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#958625 - 03/24/08 06:06 AM Memorizing Key Signatures
asap2004 Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 03/17/08
Posts: 14
Hi all,

A question regarding learning/teaching of key signatures. I was under the impression that one's knowledge of key signatures should be like memorizing times tables. In other words - instant (A major? F#, C#, G#). Is this correct?

My student - about 15 yrs old and doing Gr3 cannot seem to understand that. If I ask her the key signature of A major for eg. she'll start picking out T,T,S,T,T,T,S. I can't fault her because she gets it right in the end obviously but how do I get her to learn this the correct way. She claims it's easier for her to remember this and then work out any scale she needs.

Any suggestions?

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#958626 - 03/24/08 06:59 AM Re: Memorizing Key Signatures
Innominato Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/05/08
Posts: 802
Loc: London
asap, I have a possibly stupid question: what's the use?

If I think of it, one always practices scales with the music in front of him, and all the sharps and flats are there.

In the normal pieces (not exercises), I generally only see what flats and sharps are on the key.
The information which key it is is often not even given. I assume this because one does not need it, right?

Or is there a use that you do of this knowledge by playing, some advantage or "trick of the trade" that I do not know?
_________________________
"The man that hath no music in himself / Nor is not mov'd with concord of sweet sounds / Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils." (W.Shakespeare)

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#958627 - 03/24/08 07:06 AM Re: Memorizing Key Signatures
asap2004 Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 03/17/08
Posts: 14
Let me just say that I am by no means a maven in this area - neither in piano nor teaching.

Now I don't know if you call it an advantage or a "trick of the trade" but the first thing I do when looking at a piece of music, is identify the key. And I do that by looking at the key signature and then the last note/chord of the piece. If you know your key signatures, then you would have your answer instantly. My student starts playing through her major and minor T,T,S etc. until she finds the right one.

Also, I don't play scales with the notes in front of me. How do you do that? I wouldn't be able to concentrate on fingering then ;\)

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#958628 - 03/24/08 07:36 AM Re: Memorizing Key Signatures
keystring Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/11/07
Posts: 11673
Loc: Canada
Asap, if this is your student, how did you teach her the key signatures so far? Or is this an acquired student? In any case, could you not simply assign her to learn the key signatures, say two per week? There is a neat trick to them: the new key signature is always the old one plus one more. Get her to memorize that G major has F#, and D major has F# and G# which is one more. It would be good if she also wrote them out maybe once each day so it's in a second place of memory. Then get her to play those two scales every day, but have her pay particular attention to which notes are sharped and what they are called. Her awareness of TTC is good, and is part of the picture. Can she also observe how it relates?

If she spends a whole week doing this, it will be a solid part of her on the keyboard, in her fingers, in her mind, and in her ears. She will have established the pattern which is a foundation. Now get her to add another key signature and do the same thing. Tell her to be aware of the fact that she is using the same sharps as before, but adding one. In a month she would have the sharps solid depending on how far you want to go in key signatures. Then come the flats.

I'm using something I learned in language teaching that I think applies to music too called "integration". Theoretical knowledge should be applied to the practical. So if the key signature is experienced in finger and ear then it becomes meaningful and useful. The two go hand in hand.

Innominato: recognition of key signatures is a basic thing that musicians are supposed to be able to do. You glance at three sharps and you know instantly that this is in A major or F# minor, and then you know what the tonic is. That helps you orient inside the piece. You know that this will have a sharp F,C,G and you don't have to think about it. Your practicing of scales, where those patterns are incorporated, finds its way into a more fluid first playing of the piece, because pieces consist of scales and arpeggios without that many deviations.

In the very least you should be able to know what key a piece is in when you look at it.

Currently I'm working on a nifty exercise in a book called "Keyboard Proficiency" that shows no key signature at all. It simply states "This is in A major" and you have to play it in A major, using your knowledge of the key signature and the TTS pattern. Then you play the same piece again as sight reading material, but you transpose it to G, D, and C major, moving your hand up and down accordingly. Knowledge of key signatures allows the correct intervals to flow from the hands.

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#958629 - 03/24/08 08:08 AM Re: Memorizing Key Signatures
U S A P T Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/20/06
Posts: 1645
Loc: An Indiana University
Here is a simplified shortcut that works for me in school in the order they appear on the staff. The correct accidental for each scale name is created when you name the accidentals for each (for example the A scale with 4 flats is Ab major or the F scale with 6 sharps is F# major.

For the relative minor scale just count down three half steps (a minor third) and take the key signature of whatever note you end up on.

Flats:
BEADGCF
2345601
7

Sharps:

FCGDAEB
6012345
7
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#958630 - 03/24/08 08:15 AM Re: Memorizing Key Signatures
Innominato Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/05/08
Posts: 802
Loc: London
"You glance at three sharps and you know instantly that this is in A major or F# minor, and then you know what the tonic is. That helps you orient inside the piece".

