If you take just one thing from my training, remember this:
The fastest way to master relative pitch is to transcribe all music in the same key.
Every new concept you learn about, apply it to that one key.
Every composition you write, write it in that key.
Every song you listen to, listen to it as though it’s in that key, and learn to play it in that key – not the key of the original.
The biggest obstacle preventing most musicians from developing relative pitch, is that they continually change key.
They’ll practice one song in one key, then another song in a new key, and so on – and they’re even taught that this is a good thing to practice. But attempting to learn 12 keys early on just leaves them equally unaware in 12 keys rather than mastering one.
Only when you line up every piece of music into the same key, do you see that 95% of music is written using just 7 notes and 6 chords. Whether it’s a pop song, a country song, a tv commercial, or a Hans Zimmer film soundtrack – nearly all are built using the same few notes and chords – the one thing changing is usually the key signature.
Key is not important…
The only reason we have multiple keys is so a composer can find the best fit for their music and the performers’ ranges – if the singer can’t make the top note, they’ll transpose it down a few keys. If the bass sounds too muddy, they’ll transpose it up a few keys – but that’s it.
A piece of music essentially sounds the same whichever key you play it in – 12 keys just means 12 different ways to say the same thing. Changing key regularly only distracts you from seeing what’s actually important.
2 Benefits To Transcribing In One Key
Restricting your transcribing to one key has 2 main benefits:
1. It eliminates the visual distractions encountered as you change keys – no longer are you bombarded with every
note and chord under the sun – F F# Gb etc:
2. Notes and chords sound the same every time you play them. An essential part of playing by ear is learning the unique sounds of notes and chords within the context of the key – the unique sound of the root, the 2nd, the 3rd, the V chord, the vi chord, etc.
All the time you spend playing in one key, the memories of these sounds builds up – C sounds like the root every time, D sounds like the 2nd every time – but as soon as you change to a new song in a new key, each note takes on a whole new sound within
the new context – C now sounds like the 5th, D now sounds like the 6th, and all the memories that had been building up are quickly smudged away, and replaced with new ones. But your brain doesn’t know which ones to trust, so ultimately each note ends up being a muddy mix of memories – none of which stick:
Only by restricting playing to one key do you give yourself a chance to ingrain these sounds – your memory of each note and chord grows stronger every time you play, and it’s impossible to backpedal. Once you’ve truly ingrained these sounds in one key, then you’ll be able to notice them in every other key – but first you must learn them in one key.
I call this accelerated learning technique ‘Fixed Key Learning’ – restricting my own playing to one key is what lead to my own accelerated ear development, and I’ve noticed the same results in my students – the ones who tell me they play and think mostly in one key have far superior relative pitch than those who play in all keys.
Prioritize training your ear first – because ear training is king. And once you’ve made progress in ear training, it’s a much simpler task to become fluent playing in other keys, which can be learned in a matter of weeks.
My Fixed Key Learning concept runs through all of my music teaching.
Watch my 4 video ear training series to find out more about how this works: