What is the key of a song to a piano player?

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Postby cmplays » 08-08-17 11:54 am

As a beginner, I find it quite a bit of a pain in the rear to play songs with lots of black keys involved. I think it's probably a common experience. Especially when using Synthesia, since you can't look at your hands while you play, it's difficult to hit each key precisely in the center, and with black keys it causes my fingers to sometimes slip off and forcefully hit a neighboring key, with pretty nasty results. So playing songs in C major or A minor is actually much easier, at least for me at my current level.

This makes me tempted to transpose everything I want to play into one of those all white key keys. For example, I'm currently transcribing a song in G# minor, and I can't help but realize that simply shifting it one semitone up, to A minor, would change it from 5 black keys to no black keys. And honestly, I don't find that it sounds any different. I can understand why the key is important to a singer or for other instruments, where the range of notes is limited. But piano lets you play any note at all. So for that reason, wouldn't it make sense to transpose every song to make it easier on your fingers? What do you lose in the process except the chance to become a concert pianist because you don't train to play in all the other keys?

If there is a reason not to do it, please tell me, because the temptation to simplify my life is very strong right now.
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Postby jimhenry » 08-08-17 12:04 pm

I think it is a matter of perception as to what is easier. Some self-taught piano players actually play predominantly on the black keys. (Try playing just black keys. It is almost impossible to sound bad.)

As to why you would use black keys rather than transpose to all, or mostly, white keys when playing solo, there are reasons but they are subtle. I would just encourage you not to be intimidated by black keys. It is useful to be able to play fluently in any key. If you want easy, it is hard to beat a CD player.
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Postby kiwi » 08-09-17 8:35 am

If u want play beautifull songs (with secondary dominant or any chords out of the key) you 'll be able to use both White and blacks keys.
If you want only play in key and make simple songs you can stick with the white keys but you 'll not play the piano so good.
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Postby cmplays » 08-09-17 11:55 am

jimhenry:
I want easy, but I still want to play myself. :)

What are the subtle reasons that you mention? If all I care about is just playing solo piano of songs I like, do they apply?

Also, I wouldn't say that I'm "intimidated" by black keys. Thus far, I've been playing in any key if the score calls for it -- it's just that it takes more effort to become fluent with the song when there are more black keys. It's not only the issue that I mentioned previously, there's also fingering that often forces me to play black keys with 1st or 5th finger, with the other fingers on white, and often I can't find any ways to change the fingering... Just looking for ways of reducing effort.

Certainly, playing on all black keys would have a similar effect physically as playing on all whites, it would also be a matter of transposing the score, so I'm not sure it would buy me anything.

kiwi: If I transpose a key, any out of key chords would remain out of key, so I don't think your objection applies. I'm not looking to completely eliminate black keys, just to move to a key where there are fewer of them.
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Postby kiwi » 08-10-17 3:17 am

cmplays wrote:
kiwi: If I transpose a key, any out of key chords would remain out of key, so I don't think your objection applies. I'm not looking to completely eliminate black keys, just to move to a key where there are fewer of them.


Yep but these chords who remain out of key 'll use at least one black keys so yup it's relevant.

All the passing chords use black keys if you transpose all on the white keys ;)
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Postby jimhenry » 08-10-17 3:03 pm

cmplays wrote:What are the subtle reasons that you mention? If all I care about is just playing solo piano of songs I like, do they apply?

If you are only playing solo for your own amazement, you can do whatever you want.

The reasons for putting things where they use more black keys than seems absolutely necessary do still apply though.

Many songs change keys during the song. This may not be explicitly indicated with a change of key signature. It might just be done with accidentals. But this might require part of the song to use more black keys while the remainder of the song is predominantly on white keys.

Another reason is that the piano does sound different as you go up and down the keyboard. So sometimes you will use a key with more black notes to avoid being too high or too low on the keyboard. That is usually something like playing in G or F rather than C. Your example of playing in Am rather than G#m wouldn't be for this reason.

Sometimes there are ornamented notes where you quickly play an immediately adjacent note leading into the real note. That is easier if you go black to white. So the key may be chosen to make things like that easier.

I agree that playing a black key with your thumb can be awkward, particularly when playing chords where the thumb is on a black key and other fingers are on D, G, or A. But playing chords can also be easier if the other fingers play black notes.

The bottom line is that better keyboard players are just about as comfortable playing in any key. If you don't dwell on trying to play in "easy" keys as a beginner, then all keys will be of about the same difficulty by the time you are an intermediate. If you dwell on the number of black keys in a song, it is going to limit you. But you have to decide for yourself if that is important to you.
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Postby cmplays » 08-14-17 11:08 am

Now that you mention it, I have tried a few songs where the key changed in the bridge. That would definitely require a lot more care if I choose to transpose those. Anyway, thank you for pointing out that the matter is not as cut and dried as it seemed to me at first. That's the reason I asked this question to begin with.
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Postby jimhenry » 08-14-17 1:12 pm

Glad the information was helpful.
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