• Revealed: Why You Can’t “Easily” Play In Major Keys Like D#, G#, A#, And So On.

    in Beginners,Experienced players,General Music,Piano,Theory

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    In this lesson, you’ll discover why it’s challenging to play in major keys like D#, G#, A#, and so on.

    The use of the term note and key interchangeably is a misconception that needs to be corrected because a note and a key (although they’re related) are two different things.

    A vast majority of musicians do not really know the difference between the key of A# and the key of Bb. There’s an opinion that this is the key of A#:

    …and this is the key of Bb:

    Hence, it’s common to have someone say “I’m In The Key Of Bb, That’s A#” and that’s ABSOLUTELY wrong. If you want to find out why,then read on.

    The Concept Of Key Signature

    Before we talk about key signature, let’s briefly discuss the concept of key.

    A Short Note On The Concept Of Key

    There are twelve musical notes:

    All the notes on the piano:

    …can be classified under these twelve notes:

    The concept of key has to do with the relationship between these eight components:

    • Tonic
    • Supertonic
    • Mediant
    • Subdominant
    • Dominant
    • Submediant
    • Subtonic
    • Octave

    …with the goal of establishing a note as a tonal center.

    For C:

    …to graduate from being a note into being a key requires the relationship between eight notes. The relationship between all the white notes on the piano (from C to C):

    …establishes the note C:

    …as the key of C major:

    Here are the eight components of the key of C major:

    C:

    …is the tonic.

    D:

    …is the supertonic.

    E:

    …is the mediant.

    F:

    …is the subdominant.

    G:

    …is the dominant.

    A:

    …is the submediant.

    B:

    …is the subtonic.

    C:

    …is the octave.

    “In A Nutshell…”

    A key differs from a note because (unlike a note) it that has eight components. Henceforth, we’ll not consider anything as a key if it is not a relationship between eight notes, with the goal of establishing a given note as a key center.

    Key Signature – Explained

    The concept of key signature which is common among sheet music players has to do with the use of sharp and flat symbols to indicate the key of a musical piece.

    To the musician who plays by the ear, the concept of key signature has to do with associating each key with the number of sharp or flat symbols it has. In other words, the number of sharp or flat symbols in a given key is its signature – unique to that key alone.

    In terms of key signature, every major or minor key has its unique key signature, derived from the number of sharps or flat in that key.

    The key of G major:

    …has one sharp – F#.

    The key of B major:

    …has five sharps – F#, C#, G#, D# and A#.

    The key of F major:

    …has one flat – Bb.

    The key of Ab major:

    …has four flats – Bb, Eb, Ab and Db.

    “How To Determine The Key Signature Of Major Keys…”

    Most beginners master the concept of key signature using the musical clock:

    circleoffiths1

    …which is a geometrical representation of 12 musical notes in a fourth and fifth intervals.

    At the 1 o’clock position is the key of G major:

    …with one sharp (F#):

    At the 2 o’clock position is the key of D major:

    …with two sharps (F# and C#):

    At the 3 o’clock position is the key of A major:

    …with three sharps (C#, F#, and G#):

    At the 4 o’clock position is the key of E major:

    …with four sharps (F#, G#, C# and D#):

    “Hey! Pause For A Minute…”

    If the key at the 1 o’clock position has one sharp, and the key at the 3 o’clock position has 3 sharps, that means that the key at the 6 o’clock position (F#):

    …will have six sharps.

    “Here’s The Key-Signature Of Sharp Keys…”

    Major keys that have sharp symbols in their configuration are known as sharp keys. Check them out below, starting from C to B#:

    • C – no sharp
    • G – 1 sharp
    • D – 2 sharps
    • A – 3 sharps
    • E – 4 sharps
    • B – 5 sharps
    • F# – 6 sharps
    • C# – 7 sharps
    • G# – 8 sharps
    • D# – 9 sharps
    • A# – 10 sharps
    • E# – 11 sharps
    • B# – 12 sharps

    Now that we’ve covered key-signature, we’ll find out why it’s difficult to play in certain sharp keys in the next segment.

    The Challenges Of Playing In Certain Sharp Keys

    Playing in sharp keys like G#, D#, A#, and so on, can be difficult for a variety of reasons. However, we’re focusing on spelling in today’s lesson.

    Spelling is one of the greatest challenges of playing in certain sharp keys. For example, the key of G# has eight sharps:

    G#, A#, B#, C#, D#, E#, Fx (pronounced as F double sharp and consisting of two sharps)

    1st sharp is G#:

    2nd sharp is A#:

    3rd sharp is B#:

    4th sharp is C#:

    5th sharp is D#:

    6th sharp is E#:

    7th and 8th sharps are in the Fx – which can be represented as G:

    …using an alternate spelling.

    Attention: In contemporary music, music scholars do their possible best to avoid double-sharp and double-flat signs. This explains why my modern virtual keyboard tool doesn’t spell double-sharp and double flat notes.

    Beyond the double-sharps, there are other sharp notes that a vast majority of musicians find it difficult to comprehend: like B#:

    …and E#:

    Unlike other sharp notes in the key of G# – like G#:

    …A#:

    …C#:

    …and so on, that are black in color, B# and E# are white in color. Believe it or not, there are so many people who don’t believe that there’s an E# or a B# note – trust me – I was in that league until 2008.

    “If You’re Thinking The Key Of G# Major Is Confusing, What About The Key Of E# Major?”

    It’s mind-blowing to know that the key of E# major has 11 sharps.

    E#, Fx, Gx, A#, B#, Cx, Dx (pronounced as D double sharp and consisting of two sharps)

    1st sharp is E#:

    2nd and 3rd sharps are in the Fx – which can be represented as G:

    4th and 5th sharps are in the Gx – which can be represented as A:

    6th sharp is A#:

    7th sharp is B#:

    8th and 9th sharps are in the Cx – which can be represented as D:

    10th and 11th sharps are in the Dx – which can be represented as E:

    Did you see how difficult is is to represent the letter names of the notes in the key of E# major? Four out of seven notes in the key of E# major are double-sharp notes.

    Think about a 2-5-1 chord progression in the key of E# major – from the Fx minor seventh chord, to the B# dominant seventh, then to the E# major seventh chord.

    The spelling of the Fx minor seventh chord (Fx-A#-Cx-E#) is challenging because of the complication in spelling, and so is the spelling of the B# dominant seventh chord.

    Final Words

    In standard practice, the last six keys below:

    • G – 1 sharp
    • D – 2 sharps
    • A – 3 sharps
    • E – 4 sharps
    • B – 5 sharps
    • F# – 6 sharps
    • C# – 7 sharps
    • G# – 8 sharps
    • D# – 9 sharps
    • A# – 10 sharps
    • E# – 11 sharps
    • B# – 12 sharps

    …which are C#, G#, D#, A#, E#, and B#are considered difficult to play on due to spelling.

    In another lesson, I’ll show you an easier way to playing in these keys using a technique known as enharmonic modulation.

    Thanks for your time and see you then!

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    Hello, I'm Chuku Onyemachi (aka - "Dr. Pokey") - a musicologist, pianist, author, clinician and Nigerian. Inspired by my role model Jermaine Griggs, I started teaching musicians in my neighborhood in April 2005. Today, I'm privileged to work as the head of education, music consultant, and chief content creator with HearandPlay Music Group sharing my wealth of knowledge with hundreds of thousands of musicians across the world.

    Attention: To learn more about this, I recommend our 500+ page course: The "Official Guide To Piano Playing." Click here for more information.




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