Thanks Keystring, but could you become a bit more specific?
What sharps there are in the piece is written on every line of the stave, so I am, so to speak, continuously reminded of it.

Also, if I read that the piece has X and Y sharped, giving a name to it does not add any new information, right? That's X and Y sharped exactly the same way, in the same way as I say "do" and you say "c", but it's the same sound?

I had thought the key might be in the "orientation", but as I would always have to read and check every note (lest the flat or sharp is eliminated for that note, we call it "bequadro", no idea how it is called in English) I fail to see the "simplification" that this would bring. Again, When I see the "bequadro" I know what it is, I do not need to know how it is called in English to play it correctly, it is the same thing...

Perhaps people with a particularly developed ear would immediately associate the key with a certain "mood" or "character" of the piece? Is this what you mean with "orientation"? I must say I am unable to do that and by hearing a piece I would never be able to say "this is in such and such key". But again if I knew, I wonder what use it would have?

The same for your exercise book with no signatures at all. It seems to me like exercising to play blind, when one has eyes to see... ;\)

Again, there must be something "down there", but I fail to see it. Has it to do with my defective "ear"?
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#958631 - 03/24/08 08:32 AM Re: Memorizing Key Signatures
Ovaltine Offline
Full Member

Registered: 12/31/07
Posts: 102
Loc: California
I think it's better to know "on sight". Have you tried flash cards? I'm about to make up a set for myself.

I've seen the various rules of thumb (raise the last sharp, second to last flat, how to get the relative minor/major), and I can pull those up if I need backup.

I'm just starting to memorize these things myself, but I can't see having to count tones and semitones or remembering BEADGCF and doing the mental math, while playing or (what I'd like to improve upon myself) sightreading. When I see 4 sharps, I picture the tonic being the white key right after the two black ones, picture which white and black keys go with the signature, and I know where it is on the printed staves. I also know the letter name "E" but I relegate it to secondary status as I'd rather visualize what the keys look like, how they relate to the score and more importantly where the tonic is.

Keystring, that sounds like a great workbook. I'm going to look for it, thanks for mentioning it.
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#958632 - 03/24/08 10:10 AM Re: Memorizing Key Signatures
John v.d.Brook Online   content
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/18/06
Posts: 7365
Loc: Olympia, Washington, USA
Good morning, asap2004; welcome to the forum.

We teach students the structure of music so that as they advance, they can use their knowledge of this structure to hold their performance together and actually, to enhance it as well.

We teach recognition of key(s) and how to notate within a key. Two separate skills. I would certainly expect an intermediate level student to be able to recognize the key signature of a piece of music, and to ascertain whether it was major or minor. It would probably be helpful to most students if they treated learning key recognition much like learning arithmatic tables, ie, by rote. Then they have it for life. But as it only takes a few more seconds to mentally figure it out, I'm not sure how much pressure I'd put on a student to really memorize it.

If a student grasps the underlying concept of the circle of 5ths, then they can use this concept to derive the proper key signature for any key very quickly.
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#958633 - 03/24/08 11:15 AM Re: Memorizing Key Signatures
U S A P T Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/20/06
Posts: 1645
Loc: An Indiana University
A lot of students (myself included) were never taught the circle of fifths properly. Perhaps because we were too young.

To say "You glance at three sharps and you know instantly that this is in A major or F# minor, and then you know what the tonic is. That helps you orient inside the piece" skips a critical part -- HOW? What a preposterous expectation to lay on a learner.

There are other ways to ascertain a key signature while learning to do it on the fly.

For flats, look at the flats and count back one flat from the right-most flat. This gives you the key.

For sharps, count up one whole step from the right-most sharp.

Or, you can simply humiliate a kid by saying "you should know it on sight" and abrogate your responsibility as teacher in the process.
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#958634 - 03/24/08 11:19 AM Re: Memorizing Key Signatures
Karisofia Offline
Full Member

Registered: 02/13/08
Posts: 201
Loc: Wisconsin
 Quote:
Originally posted by Innominato:
Again, there must be something "down there", but I fail to see it. Has it to do with my defective "ear"? [/b]
No defective ear, Innominato, but perhaps a lack of theory. Knowing the key points out the relationships of all the chords and tones in the piece. I sometimes wonder how my students play when they have to read each note separately, as an unattached item. When I see the dominant chord, I expect it to go to tonic. If it doesn't, I can peg it in my head as irregular. The more advanced the knowledge of theory, the further one can use that understanding in the piece--but it all starts by knowing the key. (That is assuming tonal music, of course.)
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#958635 - 03/24/08 11:42 AM Re: Memorizing Key Signatures
keystring Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/11/07
Posts: 11673
Loc: Canada
Hi Innominato. Bequadro is known as a natural sign, or Aufloesungszeichen in German, which nicely describes its function as "releasing" something that has been held. Would the "quadro" part refer to the square shape?

