - 10/04/20 02:20 AM
Originally Posted by jeffcat
You know a ton of stuff about cars from reading engine manuals, does that mean you can transcribe on a qwerty keyboard an essay about cars faster than an essay about dinnerware ? No , they both come out about the same pace.

Do you have any evidence to back that up?

From what I learned in grad school, you will type the essay faster if you have more prior knowledge about the topic. For example, you'll have more vocabulary and knowledge of how to spell specific words, and groups of words.

The rest of your stuff on sight reading makes almost no sense to me.
Posted By: jeffcat Re: Key Signatures - 10/04/20 02:29 AM
Originally Posted by AZNpiano
Originally Posted by jeffcat
You know a ton of stuff about cars from reading engine manuals, does that mean you can transcribe on a qwerty keyboard an essay about cars faster than an essay about dinnerware ? No , they both come out about the same pace.

Do you have any evidence to back that up?

From what I learned in grad school, you will type the essay faster if you have more prior knowledge about the topic. For example, you'll have more vocabulary and knowledge of how to spell specific words, and groups of words.

The rest of your stuff on sight reading makes almost no sense to me.

You are making the wrong analogy connections..

Sight reading is like Transcription <on a computer keyboard>

That is not the same as writing an essay, or free form jazz, or improv
Posted By: AZNpiano Re: Key Signatures - 10/04/20 02:33 AM
Originally Posted by jeffcat
You are making the wrong analogy connections..

Sight reading is like Transcription <on a computer keyboard>

That is not the same as writing an essay, or free form jazz, or improv

When you transcribe, you listen to an audio and you type what you hear.

Don't you need to know how to spell in order to do that?

If you have to stop to look up every technical jargon, doesn't that make you slower?
Posted By: Sidokar Re: Key Signatures - 10/04/20 09:13 AM
Originally Posted by jeffcat
That brilliant sight reader is not drawing on his theory knowledge when sight reading. He may well know more about what he's reading than another person, but he is NOT using that knowledge when performing the act.

What's happening in the brilliant sight reader, vs a lesser, is that the more experienced guy has more SETS of muscle memory facing the music, which covers significantly more Fingering variations.

It's like a person who types faster, simply knowing more words. YES he does know more words, but that's not why he types faster. The bulk of the speed actually comes from having practiced muscle memory for digraphs and trigraphs. For example, typing -stewart-. The user has st, ew, and art as muscle memory. He may have never typed the name stewart in his life, but he's typed alot of ART from words that end in that, and alot of ST for words that begin in ST, and EW for words that end in EW.

You are confusing conscious thinking and automated execution of patterns registered by your brain. Muscle memory does not exist. It is all driven by our knowledge stored in our brain. And yes, of course one is typing faster when one understands what is being typed. Try to type something in chinese characters or in a language that you do not know, it will be way slower. When one is driving a car, most actions are automatic. But pushing the clutch is not due to muscle memory in my leg, but a set of predefined patterns in my brain.

What makes the difference is how the knowledge is stored. If you only register patterns without any rationale, it will be less effective than when there is a set of principles that you understand that govern that knowledge. But after a while the actions are so well registered as execution patterns that one does not necessarily realize what is going on. But does not mean the rationale does not play a role.

For example taking a simple piece like Fur Elise. The main theme is basically just arpeggios on 2 chords, the tonic one followed by the dominant. When reading the score, i dont even need to figure out the pattern, i recognize these chords since i am in the key of A minor. I actually dont even need to read the score, i can play the measures simply because i understand how it is structured. Most top pianists memorize quckly that way. And i dont need to know all the patterns in all different configurations. I just need to some of them and the various permutations that are possible. After a while though, i am so used to do that that it becomes fully automated and unconscious, but the knowledge of how it works is what has allowed by brain to automate the process.

In summary, the idea that sight reading or playing music is a purely mechanical activity only based on physical abilities and muscle memory (whatever that may mean for those using the term) makes no sense.
Posted By: jeffcat Re: Key Signatures - 10/04/20 12:09 PM
Originally Posted by AZNpiano
Originally Posted by jeffcat
You are making the wrong analogy connections..

Sight reading is like Transcription <on a computer keyboard>

That is not the same as writing an essay, or free form jazz, or improv

When you transcribe, you listen to an audio and you type what you hear.

Don't you need to know how to spell in order to do that?

If you have to stop to look up every technical jargon, doesn't that make you slower?

In real life transcription, you absolutely don't need to know how to spell, you just need the syllables.

I was talking about transcription on qwerty 1:1 keystrokes from a page of text. That is the analogy to piano sight reading.

But in both cases, you don't need english, you don't need to know the word, and you don't need grammar.

The knowledge doesn't hurt, but it won't speed you up vs someone who's trained without that knowledge, because when we have to transcribe Fast, it's a very different act vs reading comprehension/ reading for enjoyment.

