• How I quickly learn songs in all 12 keys

    in Transposing Keys

    robothands-large.jpgSo this isn’t going to be easy but if you’re committed, you can learn to play in ALL 12 keys… not just one.

    I’ll lay out 2 ways to do it. One way, I learned about 16 years ago and still use at times.

    The other way is more involved, but will help your understanding of music a lot better.

    So the shortcut vs the long road (that’s worth the trip).

    The shortcut

    Ok, so you have four chords that you picked up online and you want to learn them in the other 11 keys.

    The first way is pretty simple.

    Just take out a notebook and reserve a few pages for each major key. Better yet, get a folder, 12 tabs, and label them according to the major keys.

    Now, take the chord progression you just learned in one key, let’s say “C major,” and get to work with these steps below…

    (Oops, before I present the steps, let’s lay out our basic chord progression)…

    Chord progression:
    C major – G major – A minor – F major (repeat)

    (Again, this is in the key of “C major”).

    C major = C+E+G
    G major = G+B+D
    A minor = A+C+E
    F major = F+A+C

    1) First, we’re going to move this chord progression up a half step. Remember that half steps are from key to key with no keys in between. So a half step up from C is Db.

    2) Literally, you just move EVERY finger you have held down up a note. It’s that simple. And because you’re moving everything equally, the chord names stay the same.

    So the “C major” chord becomes “Db major”
    The “G major chord” becomes “Ab major”
    The “A minor chord” becomes “Bb minor”
    The “F major chord” becomes “Gb major”

    (Now, I chose to go to the key of Db rather than C#. Had I said “C#”, these chords would be C# major to G# major to A# minor to F# major… which looks just like the C major progression but with sharps. But Db major is much more common than C# so I went with Db.)

    So again, C+E+G (C major) becomes Db+F+Ab (Db major)
    G+B+D (G major) becomes Ab+C+Eb (Ab major)
    A+C+E (A minor) becomes Bb+Db+F (Bb minor)
    F+A+C (F major) becomes Gb+Bb+Db (Gb major)

    3) Basically, you take this approach all the way up the piano. But don’t forget to write these chords down in your notebook under the appropriate major key. If you’ve separated the major keys by tabs, even better so you can flip back very quickly when you need it.

    4) The key is to not only write them down (because it’s true, if you write something, you’ll remember it a lot more than just reading it)… but you also want to play it in the new key about 10 times. If you think writing helps you to remember, “doing” takes memorization to a whole new level.

    For some, all it will take is writing and playing it a few times and you’ll remember the chords forever. Others may have to refer back to the notebook a few times to warm up the memory.

    (For my more experienced players, obviously you’ll replace these simple major and minor chords with more intricate ones but the process and rules for memorization will apply to you as well.)

    At the end of the day, you’ll end up with 12 pages of chords, all written out in their respective keys.

    5) Go in this order and use the “flat names” for the black keys (trust me, it will be much easier. Later on, you’ll use the sharp names of the black keys when playing in minor keys):


    The more involved way

    The other way is to really understand “what’s going on,” as Marvin Gaye would say.

    Let’s look at this C major chord progression again.

    Chord progression:
    C major – G major – A minor – F major (repeat)

    Now what’s really going on here?

    Using numbers can really allow us to see what’s going on without confining us to one particular key. It’s the universal language.

    1) Convert the major key into numbers. Take the scale and put a number under each tone.

    C D E F G A B C
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7

    2) Figure out which numbers go with the chords you’re using in the progression

    C major – G major – A minor – F major

    C major = 1
    G major = 5
    A minor = 6
    F major = 4

    See where I got the numbers?

    Straight from the scale. C is the first tone of the scale, G is the 5th tone of the scale, A is the 6th tone of the scale, and F is the 4th tone of the scale.

    3) Write your progression out using numbers instead of letters. Letters help you to play in ONE key. Numbers help you to play in ALL keys.

    1major – 5major – 6minor – 4major

    All I did was replace the letters, not the chord type. The chords stay the same.

    4) So now, before this can work like magic, you need to make sure that you know all your major and minor chords. You can learn them by following the lessons on this page.

    5) Lastly, you just go to your new major key and apply the formula: 1major – 5major – 6minor – 4major. Of course, this requires that you also know your scales as numbers. But by doing it this way, you’re actually understanding how music works rather than just moving everything up a half step (which can work too, obviously).

    6) Feel free to follow the circle of fifths pattern going counter-clockwise while learning your progressions in new keys. In other words, you learn your new keys in this order: C major, then F major, then Bb major, then Eb major (rather than in half steps like we did in the first method). See the circle of fifths chart for details.

    Why? Because you’ll notice that by learning the chords in C major first, then moving to F major — you’ll actually play majority of the same chords because major keys that are neighbors on the circle are closely related and share majority of the same notes (in fact, the difference in the C major scale and the F major scale is actually just ONE note so it’s not surprising that playing the chord progression in F major almost feels the same as playing it in C major).

    Let’s see…

    C major:

    C major – G major – A minor – F major

    F major:

    F major – C major – D minor – Bb major

    (We actually already know 2 of the chords from our previous key. And truth be told, “D minor” is also in the key of C so had our chord progression been a little more intricate, we might’ve had that chord in common too)


    So there you have it… two ways to learn your favorite chords and songs in all 12 keys.

