Helping Students Become Comfortable Playing In All Keys

By Melody Bober
Amy Greer
I remember the fun that I had studying repertoire in a variety of keys. Experiencing the unique character and physical sensations that each key created was a fascinating journey. Some composers who wrote collections using all major and minor keys include Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750), Carl Czerny (1791–1857), Alexander Scriabin (1872–1915), Paul Hindemith (1895–1963), and Dmitri Shostakovich (1906–1975). Following in this tradition, I am excited to present In All Keys, a two-book series that includes original solos in all major and minor keys.

Frederic Chopin (1810–1849) used the following order for his 24 Preludes, Op. 28: C major, A minor, G major, E minor, D major, B minor, etc. The order follows the circle of fifths, with major keys followed by their relative minor keys. Each book of In All Keys contains 16 pieces and follows Chopin’s circle-of-fifths model, with major keys followed by minor keys.

Book 1 features one piece in C major, one piece in A minor, and the seven major “sharp” keys (G, D, A, E, B, F-sharp, and C-sharp major) and their relative minors (E, B, F-sharp, C-sharp, G-sharp, and D-sharp minor). Book 2 includes one piece in C major, one piece in A minor, and the seven major “flat” keys (F, B-flat, E-flat, A-flat, D-flat, G-flat, and C-flat major) and their relative minors (D, G, C, F, B-flat, E-flat, and A-flat minor). The C major and A minor pieces of Book 1 are different than the C major and A minor pieces of Book 2. However, the pieces with five, six, and seven sharps in Book 1 have been transposed to their enharmonic flat keys for Book 2.

Between the two books, there are a total of 26 different pieces, six of which appear in both sharp keys and their enharmonic flat-key equivalents. Experiencing the pieces in enharmonic keys provides students with the opportunity to read music in challenging keys while playing familiar notes and rhythms. As an example, “A Night in Cordoba” is written in D-sharp minor in Book 1 and written in E-flat minor in Book 2.

A Night in Cordoba

 

Regardless of the length of time students study, it is unlikely they will play repertoire in all major and minor keys. Wouldn’t it be nice to give them that opportunity through pieces that also reinforce the study of scales, arpeggios, and chords that are common to those keys? For instance, in Book 1 “Rushing River Rapids” is a piece that features changing meter, arpeggios, and a chromatic scale in a dramatic and fiery setting.

Rushing River Rapids

There are a variety of styles and forms represented in each book: ragtime, boogie, Latin, marches, ballades, and showstoppers. The waltz on page 10 of Book 2 is “Waltzing Through Time” in F major. This delicate piece features four-voice writing, arpeggios in 6ths, and left-hand scale passages.

Waltzing Through Time

Within each book, there is a treasure trove of various technical challenges. “Night Gallop,” the D minor piece from Book 2, is a fast-paced showstopper with crossovers and the D minor scale in both parallel and contrary motion.

Night Gallop

 

The pieces in the two books also provide effective solos for recitals and competitions. It is my hope that students enjoy performing repertoire in a variety of styles while unlocking the skills necessary to explore music In All Keys.

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3 responses to “Helping Students Become Comfortable Playing In All Keys

  1. Can you tell me if there are sound files for these books? I find it entices students to attempt harder pieces if they have a chance to hear the, multiple times.

    • Unfortunately, we don’t have recordings of these pieces available right now. Hopefully sometime in the future!

      • yes, I hope so too. I have stopped buying any piano music that has no sound available. these look terrific but will wait for soundfiles. I do love your compositions! i just can’t take the time or energy to make recordings or videos for my students.

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