You can certainly read music without ever knowing a key signature. So, if you have not memorized key signatures, does that mean that when you start a new piece, you look at the key signature and actually examine which notes are sharped? Say there are four sharps, you would look, see that there is F# C# G# D#, remember that, and then apply it in playing? That certainly does not take much time, so why not?

When I see four sharps I know that the notes I have just listed are sharped. I recognize the signature as being E major that has those sharps, in the same way that when you roll a dice and you see:
*_*
_*_
*_*

you instantly think "5". I know it is E major and that the properties of E major is having those sharped notes.

Orienting ... no, not only to know which notes are sharped. I know that it is in B major, so the tonic, or main note (tonika, Grundton) is B. My piece will orient around this tonic and probably end on it. This helps me feel the piece and feel the direction of the piece. That in turn helps me hear it as music. Having that kind of orientation from the onset creates a kind of anticipation.

It is possible to glance at a sheet of music and see certain signs that already give you an idea about where it is going before you start playing. Certain accidentals (sharps, flats) suggest it is in a minor key, others make you think it will modulate. Music theory helps you understand the structure underneath, the composer's intent, and it is one more way to get deeply into the music.

In regards to the exercise without key signatures - this was to create a certain mental flexibility and familiarity. If you can move freely from C major to G major, it may be that you will play more fluidly when the music modulates. But also, you will be able to transpose at will. We've been told about accompanists who face a soloist who needs the piece played in a different key.

In fact, I watched a demonstration of this a few years ago. A vocalist student was giving a performance and slipped down a semitone and could not get back into the key. The pianist was able to do more than just play the notes on the page. He had this facility. First he altered what was written on his page and brought out the melodic line of the singer for him to hear. He did it so subtly that it sounded like it might be part of the accompaniment. The singer was not able to use this and continued being off key by a semitone. The accompanist then created a one measure pause that sounded musically appropriate, and resumed, but a semitone lower. So if he had been playing in D major, he was now playing in C# major (or Db major = idem). This particular pianist had mastery of the music and the instrument, and that lent him the flexibility in that tight moment so that the soloist could shine.

I find it fun to be able to transpose. It is fascinating to hear the same piece you have been playing in a different key, and watch the colours change.

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#958636 - 03/24/08 12:01 PM Re: Memorizing Key Signatures
keystring Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/11/07
Posts: 11673
Loc: Canada
 Quote:
To say "You glance at three sharps and you know instantly that this is in A major or F# minor, and then you know what the tonic is. That helps you orient inside the piece" skips a critical part -- HOW? What a preposterous expectation to lay on a learner.
I wrote that as a student. And as a student I want to be taught that "how", and a bunch of other "hows".

As an academic teacher I envision such learning along the lines of what I have learned about teaching, but I don't know if that is how it is done. When I teach I begin with a statement that goes "The student will be able to....." and then I figure out what skills and knowledge need to be acquired to get to the "will be able to", what steps possibly, what tools I can use (piano, pencil, theory book, pieces in different keys to illustrate and practice, studies, samples.... ) Then I would lead my student into activities and assignments, explain where needed, elicit exploration - whatever it takes so that at the end "the student will be able to...."

If I just say "You should be able to... " - well that's my job as a teacher to guide, if I am the teacher, and my responsibility to do the necessary work under that guidance, if I'm a student.

I did the "last flat" thing for 40 years, and am relieved that there's more to it.

 Quote:
What a preposterous expectation to lay on a learner.
I think that this expecation is laid on the teacher in the form of guided instruction, with the expectation that a student will follow that guidance. That's a learning partnership.

As for myself, I know instantly that this is A major because I spent a fair amount of time practicing and learning it. I also learned what to look for as well as listen for to determine if it might be the relative minor, F# minor. Therefore, now, I can do these things. But first I had to know what to practice and what to aim for and study.

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#958637 - 03/24/08 12:21 PM Re: Memorizing Key Signatures
Ashdyre Offline
Full Member

Registered: 02/11/08
Posts: 83
Loc: Windsor, Ontario, Canada
As long as my students can figure it out, and they get it right all the time, i'm not really going to argue it. I've tried the memorization "times table" approach and have experienced, especially with younger children, once it gets past 2 sharps/flats it's too hard to remember.

I teach "Father Charles Goes Down And Ends Battle" i've had great success with this, but i have a few students who learnt other methods from other teachers and i'm not going to mess with that.

The only thing I do that helps, is if a child is preparing for an exam, I look at the list of possible scales they will be asked and ONLY practise those with them. That, in a way, re-inforces the memory a bit.