Especially on qwerty, if you're pushing ~130wpm that's 650 characters/min, it's On the page, to your hand, NO comprehension can happen. @ 160wpm, you're usually in the highly practiced text zone. @ ~200wpm which is the maximum a few gifted people reach, their memorized strings are longer.

This applies 1:1 to sight reading. The better sight reader has memorized or is very familiar with longer / more convoluted finger position.
Posted By: Iaroslav Vasiliev Re: Key Signatures - 10/04/20 12:37 PM
Originally Posted by jeffcat
I was talking about transcription on qwerty 1:1 keystrokes from a page of text. That is the analogy to piano sight reading.

But in both cases, you don't need english, you don't need to know the word, and you don't need grammar.

Will you, please, make a simple experiment? Get a paragraph of text in English, type it on your keyboard and write down the time span it required. Then get a paragraph of the same size in, say, Finnish, type it and write down the time it required, too.

Here are two fragments in English and Finnish of the same size:
Quote
A very large number of published documents contain text only. They often look boring, and they are often written in obscure language, using mile-long sentences and cryptic technical terms, using one font only, perhaps even without headings. Such style, or lack of style, might be the one you are strongly expected to follow when writing eg scientific or technical reports, legal documents, or administrative papers. It is natural to think that such documents would benefit from a few illustrative images. (However, just adding illustration might be rather useless, if the text remains obscure and unstructured.)

Quote
Hyvin monet julkaistut asiakirjat sisaltavat vain tekstia. Ne nayttavat usein tylsilta, ja ne kirjoitetaan usein hamaralla kielella, kayttaen mailin pituisia lauseita ja salaisia teknisia termeja, kayttaen vain yhta kirjasinta, ehka jopa ilman otsikoita. Tallainen tyyli tai tyylin puute saattaa olla sellaista, jota sinun on erittain noudatettava kirjoittaessasi esimerkiksi tieteellisia tai teknisia raportteja, oikeudellisia asiakirjoja tai hallinnollisia asiakirjoja. On luonnollista ajatella, etta tallaiset asiakirjat hyötyisivat muutamasta havainnollistavasta kuvasta. (Kuitenkin pelkan kuvituksen lisaam

And after that compare the results, please.
Posted By: wszxbcl Re: Key Signatures - 10/04/20 02:24 PM
Typing in the foreign language gets even slower if you need to look at the keyboard.
Posted By: keystring Re: Key Signatures - 10/04/20 05:26 PM
Originally Posted by Iaroslav Vasiliev
Will you, please, make a simple experiment? .....

Here are two fragments in English and Finnish of the same size:
This is a bit of a mess, including the exchange with AZNpiano a page earlier. If you are playing piano music off the page, then it is like the kind of transcription where you see written words, and type them out (not like when you hear words, and write out what you hear.) So Iaroslav, you are on the right track with your exercise.

Please note that they are not the same size. They do contain the same meaning, completely. The Finnish has 31 more characters than the English. To do the experiment, you must subtract 31 characters.

With the same number of characters I got:

English: 0.157
Finnish: 0.155 (a language that is totally unfamiliar to me)

I touch type. I also used the same process as I learned for reading piano music (belatedly). My hands got crampy with the Finnish. I noted:

The English ccontains 95 words for the same number of characters. The longest word seems to be 12 characters.
The Finnish contains 70 words. The longest words are over twice as long (over 24 characters). There is less respite for flipping to the thumb between words. The layout is for English, and not Finnish.

What I actually do for many hours when working, is to stare at foreign words, and type out English words. I work as a translator. For easy text, I type as fast as I would if it were originally in English: there is a back-process going on which involves knowledge of syntax, grammar, familiarity with English, and spelling. In this case, familiarity with such things as spelling and grammar are crucial. For transcription from written material (say handwritten) it is not necessary.
Posted By: keystring Re: Key Signatures - 10/04/20 05:33 PM
Originally Posted by jeffcat
But in both cases, you don't need english, you don't need to know the word, and you don't need grammar.

The knowledge doesn't hurt, ....
A couple of things that can kick in. "Habitual mistakes" --- I have to watch out for "teh" instead of "the". Seeing what isn't there but you expect it to be there, so you type what you assume. Very predictable music can do that too. You fuzz out, your brain assumes something is there, and you think you've played what's on the page, and it even sounds plausible.

The fact of the matter is that music and language have many facets, and the more facets we have at our fingertips (semi-intentional pun), the more tools we have at our disposal. I would not preclude knowing things like key signatures, music grammar etc. At the same time I'd not want to be locked into them, because there is music that is atonal, that has wild rides, and does other stuff. Learning to play a variety of material, from a variety of angles, seems to help with that.

