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Meaning - Practice in all keys

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by loungesurfer, May 8, 2010.

  1. Question: What does the phrase "Practice in all keys" really mean?

    Everytime I come across this phrase it scares and confuses me as to what it really means. I know they're 12 keys and I've studied and memorized the circle of 5ths/4ths, but I'm really unclear on how many scales and arpeggios that translates to.

    As I see it there are 12 keys with 7 possible root notes per key which if I multiply it that translates to learning 7 x 12 = 84 scales. This can then be extended to mean there are 252 possible triads - root, 1st and 2nd inversions.

    Alternately, if I look at it from a Modes perspective there are 7 primary modes, if I exclude pentatonics, harmonic and melodic. This could translate to learning 7 modes for each key plus 7 possible root notes which then climbs to 7 x 7 x 12 = 588 combinations. No wonder it scares me to think that many combinations to learn.

    I've read several theory books and lessons, but the math is just not making sense!

    So where is my thinking faulty? :confused: It could be the engineer in me that's over thinking the concept.

    Any clarification would be appreciated.

    Now it's back to practicing the 43 of 84 scales :hyper:

    Thanks in advance, loungesurfer
  2. snyderz


    Aug 20, 2000
    AZ mountains
    I got a headache just reading your post. I understand that playing things in multiple keys will expand your horizons, but in a gig setting, we use about 4 keys, relative to the singer's range.
  3. is to get you to think about what you are playing, not just cranking out a riff. If you are playing off of fingering patterns, there will be some keys where you will have to change the pattern, shift notes up or down an octave, etc., to play the part.

    It is also a great ear training practice, too. Just playing a simple 12 bar blues, changing the key every other time through, will sharpen your ears up and help you learn to hear chord progressions. It will help you brain learn how to shift keys quicker- be able to hear the song in a different key, without getting confused aurally with the key the song originally was played in. If you can solo in a blues, then give it a shot - it will really help your ears to focus on the music.
  4. When people are learning melodies or chord changes to tunes, or just a passage from a piece of music to practice, they say practice it in all twelve keys, which means take that specific piece of music, and transpose it to another key.

    So If I'm practicing twinkle twinkle little star in C - it goes C C G G A A G F F E E D D C

    To practice it in twelve keys, I would go through the circle of 5ths - next key would be F (down a 5th). F F C C D D C Bb Bb A A G G F

    Then Bb - Bb Bb F F G G F Eb Eb D D C C Bb.

    And so on and so forth until you've done the melody in all twelve keys. This is normally what it means. You can apply the same thing to chord changes.

    So when people say practice in 12 keys, it's really a method to make sure you actually learn the material and not just a pattern. You have to think about the keys you're playing in and work on transposing the material.

    Hope that helped.
  5. fdeck

    fdeck Supporting Member Commercial User

    Mar 20, 2004
    Madison WI
    HPF Technology LLC
    The idea, when I was taking music lessons, was simply to develop equal ability to play in any key, so you weren't locked into depending on a few easy keys. The old method books for cello and bass introduced a new key or scale with exercises in that key, every few pages. I don't remember how long it took me to get through all 12 major and minor keys on the cello.

    We didn't literally play every exercise in every key, but the lessons were designed to provide balanced coverage of all the keys.

    OTOH there is a legend that Charlie Parker practiced by learning to play everything in every key.
  6. Rockman


    Mar 2, 2006
    First off, there are only 7 triads. And when we say learn in all keys it means all similar keys (aka all majors). Try playing some kids songs (Row Row Row you boat for example) in minor. Its an exercise but pretty much totally useless. Plus your math is redundant. You account for the same things multiple times.
  7. 251


    Oct 6, 2006
    Metro Boston MA
    ^^^ This leaves you comfortable playing from fret 1 to fret 15 & above. It is boring, tedious & will make you weary. It will also make you a much better technician on the bass, therefore a better musician.

    BTW, you left out playing everything on 1 string, on 2 strings, over 2 octaves, broken 3rds, broken 5ths, etc. I bet you thought this would only be fun. :cool: Do a little every day & let the 'big picture' take care of itself. It makes a good warm up/cool down.
  8. paganjack


    Dec 25, 2007
    Los Angeles, CA
    Get the Berklee chord exercises book. After you do that, it'll pretty much make sense.
  9. bassandbeyond


    Aug 28, 2004
    Rockville MD
    Affiliated with Tune Guitar Maniac
    +1 to the above explanation

    Loungesurfer, you are thinking too much! ;) And you're overestimating the number of scales to practice. There are not 7 scales per key, but there are 7 modes per key, so the total number of major scale modes to cover would be 84. Then again, there are many scales to practice besides the different ones you mentioned, and you also could benefit from practicing riffs, arpeggios, intervals, and even whole songs in all 12 keys, so the number of things to practice is infinite! :eek:

    But don't stand back being paralyzed by the size of the mountain. Just climb a little bit of it today, and a little bit more tomorrow....for example, my habit is to practice whatever I'm currently working on in one key per day.
  10. i have tried doing that but it looks like i end up moving the same "shape" all across the fretboard while not thinking about the notes one bit! so how do you fix that?
  11. gregmerrill


    Jul 27, 2009
    I agree with last post you are overthinking this. One key to the next key at a time.
  12. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    Physically, that's all you are doing, and it's one of the nice things about bass guitar and other "symmetrical" fingerboards : moving to anew scale usually just requires moving the "shape"

    But Mentally understanding what is happening is the point...
    The reasoning behind it, i think is this:

    Most bass lines follow a chord progression.
    Specific chord progressions can be looked at functionaly:
    for example, instead of | A |D |E | you look at it as | I | IV | V |...

    to Practice and know whats going on in all keys you have to :
    1.) identify what key you're in
    2.) identify what chords you are playing along with
    3.) translate from specific chords "A D E" to functional chords " I IV V"
    4.) figure out what those chords would be in the new key
    5.) realize how the "moving the same "shape" all across the fretboard" to the new key now serves those chords instead of the original.