Key SIgnatures are tricky, don't get discouraged, do you remember how long it took you to learn them? \:\)
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#958638 - 03/24/08 12:45 PM Re: Memorizing Key Signatures
Betty Patnude Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/11/07
Posts: 4896
Loc: Puyallup, Washington
To teach the subject at hand:

1st go through all 12 Major 5 Finger Positions
2nd go through mirrored chromatic D in contrary motion
3rd teach tetrachord patterns of a major scale - C is where it is easiest to track. Transpose that tetrachord pattern to the 11 other halfstep positions in the octave - black and white keys

A) this can be done in the Circle of 5ths order by finding the 5th degree/5th finger going through # keys (7 of them) and b keys (7 of them)

B) also learn to do major scales through chromatic order

The thing not realized by most people is:

0-1-2-3-4-5-6-7 (#'s in the scale of)
C-G-D-A-E-B-#F-#C (RH play these tonic keys on the keyboard upward from C)
These are CLOCKWISE around the CIRCLE OF 5ths.

0-1-2-3-4-5-6-7
7-6-5-4-3-2-1-0 (b's in the scale of)
C-F-B-Eb-Ab-Db-Gb-Cb (LH play these tonic keys on the keyboard from Middle C downward)
These are COUNTERCLOCKWISE around the CIRCLE of 5ths.


So I don't understand the use for all the "helpers" to remember - when doing the PROCESS OF UNDERSTANDING links you forever to the theory of it - and the accomplishment of playing it.

We did not do scale fingering here to achieve it....but I have a system for teaching that too.

You also need to know the TETRACHORD FORMULA for a MAJOR SCALE.

LH 5-4-3-2/2-3-4-5 RH (8 notes, no thumbs)
...*-W-W-H/W-W-W-H
* = KEYNOTE
W = WHOLE STEP
H = HALF STEP

Knowing from within yourself is so much better than reading it from the page and trying to make sense of it. When you truly know them because of the logic of them, you have no impediments or unfinished business.

This is not meant to be a complete lesson as the finding of all the specific notes on the piano takes time. Develop it one new accidental at a time.

This needs to make sense to you every step of the way, or errors will creep in to your work - go slowly and carefully.

Betty

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#958639 - 03/24/08 12:55 PM Re: Memorizing Key Signatures
Piano Again Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/12/04
Posts: 1162
Loc: Washington metro
My first teacher used silly mnemonics similar to Ashdyre's. This was possibly the only thing of real value I learned from her, so for your edification:

Sharps: Fat Cats Get Dizzy After Eating Butter.
Flats: Bees Eating Apples Don't Go Chasing Fire-engines.

She made her students recite these at each lesson. I have never forgotten them.

Later on, I did learn to rationalize (e.g., sharp keys: the last sharp is the leading tone to the tonic; flat keys: the next-to-last flat is the name of the key signature), but I still run through those sentences when I need to know in a hurry.
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#958640 - 03/24/08 01:21 PM Re: Memorizing Key Signatures
Innominato Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/05/08
Posts: 802
Loc: London
People, I am in awe at your competence here, this forum is truly invaluable.

I might say something very stupid in the following, but really would like to understand so please have mercy... \:\(

1) yes, "quadro" is (here) "square" both as a noun and as an adjective. I don't know if is is also "practical" and "good", but is certainly is square (german speakers will know what I mean...; )

2) "Music theory helps you understand the structure underneath, the composer's intent, and it is one more way to get deeply into the music".

"Knowing the key points out the relationships of all the chords and tones in the piece. I sometimes wonder how my students play when they have to read each note separately, as an unattached item. When I see the dominant chord, I expect it to go to tonic. If it doesn't, I can peg it in my head as irregular."

This was the first lightning who stroke me. I have always thought that a composer composes just because a melody comes in his or her head, and he just finds those melodies on the keyboard.
And that the keys etc. were just the way human beings rationalise and say that what they perceive as musical *tends to go around certain note patterns*.
So the idea that an author wants to "go somewhere" by composing is new to me; even more the idea that one, as player, can even try to *figure out* where he is going to go. I do admit if one would have such skills, it would bring an inner logic in what I thought is just something which FIRST sounded good, and THEN was transposed in notes.

3) "My piece will orient around this tonic and probably end on it. This helps me feel the piece and feel the direction of the piece. That in turn helps me hear it as music. Having that kind of orientation from the onset creates a kind of anticipation".

That was the second lightning. So you can "feel" a note as playing, so to speak, a particular role in the music? How can this happen? I knew that a motive tends to end on the note it started, but again I thought this is just because otherwise it would often "sound wrong" when you hear it in the end. Again, my thinking was: inspiration makes the tune, the rest is just describing the patterns that recur in the creative process when the music sounds right....

I will in future play my pieces in light of the key they are written in and observe whether this particular note, in a sense, "emerges" and helps me to get a deeper understanding of what I am playing. But again, I am afraid you need a very refined ear for this?