Key signatures are a shortcut for a number of things, and I'd want to have a good, practical grasp on them.
Posted By: AZNpiano Re: Key Signatures - 10/04/20 06:30 PM
Originally Posted by jeffcat
In real life transcription, you absolutely don't need to know how to spell, you just need the syllables.

I was talking about transcription on qwerty 1:1 keystrokes from a page of text. That is the analogy to piano sight reading.

But in both cases, you don't need english, you don't need to know the word, and you don't need grammar.

The knowledge doesn't hurt, but it won't speed you up vs someone who's trained without that knowledge, because when we have to transcribe Fast, it's a very different act vs reading comprehension/ reading for enjoyment.

Especially on qwerty, if you're pushing ~130wpm that's 650 characters/min, it's On the page, to your hand, NO comprehension can happen. @ 160wpm, you're usually in the highly practiced text zone. @ ~200wpm which is the maximum a few gifted people reach, their memorized strings are longer.

This applies 1:1 to sight reading. The better sight reader has memorized or is very familiar with longer / more convoluted finger position.

I think your use of the word "transcription" is itself a technical jargon. Most people use that word to indicate a typed-out version of spoken words, like what a stenographer does to court proceedings. And even that process isn't "typing," and definitely not "typing from a written text."

Still, don't you think knowing the language of the text (i.e., prior knowledge) would make you type so much faster? Because you are not seeing one letter at a time--you see groups of them at a time.

And if you want to make the analogy to sight reading on the piano, then your argument is even worse. If you are treating each note (or, more accurately, note heads) individually as a letter, you are literally reading one letter at a time, or one note at a time. That is totally NOT what good sight readers do.

With prior knowledge, a good sight reader can take in large patterns of note heads, especially those in predictable patterns. If you got, for example, an ostinato going in the bass, you don't even need to look at the L.H. notes.

This is also why I can sight read C Major much, much, MUCH faster than something in D-sharp Major or G-sharp harmonic minor. And atonal music would be much, much, MUCH harder still.
Posted By: Iaroslav Vasiliev Re: Key Signatures - 10/04/20 06:42 PM
Originally Posted by keystring
With the same number of characters I got:

English: 0.157
Finnish: 0.155 (a language that is totally unfamiliar to me)
What do these numbers mean?

I don't touch type in English and generally I rarely write in English except for this forum. Given that, I have typed the English sample 1.5 times faster than the Finnish sample. And it was clearly easier for me mentally to type in English than in Finnish.

You are right that I counted keystrokes including spaces in the samples, not the letters.
Posted By: keystring Re: Key Signatures - 10/04/20 08:11 PM
Originally Posted by Iaroslav Vasiliev
Originally Posted by keystring
With the same number of characters I got:

English: 0.157
Finnish: 0.155 (a language that is totally unfamiliar to me)
What do these numbers mean?
I jotted things down in a hurry. 1:57 and 1:55. Finnish was 2 seconds faster than English.
Quote
I don't touch type in English and generally I rarely write in English except for this forum. Given that, I have typed the English sample 1.5 times faster than the Finnish sample. And it was clearly easier for me mentally to type in English than in Finnish.
The missing part is what process you use for the actual typing / transcription.
Posted By: keystring Re: Key Signatures - 10/04/20 08:17 PM
Originally Posted by AZNpiano
I think your use of the word "transcription" is itself a technical jargon. Most people use that word to indicate a typed-out version of spoken words, like what a stenographer does to court proceedings. And even that process isn't "typing," and definitely not "typing from a written text."
The important thing is to know what he was talking about, so that we're all on the same page.
Quote
Still, don't you think knowing the language of the text (i.e., prior knowledge) would make you type so much faster? Because you are not seeing one letter at a time--you see groups of them at a time.
I just did Iaroslav's test. I do not know Finnish at all, and am not even slightly familiar with it. I had the same speed for English and Finnish. (see above)

Quote
And atonal music would be much, much, MUCH harder still.
Which is actually an argument for having more than one strategy for reading music. It is why I switched. It's like being able to only type words you know, and having to hunt for the rest. This is NOT an argument against learning key signatures, or theory. They are all tools.
Posted By: Iaroslav Vasiliev Re: Key Signatures - 10/05/20 05:32 AM
Originally Posted by keystring
Originally Posted by Iaroslav Vasiliev
Originally Posted by keystring
With the same number of characters I got:

English: 0.157
Finnish: 0.155 (a language that is totally unfamiliar to me)
What do these numbers mean?
I jotted things down in a hurry. 1:57 and 1:55. Finnish was 2 seconds faster than English.
Quote
I don't touch type in English and generally I rarely write in English except for this forum. Given that, I have typed the English sample 1.5 times faster than the Finnish sample. And it was clearly easier for me mentally to type in English than in Finnish.
The missing part is what process you use for the actual typing / transcription.
I'm puzzled. May I ask you, is it equally easy for you to read music in any key or does it feel more difficult in the keys that you are less familiar with?
Posted By: mizmar Re: Key Signatures - 10/05/20 10:05 AM
This talk of typing reminds me of an incident when I was in university, before word processors. A friend typed dissertations for extra cash, had just finished a biology text and was halfway through a physics dissertation when she realised she'd typed "protein" for "proton" all the way through... Sure, some do copy typing letter-by-letter but I'm pretty sure most people read and type words or, indeed, whole phrases. People are different and want different things out of activities...

