• The Easiest Way To Learn All 12 Keys

    in Theory

    When it comes to learning all 12 keys, there’s a few ways to do it.

    You can use the number system and chord approach.

    In this approach, you simply ask yourself two questions:

    1) What number of the scale am I on (aka “scale degree“)?
    2) What kind of chord am I playing?

    If you were in C major, and you happened to be playing an F major chord, the answers to those questions are:

    1) Fourth tone because F is the 4th tone (or degree) of the scale.
    2) Major chord

    You can take this chord to any key if you know the 4th tone of that key and how to form a major chord on that tone.

    So that’s one way to do things.

    You can also use the intervallic approach.

    You simply count up the number of half steps in between your current key and the key you want to go to.

    So if your current key is C major and you want to play the same chord in Ab major, you ask yourself how many half steps separate C and Ab.

    Answer is 8 half steps if counting from C “UP” to Ab.

    4 half steps, if counting from C “DOWN” to Ab.

    That means any chord you play in C major… if you simply move up every note 8 times (or down 4) you’ll arrive at the equivalent chord in Ab major.

    This is cool if you really need to take something from one key to another specific key. But it’s not the easiest.

    If you really want to learn in all 12 keys, do it 1 half step at a time.

    If you’ve learned a string of 5 chords in the key of C, all you have to do is write out each chord:

    C major – C E G
    D minor – D F A
    G7 – G B D F
    C major – C E G
    F major – F A C

    And since we’re doing this thing half step by half step, our very next key to learn is Db.

    All you have to do is move every finger up one single note. That’s right, simply move every finger up a half step.

    Side note: I got a comment from someone saying they didn’t understand how to move every finger up one note. Yes, music can be difficult but some things are to be understood at face value. No hidden secret or technique here. When I say move every finger up one note, that’s exactly what I mean.

    C becomes Db
    E becomes F
    G becomes Ab

    Old Key | New Key
    C E G | Db F Ab

    D becomes Eb
    F becomes Gb
    A becomes Bb

    Old Key | New Key
    D F A | Eb Gb Bb

    G becomes Ab
    B becomes C
    D becomes Eb
    F becomes Gb

    Old Key | New Key
    G B D F | Ab C Eb Gb

    F becomes Gb
    A becomes Bb
    C becomes Db

    Old Key | New Key
    F A C | Gb Bb Db

    Same progression in Db major:

    Db major – Db F Ab
    Eb minor – Eb Gb Bb
    Ab7 – Ab C Eb Gb
    Db major – Db F Ab
    Gb major – Gb Bb Db

    Now the real question is… who’s serious enough to take what they know in one key, invest the time to take it to all keys — half step by half step — practice those new keys til’ tired, and “wash, rinse, and repeat” for every new thing they learn? Now that’s what separates the pros from the novices.

    Until next time.

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    Hi, I'm Jermaine Griggs, founder of this site. We teach people how to express themselves through the language of music. Just as you talk and listen freely, music can be enjoyed and played in the same way... if you know the rules of the "language!" I started this site at 17 years old in August 2000 and more than a decade later, we've helped literally millions of musicians along the way. Enjoy!


    { 10 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 Chevonne Reynolds

    Awesome post as always Jermaine. I think that I have made this way harder than it really is. You always make things so plain and easy to understand. God bless you and keep up the good work.


    2 hasuna

    i wont how can rede musec shett and play halp me tanke you ve . ma


    3 Mike P.

    When you said in this article to learn all twelve keys for example, going from the key of “C” to Db, my question is why do we not say “C#? I thought that when you go up the scale you would call the enharmonics sharps and going down the scale you would call them flats. Is there a definitive answer to this question or is left up to the musician to decide?


    4 Jermaine Griggs

    Hey Mike,

    When you’re in a particular key and you raise a note already in the scale, yes, you are sharpping it. When you lower a note in that scale, you are flatting it.

    Sharp means to raise, flat means to lower.

    But when you’re talking about entirely different keys, and entirely different planets, it’s a little different.

    The reason you pick Db is because there are no “weird” things going on. It’s more natural. The notes of the scale are regular notes you already know.

    Whereas C# major… you’d have to say C# D# E# F# G# A# B# C#

    You got 2 weird things… if you want to say E# and B# that much, then C# is your key. If you rather have a scale like this: Db Eb F Gb Ab Bb C Db, then Db is your scale! THat’s why Db is more popular than C#.

    However, when it comes to minor scales it’s the opposite. Since we learned here that minor scales are easily created off the 6th tone of the scale, that would mean:

    Db minor is the 6th of Fb major. Who wants to be in Fb major?

    That means the notes of Db minor are literally:

    Db Eb Fb Gb Ab Bbb Cb Db

    Not only does it have Fb, but a double flat (Bbb). Really nasty!

    Here it is easy to be in C# minor, which is the minor mode of E major (not Fb major). You get really easy “natural” notes:

    C# D# E F# G# A B C#

    I’m sure there are some really profound theoretical explanations I’ve missed but these are the reason I’ve come to find some keys are used over others.

    When you’re an ear musician, I will say i really doesn’t matter cuz even if you’re going to be in C# major, you better believe most people are going to call that E# an F. They are not going to take the time to be correct out in the “Playing field.”

    So I’d stick with these:


    When you get into: C#, D#, G# and A# major… you’re going to have the issues with unfamiliar notes. But for minor keys, these are your go-tos (except Bb minor would probably be better since it pairs with Db major).


    5 Bill Honeywell

    Keep up the good work; the tips are worth working out. Blessings, Bill


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    9 kingsley

    sir, GOD bless you so much. please help me out i started playing keyboard on my own so i need basic foundations to identify names of chords…..anyway, thanks alot for this site…


    10 Dave

    I used an app to learn all the keys. It gave me the chords and signatures in all keys and helped me a great deal in my practice. You can find the app here: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.rockrussell.music.randomkey&hl=en


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