4) "I find it fun to be able to transpose. It is fascinating to hear the same piece you have been playing in a different key, and watch the colours change".

That was the third lightning. I find it, more than "fun", almost supernatural!

How can a normal human being spend months in learning fingering, developing the right muscular memory etc. for a piece and then be able, *at will and at a moment's notice*, to *change all the notes just like that*? It surely needs an incredible talent?

(Keystring, I am in awe at your musical competence with or without key changes.. ).
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#958641 - 03/24/08 01:33 PM Re: Memorizing Key Signatures
Innominato Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/05/08
Posts: 802
Loc: London
You have now definitely persuaded me: I will learn all the keys as a diligent student and want to start learning something of theory too.

If someone can drop a book or two useful for beginners on this thread I'll spare myself the longish search on the forum as the short one did not bring any satisfactory result.

It should ideally be a book that takes one by the hand, does not give anything for "understood" and helps one understand how the mechanism "works" rather than just give crude theory (impressive the statement of Karisofia, which "expects the chord to go to tonic" (hopefully with gin I'd add.. ;\) ).

Thanks
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#958642 - 03/24/08 01:49 PM Re: Memorizing Key Signatures
Betty Patnude Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/11/07
Posts: 4896
Loc: Puyallup, Washington
Innominato,

My point above being that you learn it from within by working with the theory (some of my explanation is posted above) not from a book.

A teacher needs to explain the nubs and bolts of what the theory is and how to extropolate it from what you are already able to do on the piano. It is a step by step process of one thing leading to another.

Theory books do not approach it in development stages, they usually categorize it or alphabetize it. They do not present it in the way you would develop one step that leads to another. However, this is the way theory developed - in a sequential way - and this was done in the early days - Guido d'Arezzo and Bach and Rameau and early theorists. This is not new stuff. Theory is scientific and mathematical. Technique is built on physiology and kinesthetics. Applications of systems in a progressive development.

Short cuts yes, as long as they are accurate - but let's all have respect for the complexity of it overall. The only way through theory is to use it from understanding it, not from mimicing mneumonics and crib sheet notes.

It's empowering to get through these, you'll never have a moment of indecision again, once you know the "verbage" and the "process". It will boost you to a high level of understanding at your piano and in your playing of music.

You find it in you....just as the original thinkers did.

Betty

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#958643 - 03/24/08 02:16 PM Re: Memorizing Key Signatures
John Delmore Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/12/05
Posts: 373
Loc: Shreveport, LA
A confession: I LOVE playing scales!! That's the way to learn key sigs.

But the tetrachord form is a new one on me. I do see the usefulness, I think (and will add it in!), but perhaps Maestra Patnude will elaborate?
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#958644 - 03/24/08 02:33 PM Re: Memorizing Key Signatures
Betty Patnude Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/11/07
Posts: 4896
Loc: Puyallup, Washington
John,

The easiest way to elaborate for me is to send you some documents I've written about theory. You will need to PM me and give me your home e-mail address, and I will attach the documents to you. I will send the things I use to teach "scales" unless you have another title of what you are interested in. This would include tetrachords/quickly read key signatures/circle of 5ths.

Did you read the first of my postings in this column also?

The "Maestra" does not exist - I'm a working girl just like everyone else when it comes to music. It tends to fill up your lifetime I've noticed!

Regards,

Betty

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#958645 - 03/24/08 02:34 PM Re: Memorizing Key Signatures
John v.d.Brook Online   content
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/18/06
Posts: 7365
Loc: Olympia, Washington, USA
John, the tetrachord allows students to learn the form of the diatonic scale. The relationship of W-W-H is used with both hands, and they are separated by a whole tone. Young students, if they can grasp this concept, can come back to the piano 20 years later, and still figure out any of the major scales.

To be very honest, I have never been big on this. I point it out to students while teaching theory, but I teach scales almost immediately from the day students start lessons. I want them to be able to fluidly move across the keyboard, in any key, and learning and daily practice of scales will give students this ability.
_________________________
"Those who dare to teach must never cease to learn." -- Richard Henry Dann
Full-time Private Piano Teacher offering Piano Lessons in Olympia, WA. www.mypianoteacher.com
Certified by the American College of Musicians; member NGPT, MTNA, WSMTA, OMTA

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#958646 - 03/24/08 02:47 PM Re: Memorizing Key Signatures
Betty Patnude Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/11/07
Posts: 4896
Loc: Puyallup, Washington
Oh, John, I think it's the "cat's meow" and teach it at about 3 months into lessons for students 9 and over. They think it's so cool and it helps their ears associate the sound of a major scale very well before we being to work on the "real" fingering of the scales.

I think the secret is to have done the D mirrored contrary motion chromatic scale first which sets up the half step measure. From half steps it is easy to teach whole step and whole + half step measurements.