Just to remark that people who don't know keys are lucky that your (other) instrument isn't transposing...
Posted By: keystring Re: Key Signatures - 10/05/20 05:07 PM
Originally Posted by mizmar
Just to remark that people who don't know keys are lucky that your (other) instrument isn't transposing...

On that:

It took me 50 years to have any theory at all, including keys. One of my recorders is an alto (F). I simply found the pitch, which was "the same Do", and then I was off and running.

We can have all kinds of weird and wonderful ways of relating to things-musical. Some are actually useful, esp. in combination with the rest.
Posted By: Panama Re: Key Signatures - 10/05/20 05:52 PM
Originally Posted by ee375
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

Ignoring the food fight and back to the original question.

I am an engineer and I thought just as you. I never memorized formulas or numbers, just used them and over time I just knew them.

But in my piano journey I have learned the scales in all keys. It is easier to communicate with other musicians that I really like E flat minor rather than saying six flats with D neutral.

Also it easier to understand the notes in a score that is titled Symphony in C minor, or Etude number 3 in E without actually seeing the music. Think of it as every time you were working with forces you had to look up F=MA, or E=IR.

When learning a new song I often will play the scale that goes with the song. The scale usually has all the notes of the song. But six flats with neutral D does not tell me which note to start playing the scale. Of course you can start playing the scale with a B flat, but it just doesn’t sound right!

Will knowing the name of the key help you play the song? Yes and no!
Posted By: mizmar Re: Key Signatures - 10/06/20 07:43 AM
Originally Posted by keystring
Originally Posted by mizmar
Just to remark that people who don't know keys are lucky that your (other) instrument isn't transposing...

On that:

It took me 50 years to have any theory at all, including keys. One of my recorders is an alto (F). I simply found the pitch, which was "the same Do", and then I was off and running.

...
Sure, it's easy to transpose a tenor sax "lift a finger". .. till you hit a key # or b note. And even that isn't so bad if you know you've started on the root etc. None the less, it's massively useful to be able to navigate around keys, chords, cycles of 4ths & 5ths & modes; to get some clue as to what's going on a lot of the time.
Posted By: Iaroslav Vasiliev Re: Key Signatures - 10/07/20 04:04 PM
Anyway I think it's a good analogy of what theory is good for. I mean knowing and recognizing words instead of working letter by letter.
Posted By: keystring Re: Key Signatures - 10/07/20 04:20 PM
Originally Posted by Iaroslav Vasiliev
Anyway I think it's a good analogy of what theory is good for. I mean knowing and recognizing words instead of working letter by letter.
There is no reason why "letter by letter" has to go into it at all.
Also, the word "read" is used for both the word-thing, and the music thing, but it's an entirely different process.
Posted By: Iaroslav Vasiliev Re: Key Signatures - 10/08/20 01:30 PM
Originally Posted by keystring
There is no reason why "letter by letter" has to go into it at all.
Also, the word "read" is used for both the word-thing, and the music thing, but it's an entirely different process.
The processes are similar in that they require decyphering graphical information.
Posted By: trooplewis Re: Key Signatures - 10/19/20 11:54 PM
This has been an interesting thread to read through.
I took piano lessons for almost 10 years, from age 6 to 16. Never once did my teacher mention anything about keys or music theory, just "this piece has 3 flats". I was advanced enough to play some Chopin waltzes or Mendelssohn, but mostly played popular pieces using chords. I never understood the relationship between the chords and the key the piece was in, I just played what was written. What is interesting is that I made it all the way through Hanon without really understanding what I was playing!

Now, 50 years later, I am trying to get a grip on music theory and the Circle of 5ths. I didn't really want to play when I was a kid, now I'm a lot more serious about it and enjoy practicing.
I buzzed through Hanon again until I got to Scales...I still don't know them well but I'm getting a grip on it. Will it make me a better pianist or make it easier to learn new pieces? I hope so, because it is a royal PITA to play scales and arpeggios if you're not used to it. I practiced 4 days just to be able to play a basic C scale with both hands at the same time. The fingering was maddening.

So I still don't really know the answer to the OP, but am curious what playing will be like in a few months when I am more confident with the scales and arpeggios in different keys.
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