    Now, I only demonstrated this with 4 chords. Your songs will certainly have more chords. That’s why it’s important to take it step by step, chord by chord, and make sure to write and rehearse what you’re writing on the piano so you can ingrain it in your memory and you’ll be just fine! :)

    Until next time,

    The following two tabs change content below.
    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!

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


    { 33 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 learnlah



    2 Jerry Cleveland

    Your lessons are converting a nightmare into a sweet dream. Thanks Jermaine for opening the door to a greater horizon.


    3 Dominic


    I like your site. Just one thing. It’s fine to decide a nice progression and then play it, but how do you identify an appropriate progression if someone sings a melody to you (no bass or anything to listen to)?



    4 Sylvia Hayes

    Just wanted to say that I have had your program/material for 4-5 years but never got past the first few pages of the 300 page book. Then, just put it on the shelf. I still have a dream to play the piano; for me first, and secondly to use in an evangelistic ministry. I have promised myself…THIS TIME!…..I am sticking with it. Now that I have taken the time, watched the videos and online lessons, I find it very clear and easy to understand. You are an excellent instructor….and you are funny too. So, keep up the awsome job you are doing. People like me NEED people like you. I pray God’s continued and bountiful blessing upon your life and your lovely family. One more thing, I am probably one of your more “seasoned” students…….60 years young! Amen!
    Your friend,
    Sylvia H.


    5 John

    This has been an eye opener. You’ve made it so simple.Thanks a million for this invaluable bit of information.


    6 topas-as

    Hi, just wanted to mention, I enjoyed this article. It was inspiring. Keep on posting!


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    8 Ramon

    Thanks ,Jermaine for keeping it so simple and motivating;I had never been taught anything on the piano as you do.I can´t wait to reach the point of improvisation someday.


    9 Andre'

    Very helpful

    Thank you



    10 Lula

    Thank you so much for making this music I need to get right so simple to understand. I am now feeling I am getting somewhere, as I am old and I still want to play music in the church. I will tell you more as I progress.


    11 Bernice Gaymon

    Hi Jermaine and team,

    Sorry you haven’t heard from me in a while. Had a brief period of difficulty and
    setbacks in my life. Things are once again moving along. A little slow but there
    is progress, thanks to you. The lessons are a tremendous help and I thank God
    for you all and the teaching I have received from you. Finding you and the team has
    been one of the biggest blessings I have received.

    God Blessing all of you!



    12 dv subba rao

    This is an excellent work to the learners which you are offering. You are poring all your experiences before the learners. Thanks a lot.
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    13 Joseph

    excellent, excellent, excellent, what more can one say? Cheers


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    16 C Anthony

    I have been a follower of yours since about 2005 and whenever I come across someone who wants to learn the piano I always recommend you. Your appraoch is very simplistice in nature and you are absolutly right about knowing the number system. Having a full grasp of the number system really helps when you are getting into extended chords and you want to change the voicing. I know that when I deal with 9s,11s and 13s that I am basically just adding a 2,4 and 6 respectively so when I am playing those type chords I’m not fumbling counting up the keybord to figure out the 9, 11 or 13. I really enjoy your site and thank you for all the help that you have unkowingly provided over the years.


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    18 Sam

    I need the 300 page piano book, but how fast can i get it as I am in Nigeria. Keep up the good work.


    19 akpaji matthew

    am a freshner to piano, but am coping fast with my teacher, and didn’t know the keys on piano yet so pls aid me out i realy want to a stand out pianist


    20 Dearlin Brown

    Very good lesson, thank you.


    21 Basha

    Hi Jermaine,
    I really enjoyed this lesson of transposing and now understand how it works! Brilliant work from you. Thanks a million times.


    22 Gene

    Hi Jermaine, I have purchased several courses to learn the piano including several of yours. I get the CD of the month but I am still struggling to play songs that sound good. Most sound like a young child is playing. I am 74 years old and would like to play at my church from time to time before I get to old.


    23 Peter LaFosse

    Good lesson Jermajine, well done. Thanks


    24 Valerie

    Thank you for the great article. Using the circle of fifths makes moving quickly through the chord progressions in each key such a breeze. Thanks for the great tip!

    God Bless!


    25 Eddie

    This is a vey well explained lesson, thank you…


    26 ORAFU Victor

    Now I can play my worship songs first thing in the morning and before I go to sleep at night.The credit is majorly yours. Thanks.


    27 prince

    Please, is there any hearandplay office in port harcourt, Nigeria ?


    28 ricardo

    Jermaine can`t be stopped. He is going to teach you and you are going to learn. I`m a lazy guy, but with Jermaine there is no escape, I`m going to learn inspite of myself. It`s fun too.


    29 JAN



    30 Jay Sooredoo

    Hi Jermaine,
    Thanks a lot for your invaluable info. However I am still struggling with numbers in the minor scale. For example if you are playing a song in Am, would you write Am as 6 or as 1 ?


    31 Diane Overcash

    I thought the key of C and the key of Am were the same notes.


    32 online piano lessons

    Wow this is really very fast to learn piano 12 keys is very important all hands are working. While typing this is more than just a keyword on a computer where only just 11 fingers are working.


    33 Carolyn

    Thanks Jermaine for all you share and I take everything you send as valuable resources. How do I get The Official Guide Piano By Ear 500 page course? I reserved a copy 2017 and 2018 and I have not received it? Also the 300 page course. Please let me know because I am so eager to get started. Thank you and may God to bless you as you bless others.


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