3 reasons to learn to play jazz piano in new keys

How many of you tend to stick to your favourite keys when you play jazz piano?

There are a number of reasons why us keyboard players should learn to play jazz in various keys. It’s the easy option to default to the keys of C, F or G but this can be very limiting, not only for us, but for the musicians that we play with. So here’s the first reason to branch out into keys that you are less familiar with:

  1. Brass players prefer to play in the flat (b) keys such as Bb and Eb. You may be comfortable playing a 12 bar blues in F, but can you do this same in say, Db? Try it, just a basic 3-blues in Db. 

Start with the blues scale over a Db7 chord. Here are the notes:

Db, E, Gb, G, Ab, B. 

Play jazz piano using the blues scale in the key of D flat
Blues scale in Db

Does that feel awkward? If so, that’s a good thing as it means you’re learning!

2. The second reason why you need to get used to playing in different keys is that a tune may begin in one key but then move through other keys. A good example is the jazz standard ‘All The Things You Are’. 

If the key signature is Ab major we only remain in the key of Ab for 5 bars.

The tune then moves through the keys of C major, Eb major and G major and this is only for the first 16 bars.

Play with different key centres.
Play in different key centres

3. And here’s a third reason why you should push yourself to play jazz piano in keys less familiar to you. Sticking to the old favourites (C, F and G) engages muscle memory that tempts you to reach for the old licks and tricks that you’ve been relying on. The phrases that you’ve been churning out have become repetitive and your new solo is similar to all the old ones. However, when you move into unfamiliar keys, your brain no longer allows you to do this because your hands are now moving over a series of more alien notes. This is good news because you are now forced into making new choices. Yes, you may well make more mistakes but this risk-taking makes for more creative solos.

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