Such fun and they don't always know they are working hard and putting things into place before actually ready to use them. Plant a seed.

One of the biggest goals I have is for my students to be able to access all of the piano keys ASAP, and to have some understanding of the relationships of keys that are under their fingers.

We are building the keyboard in the sky - which is in the center of the forehead as a graphic (ha, ha) and throughout the brain and nervous system. Navigation 101.

I notice your tetrachord is spelled differently than mine. My 5th degree is the start of the next scale in the Circle of 5ths, and my formula has 8 notes as a scale does (7 of them different, 8th a repeat of the tonic). I have not seen a tetrachord explained the way you did. Would you read all of my postings in this column and make a comment about mine if you want to?

Betty

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#958647 - 03/24/08 03:10 PM Re: Memorizing Key Signatures
keystring Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/11/07
Posts: 11673
Loc: Canada
From a personal student perspective who came upon such things from alternate angles through circumstance. A fly will see the apple with multiple eyes, the human 3 dimensionally, a dog in black and white, and the bat will smell it and sense it multidirectionally by bouncing sound, for it is blind, but recognizes the apple. It remains an apple though the descriptions vary.

Innominato, I was taught nothing and could not read and play notes the way you did. The structure of music exists outside of our theoretical knowledge, classical music is created deliberately through that structure, we can sense it, and we can feel its wholeness. In fact, in creating our musical system the European ancients sought to find the divine harmony of the universe through mathematical and proportional means. So did the Chinese, in fact. The laws of physics, balances, "harmony", vibrations that unsettle and vibrations that soothe, the passage of time (tempo, meter) and balances therein, which also makes up our lives, are contained in the old music. It was deliberately done. We ourselves are created harmoniously. Our hearts beat in rhythms, we balance on left and right foot, we are equally same yet different on left and right, we need balance, imbalance for movement, and finding balance again. You will find these things in the music because they are within you as part of this earthly creation.

You will also find it within you because you have grown up with this music and you have absorbed it by playing it, hearing it, responding to it, but you have done so unconsciously. The proof is that an unfinished piece feels wrong and unfinished. How do you know that if you have not absorbed it?

Apparently I picked up the "patterns" of music as a completely untaught child. The single piece that I invented over time contains the classical patterns: modulation to the dominant, resolution, harmonic progression, expansion of a theme, ABA pattern in three movements. The child absorbed it and had no other distraction.

In one of my lessons a few years ago I thought I was playing a piece that I had never seen or heard before by reading it, but I was able to predict the entire piece from beginning to end because the composer used those patterns predictably. In classical music you have a sentence that is created from phrases and so "concluded", usually a second sentence that follows. That sentence then can have a variation by "saying the same thing" but five notes up (modulation up the dominant) or in a minor key, and then a third "paragraph is almost a duplicate of the first. On that day in my lesson I had glanced over the sheet as a whole, found the patterns I was looking for, and then played what I knew would be there but blind to what was written. I was correct. My fingering was wrong, and that is how we figured it out.

There are patterns and structures in music. I sensed the structures before they were defined. This part I can tell you first: there are patterns that lead places. I just seem to have gotten there backward and now I need to learn the name of things, and get it all properly. I am fortunate for having seen the whole from far away so that I know it exists. I travel less blindly.

So this has been PART I
------------------------------------
There is theory and there is music. They interrelate. Theory is dead without being related to the music, useless stuff, dry academics. Music holds less meaning without the conscious awareness of theory, which should become alive. Often I believe this is lost. Do not go for books that give instant results. You are not after results but after understanding and mastery. I'm veering toward the old books these days, and request old fashioned instruction from those who have recieved the same in depth.

You are not a child, but an adult with a musical background that is already sophisticated in some areas because you were well taught for a lengthy time. You will need basic things as a child does, but you will not absorb it childishly. You will also draw on your knowledge, and you will probably also see that knowledge transformed and given new meaning in addition to what you already know.
------------------
The meshing of music and theory. The opening of a door or window for a first small comprehension, and inkling..... The theory part can be bleepin' boring: memorizing things, names of notes, chord types. I went right to scratch. I wrote my notes out pages and pages, but mindfully, hearing them, knowing their intervals ... it's still bleepin' boring. Be forewarned. Drudge work.

Some first understanding, becuase it can be a dialogue back and forth:

1. Do you know the diatonic scales do re mi fa sol la ti do? "Do, a deer, scale"? Can you sing it? Can you start on a different note and sing it again? Another note, sing it again? If you can do that, then you have transposed into different keys. Do you know the distance of intervals in that scale? The tone-tone-semitone pattern? Or can you hear it sufficiently to expore it? Well, come to think of it, you must have played scales in different keys in childhood. Can you play that diatonic scale in different keys without having the sheet music in front of you? Can you see the tone-tone-semitone regardless of where you play that scale? This is also the seat of transposition. If you play the major scale in C major, and then in G major, you have in a sense "transposed" the major scale.

