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Playing in All Keys

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Question: Hello Albert,

Your site and its contents along with your explanations are exceptional, and I am enjoying reading it all. It seems to speak to me.

Q: Which key do you tend to “mess around in” when not actually performing, and why? As an adult male of 63 years, I have tended only to use C major to amuse myself over the years, as the use of the black keys tend to “get in the way” as I am not very confident just yet, but I am very willing to try.

Is there an order of difficulty with any of the keys, and which of the other keys would be suitable to get me out of this rut without demoralising me too much?

Also, what is the title of the piece of music you play in your introduction to your site? (I think it may be one from Bach’s 48 preludes and fugues), and could it be downloaded from the site?

Thank you in advance.

– Paul (UK)

Albert’s reply: Thanks for your very kind comments, Paul; they’re greatly appreciated. I make an effort to play in all keys when improvising, playing common chord progressions and transposing. If I notice myself playing in any one key too much, I then deliberately avoid that key.

There is an order of the keys in terms of difficulty, and it is counterintuitive. The most difficult key is C major! In general, the keys that are easiest to learn are simultaneously the least natural for the hand.

As a rule of thumb, the more black keys in a given key signature, the more comfortable it will be. D-flat major and F-sharp major are perfectly natural for the hand, whereas the “natural” key of C major is actually the most difficult. The very first principle of piano fingering – Chopin’s hand position – explains why.

I therefore recommend learning the keys from the bottom of the Circle of Fifths and working your way towards C major. First learn each piano scale and as you practice the scale learn the chord progressions for that key. Once you have done so, playing in all keys will be natural for you.

Speaking of C major, the piece in my introductory video is the C major Prelude from Book 1 of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier. I’d be happy to offer it for download – thanks for asking! (I’ll find the file and add it to the site.)

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