• Playing By Association: Understanding The Relationship Between Certain Major Keys

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    In this lesson, we’ll be dealing with the concept of playing by association and the relationship between major keys.

    One of the common challenges most musicians have is playing in all the twelve major keys and this is because every key on the keyboard is unique and has its mechanical and challenge.

    I’ve been there, and I can tell you that it’s not easy to grow to the point where you can confidently play in any major key. However, if you learn what I’m about to share with you in this lesson (which is called playing by association), then playing in all the keys will be a walk in the park for you.

    Let’s get started by refreshing our minds on the concept of key.

    A Short Note On The Concept Of Key

    There are twelve unique notes on the piano:

    The concept of key focuses on the establishment of any of these given notes as a tonal center, as such, having its unique relationship with other tones.

    The establishment of a key center involves these eight components:

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

    Altogether, these eight components establish the tonic (which is the first tone in the key) as the key center. Nevertheless, beyond the establishment of a key center, every key has its unique character, which can either be major or minor.

    The character of the major key is synonymous with goodness, day, light, happiness, and so on. On the other hand, the minor key has a contrasting character that is synonymous with day, darkness, evil, and so on.

    The simplest major key to think of is the key of C major:

    …which is established by all the white notes on the piano from C to C, and its relative minor key – A minor:

    …which is established by all the white notes on the piano from A to A.

    Therefore, when a particular piece of music is in a given major or minor key, it means that the elements of that pieces (from notes, to intervals, to chords, to chord progressions) are derived from the eight degrees.

    “Here Are The Major Keys…”

    C major:

    Db major:

    D major:

    Eb major:

    E major:

    F major:

    Gb major:

    G major:

    Ab major:

    A major:

    Bb major:

    B major:

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

    White Keys Vs Black Keys

    Depending on your musical influence and exposure, you may find the following white keys:

    B major:

    E major:

    A major:

    D major:

    …more comfortable to play in than the following black keys:

    Bb major:

    Eb major:

    Ab major:

    Db major:

    …or the other way round: where you’re more comfortable playing in black keys than in white keys.

    A classical music background can expose you to the key of B, E, A, and D major; as opposed to gospel music that exposes you to the key of Bb, Eb, Ab, and Db.

    Submission: The statement above is based on a recent research and might not be absolutely true in certain cases.

    The Concept Of Playing By Association

    The concept of playing by association has to do with the use of colors, shapes, intervals, etc., to create a mental link between a familiar idea and and unfamiliar one.

    We’ll be seeing how white keys can be associated with black keys and vice-versa.

    Association Of B With Bb

    The key of Bb major:

    …can be associated with the key of  B major:

    …and this is possible if you’re observant enough to spot the color link between both keys.

    Here’s what you have to note:

    All black notes in the key of Bb major become white notes in the key of B major and vice-versa

    All white notes in the key of Bb major become black notes in the key of B major and vice-versa

    “Let’s Take A Closer Look…”

    The black notes in the key of Bb major:

    …are its first and fourth tones Bb and Eb:

    In the key of B major:

    …the first and fourth tones are  white in color and are B and E (respectively):

    So, black notes in the key of Bb  major (which are Bb and Eb):

    …are actually white notes in the key of B major (B and E):

    The second, third, fifth, sixth, and seventh tones of the Bb major scale (which are C, D, F, G, and A):

    …are black in color in the key of B major (as C#, D#, F#, G#, and A#):

    The 1-chord in the key of Bb major (the Bb major triad):

    …can be associated with the 1-chord in the key of B major (which is the B major triad):

    A closer look will show you the link between both chords:

    Bb major triad (black – white – white)

    B major triad (white – black – black)

    I truly believe you can see how the key of Bb major can be associated with the key of B major using colors as the mental link.

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

    Association Of E With Eb

    The key of E major:

    …can be associated with the key of Eb major:

    …and this is possible if you’re observant enough to spot the color link between both keys.

    Here’s what you have to note:

    All white notes in the key of E major become black notes in the key of Eb major and vice-versa

    All black notes in the key of E major become black notes in the key of Eb major and vice-versa

    “Let’s Take A Closer Look…”

    The black notes in the key of E major:

    …are its second, third, sixth, and seventh tones (F#, G#, C#, and D#):

    In the key of Eb major:

    …the second, third, sixth, and seventh tones are white in color and are F, G, C, and D (respectively):

    So, black notes in the key of E major (which are F#, G#, C#, and D#):

    …are actually white notes in the key of Eb major (F, G, C, and D):

    The first, fourth, and fifth tones of the E major scale (which are E, A, and B):

    …are black in color in the key of Eb major (as Eb, Ab, and Bb):

    The 1-chord in the key of E major (the E major triad):

    …can be associated with the 1-chord in the key of Eb major (which is the Eb major triad):

    A closer look will show you the link between both chords:

    E major triad (white – black – white)

    Eb major triad (black – white – black)

    I truly believe you can see how the key of E major can be associated with the key of Eb major using colors as the mental link.

    Association Of Ab With A

    The key of Ab major:

    …can be associated with the key of  A major:

    …and this is possible if you’re observant enough to spot the color link between both keys.

    Here’s what you have to note:

    All black notes in the key of Ab major become white notes in the key of A major and vice-versa

    All white notes in the key of Ab major become black notes in the key of A major and vice-versa

    “Let’s Take A Closer Look…”

    The black notes in the key of Ab major:

    …are its first, second, fourth, and fifth tones (Ab, Bb, Db and Eb):

    In the key of A major:

    …the first, second, fourth, and fifth tones are  white in color and are A, B, D, and E (respectively):

    So, black notes in the key of Ab  major (which are Ab Bb, Db, and Eb):

    …are actually white notes in the key of A major (A, B, D, and E):

    The third, sixth, and seventh tones of the Ab major scale (which are C, F, and G):

    …are black in color in the key of A major (as C#, F#, and G#):

    The 1-chord in the key of Ab major (the Ab major triad):

    …can be associated with the 1-chord in the key of A major (which is the A major triad):

    A closer look will show you the link between both chords:

    Ab major triad (black – white – black)

    A major triad (white – black – white)

    I truly believe you can see how the key of Ab major can be associated with the key of A major using colors as the mental link.

    Association Of D With Db

    The key of D major:

    …can be associated with the key of Db major:

    …and this is possible if you’re observant enough to spot the color link between both keys.

    Here’s what you have to note:

    All white notes in the key of D major become black notes in the key of Db major and vice-versa

    All black notes in the key of D major become black notes in the key of Db major and vice-versa

    “Let’s Take A Closer Look…”

    The black notes in the key of D major:

    …are its third and seventh tones (F# and C#):

    In the key of Db major:

    …the third and seventh tones are white in color and are F and C (respectively):

    So, black notes in the key of D major (which are F# and C#):

    …are actually white notes in the key of Db major (F and C):

    The first, second, fourth, fifth, and sixth tones of the D major scale (which are D, E, G, A, and B):

    …are black in color in the key of Db major (as Db, Eb, Gb, Ab, and Bb):

    The 1-chord in the key of D major (the D major triad):

    …can be associated with the 1-chord in the key of Db major (which is the Db major triad):

    A closer look will show you the link between both chords:

    E major triad (white – black – white)

    Eb major triad (black – white – black)

    I truly believe you can see how the key of E major can be associated with the key of Eb major using colors as the mental link.

    Final Words

    Using the concept of playing by association, I’m very certain that you can associate familiar keys with keys you’re not so familiar with.

    I hope this helps someone out there.

    All the best!

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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 a music consultant and content creator with HearandPlay Music Group sharing my wealth of knowledge with 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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