2. The music you play rests on scale patterns and harmony patterns. The harmony consists of the chords, arpeggios - the Alberti bass is an arpeggio or broken chord that zigzags in repetition.

Your melody, in a sense, sits on top of the different kinds of scales (major, minor, modes) as though on a grid. The notes have meaning according to where they are on that grid. Your tonic is "home base". When you leave home, the music wants to return to it. the music tends to try to return to home base.

Can you explore this? Do you have a simple childhood song? Can you hear where it goes to home base, where it departs. Can you "fit" that song into that scale grid, like parts of a jigsaw puzzle? Can you start seeing that relationship? Children songs are often teachers of basic patterns. Do you know the German "Alle meine Entchen?" It goes:
do re mi fa so so .... (going up the scale to so)
la la la la so
fa fa fa fa mi mi
re re re re do.....

If you read skipping the repeats, you get
"la so fa mi re do" = going down the scale.

This song sits on top of the scale: it IS the scale.

Your music wants to return to the tonic: it deviates, feels restless, "far from home", and then "comes home" again.

As a first thing, for the next few things, start listening to what you play, what you hear on the radio. Be open minded and simply see what patterns you hear. Can you sometimes predict which way the music will go? Why does it go that way? Where is it going to? Just explore in order to open your mind to possibilities.
---------------------------------
Harmonies & chords: You have major and minor chords, and major and minor scales, and then the "other" chords that feel restless and want to resolve to something less restless. Play:
major: C E G
minor: C Eb G
diminished: C Eb Gb ... where does it want to go?
augmented: C E G# .... ditto.

Your minor scale is minor because the third note up from the tonic is a minor third instead of a major third. Other things happen with the 7th note but we'll consider the first 6. Originally our Western music didn't have a 7th note.

Here is another exploration:
Twinkle Twinkle Little Star:

C C G G A A G
F F E E D D C
.... can you play the rest by ear?

Turn it into a minor scale. How? Lower the third note by a semitone. The third note in C major is E. If you lower it, you get Eb. You will also be playing in the key of C minor which has a key signature of 3 flats or the same key signature as Eb major. We won't worry about that for now ... but that is the theory part.

You will play Twinkle as a minor key melody:
C C G G A A G
F F Eb Eb D D C...
.... continue, turning every E (the third note up, known as the third degree of the scale) into an E flat.

The melody sounds sad and different. You have also just modulated from a major to a minor key by using theoretical knowledge. The third degree is a powerful note because it determines whether your music is happy or sad, major or minor.

If you wish, explore Twinkle some more. Do you see how it fits into the grid which is the C major scale?

If you were able to play Twinkle by ear in the C major scale, do you think you can do the same in G major? Try it. Play a G major scale first to orient yourself. You will play the same distance of notes, i.e. the third note you play will be five notes up from your first note. You will **hear** the same melody but higher up.

You can repeat the exercise of minor key. To help I'll give the notes in case you need them:

G G D D E E D
C C B B A A G ....

B is your third degree note, and in G major, if you go down a semitone, it would be Bb for a "minor key Twinkle".

===================
Another important "degree" is the fifth note up. It is called the dominant, and it has a powerful role. It is almost like a second tonic. Music gravitates toward the fifth degree, or dominant. If it has been "restless", it settles there briefly. A lot of music "modulates" to the dominant. If the music was in C major, suddenly it "sounds like" it is in G major, like we did with Twinkle. You can tell, becuase there will be an accidental, the F# sitting right below the G. The music will eventually modulate back to C major because those are the rules and it sounds more complete that way. As you play music now you probably expect that modulation, but it is subconscious.
===================
Ok, now I've thrown a pile of stuff at you. It is to give a bird's eye view and get a rough idea. I suggest that you explore these things in your music. Can you catch modulations? The homing in on the tonic? The jumps to the dominant? Can you start hearing these things?

In working with theory you have to get into the nitty gritty detail stuff, but this is what it is about, and what it leads to. It is a longish process.
*************
A last thing and different angle: These things also have their place in physics. Musical tone is vibration. Every note contains all notes in something called partials. When you play C, the strings of your piano are also vibrating at DEFGAB and the semitones. Those vibrations are not even. The strongest vibrating note after C is G, the 5th, the dominant. The next strongest vibrating note is the 3rd, which is E. These are the notes of your chord: CEG. The vibrations of these partials create a "colour" to your notes, and there is probably some kind of psychological or emotional effect to them which translates into our response in music.

Have you ever heard a guitar that has a crystal clear high "ping" sound? That is the sound of a string playing without partials and only the pure tone. It is known as an harmonic.

