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A Crazy Trick To Get You Improvising In Odd Keys

Jordan Leibel - Mar 23, 2018

Hey Jordan here, and I want to share this weird trick I use to make complicated keys really simple.


One of the unique aspects of how the keyboard is laid out is that the FEELING of different scales and keys can be drastically different, depending on what key you're playing in. For example, C major uses all white keys (easy enough) but if you move just one key up from C to C#, you need to play EVERY black key in order to play a C# major scale.


It’s crazy how scales so different from each other can be found so close together!


Lubomyr Melnyk is considered the fastest playing classical pianist. Known for a lot of pieces using the black keys.


For this lesson, I thought I’d share with you how I go about making some of those odd feeling key signatures feel a little more at home...  


The first key we’ll look at is the key of Eb minor or Gb major.  This scale is made up of 7 notes, Eb, F, Gb, Ab, Bb, Cb (looks like a B on the keyboard), Db, and then the scale tops off with Eb again.  Just reading those letter names out sounds like a lot to remember, so here’s how I think of working with complex key signatures like this.  


Instead of going through the hassle of remembering all those black notes, I simply take for granted that I’ve got to play every one and then focus on what specific white notes I have to play instead!  It can make all the difference...instead of having to keep track of 5 black keys, you now only have to keep track of 2 white ones, F and B.  It’s a quick and fun little shortcut that’ll make you feel at home in those weird keys in no time.  


Stevie Wonder's 'Superstition' was written in Eb minor, a great key for playing percussive funk riffs


If you want to test this theory out, you can take another key like Bb minor. This key uses everyone black key as well in its minor scale, with two white notes to keep track of:  C and F. Don’t let those black keys scare you! When you’ve got a weird key that needs a lot of sharps and flats, you can reorganize your thoughts so that you see the white keys as the weird ones, not the black keys!


Dave Brubeck's jazz standard 'Take Five' also uses the key of Eb minor.


I’m a firm believer that each and every key of the piano should be explored. Every one of them has their own characteristics, not only in their sound but also in how they feel on the keyboard! So get to your keyboard and get exploring!



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Hi, I'm Jordan Leibel

I've worked as a composer for film, commercial, and theatre projects as well as a session musician and producer for recording projects. And now, I'm super excited to teach you a thing or two through Pianote!