    But rather than go into that level of detail , which is usually beyond the scope of a simple lesson, they just write "practice in all keys" to remind you that this particular scale/arpeggio /phrase can be applied to any key.

    another cure for "moving the same "shape" all across the fretboard" is to deliberately play in different keys using open strings. Each key uses open strings in a different way and thus "moving the shape" is no longer possible. you actually have to break down the pattern into parts and map it across those string breaks, thus increasing understanding at a "non-shape" level.

    Personally, I love playing in various keys down by the nut, because each key starts to have a different feel and character under my left hand.
  13. Chris K

    Chris K

    May 3, 2009
    Gorinchem,The Netherlands
    Partner: Otentic Guitars
    IMHO, there's nothing wrong wit that. Like Mambo4 says, it's one of the nice features of our instrument having all strings a 4th away from each other.

    I certainly do NOT practice my scales in all 12 keys. My time, like everybody's, is limited. There is more important stuff to be studied. Once you know a scale or a mode, you should be able to play it all over the fretboard. Two or three tries in different positions should be enough to prove you are.

    I'd put some energy into playing simple melodies (f.e. of children's songs) in any key by ear. Train to find the intervals you need to play in one go. If somebody plays an interval (on guitar or keys), can you copy it right away?

    Now that's what you need to learn, guys... Because if you can't transpose your musical ideas from your brain to your instrument, you will be playing standard fingering patterns for the rest of your days.

    Quite another, very valuable approach is to learn to play from sheet music. It's the fastest way to get to know where all notes are on the fretboard. And it enables you to write your own fabulous bass parts, or to let someone else do that for you.
  14. I don't worry about the specific notes, I move the pattern then play the pattern's intervals.

    Loy sings in G and D so I move the pattern to the G or D root and take off from there.

    Tom sings in G and C so, yep, I move the pattern to the G or C root and take off from there.

    Shirley sings in A, you get the picture.

    Playing in all 12 keys, I bet most of us never play in all 12 keys, Knowing how to play in all 12 keys - should you be asked to do so is the important thing. But, I've never spent a lot of time practicing the flat keys, because, my music is not in the flat keys. Well, we do F, but, that's the only one.

    Know how to play in all 12 keys, but, spend your time in the keys you will end up playing in.
  15. boomtisk


    Nov 24, 2009
    In my opinion, this exercise makes the most sense when applied to songs. Say you have a favorite song that's in E minor that you can play while half asleep. Play it in F minor, then, and it won't be so easy anymore. Then try it in F# minor, G minor, Ab minor, you get the picture. If the song in question has a lot of chord changes, you're really going to have to think. No need for math here, it's all about knowing your intervals and the fretboard.
  16. This, to me, is where it's at.
  17. Fergie Fulton

    Fergie Fulton

    Nov 22, 2008
    Retrovibe Artist rota
    As said one of the great things about bass is pattens can be moved to different locations on the fretboard for the physical but there 12 keys is a mental exercise, its about hearing new things and it is interval based.
    That's a point quite a few forget, interval based. Learn songs by intervals, not notes or certain positions on the bass, but by intervals. That means listening to what you are playing, not how you are playing it.
    In the event of any song needing to change key, then its change the starting note and apply the same intervals.
    Because the brain is not looking for specific target notes but relationships between them, with intervals you relate easier....if you have do the work.
    That's why things like the Nashville number system work, and when you see 1-4-1-5 it works, or 2-1-5 etc... it works because your prime information is interval related.:)
  18. Chris K

    Chris K

    May 3, 2009
    Gorinchem,The Netherlands
    Partner: Otentic Guitars
  19. Eminentbass


    Jun 7, 2006
    South Africa
    Endorsing Artist: Ashdown Amps and Sandberg Basses.
    The one thing about practising in all keys is that it's not about mastering technical exercises in all keys or about shredding through the notes but rather about figuring out where the notes are. I've only recently started taking chord tones through all keys and even though I've still got a lot of ground to cover, I'm having to think a lot less about the notes I'm looking for and can just get on with playing the gig.

    Scales are easier to adapt to different keys because they're straight up and down close-interval patterns but chord tones get less pattern based because of the larger intervals and because the next note might not always be as easily accessable. So, for me at any rate, it takes a while to figure out how I'm going to play them before I can work on fluidity.

    The other thing when you look at just chord tones alone for instance, with the amount of chord types to cover in all keys, is that it seems like a seriously intimidating amount of work. I have to constantly remind myself that I'm not working on those things to perform them but rather to create awareness on my instrument, so it's not an overnight or short-term process and I'll get through it all eventually with just a little bit of regular and consistent focus.
  20. thanks to everyone for putting my head back into perspective and helping me focus on the right things. All your feedback has really helped.


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