I spent the morning reading up on music history. The Chinese in ancient times sought to find harmony and commune with the balances of nature or the spheres. Immediately they began to develop harmony theory, create a note system and music system that would reflect that, and in that sense similar to our own musical history in some ways.

A final note: One would think that these properties would take the magic and mystery away form music. In a sense it actually does. But the little bit I know has already revealed other things that give pleasure of a different sort. I've begun harmony theory, which comes after learning the rudiments of music, and have created some simple melodies and chords following strict rules of what can and cannot be done and in which order. One would think it kills creativity. The results, however, are things of beauty, because the rules themselves causes adherence to these "harmonies" which creates beauty.

I hope some of this can make sense.

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#958648 - 03/24/08 07:23 PM Re: Memorizing Key Signatures
John v.d.Brook Online   content
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/18/06
Posts: 7365
Loc: Olympia, Washington, USA
Betty, I'm afraid we're victims of the English language. I think we're saying the identical thing two different ways. Mine is also an 8 note scale, using mirrored fingerings.

Depending on the student's speed of grasping concepts, I either start the student with scales straight out, or if I perceive they need a bit more time, in contrary motion.

As I mentioned, I used to use tetrachords, but when I started with Guild, I found I needed to accelerate the process, and wonder of wonders, the vast majority of students didn't really need that in between step.

Remember, too, that my lessons are probably a bit longer than most teachers, so I have a little extra time to work with students on scales. For teachers having shorter lessons, your method is excellent, and I would urge other teachers to adopt it as a great first step to learning the diatonic tonality.
_________________________
"Those who dare to teach must never cease to learn." -- Richard Henry Dann
Full-time Private Piano Teacher offering Piano Lessons in Olympia, WA. www.mypianoteacher.com
Certified by the American College of Musicians; member NGPT, MTNA, WSMTA, OMTA

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#958649 - 03/24/08 07:56 PM Re: Memorizing Key Signatures
Cindy O-H Offline
Full Member

Registered: 09/08/07
Posts: 33
Loc: Northeast Tennessee
DISCLAIMER: I did not read all of the above posts in their entirety.....so if I am repeating someone, sorry......


I have been teaching for many many years and had a great deal of success with teaching the order of sharps and flats in the students head first and then putting it on the written staff.


My method is as follows and not done both in the same day or anywhere close to eachother. I teach the sharps first then after they are mastered, the flats come next.


Sharps: they go up 1/2 step to the very next note which may be black or white. For every note, there is a sharp to go with it(coinside).

First you need to know your order of sharps which are as follows
Fat Cats Green Dogs Always Eat Beans. (note, the first letter in the word is the sharp)FCGDAB

Next we need to find the key signature(where the chords live and their family of chords)
In order to do this you must do:

1. name the sharps in the correct order
2. next you go up to the next note in the alphabet. This will give you the correct key signature.


I get that in their heads for about a week or so and then we start applying it to the music. As mentioned above. That is the first thing that you must do when you start a piece is look at the keysignature, first notes, last notes, (for any modulations when applies) and the time signature.


I have often times found that students will have a difficult time "going backwards" with the process until it is drilled into their heads. For example, what sharps are in the key or E major or what accidentals are in the key of G major. They must gain a great understanding of the sharp/flat to key sighnature relationship first.


This is all in my personal opinion and what I have learned in my 20+ years of private piano teaching and general school music. So take it for what you what to. Good luck though

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#958650 - 03/24/08 09:28 PM Re: Memorizing Key Signatures
Daffodil Offline
Full Member

Registered: 05/09/07
Posts: 166
Loc: In a big country
I try various approaches to help my students learn key signatures and scales.

But the important parts to me are:

circle of fifths
(count down five semitones then sharpen the seventh - you have the next major scale_

relative majors and minors
(count up three semitones from the minor scale and you have the relative major. The minor will be the same but with a sharpened seventh)

All harmonic minors are the same as the major but with a lowered third and sixth

melodic minors are same as the major ascending, but with a lowered third only; descending just play the relative major

Also, there a shortcuts when you look at a key signature:

for the sharps, the note above the last sharp in the key signature will be the key

for the flats, the second last flat will be the key.

I think that once these are all understood it makes key signatures make sense and not so hard anymore.

And it's especially helpful when teaching melodic minor scales.
_________________________
Daffodil - Onslow's twin.
Hailun 178

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#958651 - 03/24/08 09:36 PM Re: Memorizing Key Signatures
bukopaudan Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/03/06
Posts: 506
Loc: USA
I do that too. I just flat-out memorized them, though. Like the keys, circle of fifths most definitely, the major/relative minors.

I also did the G has one sharp, C has no sharps, that kind of thing.

That's for the helpful hints!
_________________________
"Music can name the unnameable and communicate the unknowable." -Leonard Bernstein

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