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Different Keys: What and Why? Using Alternate Fingerings

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(Edit: This is another case of me forming the query and title poorly. I didn't know what I was looking for and now I do: using alternate fingerings of the same repeated for effect. Still, I'm intersted in yoiur reflections of keys and have asked about it before.)

From time to time, we talk about changing keys of a song, often to suit the range of the instrument. I'm curious about your most interesting keys and why. Pleazse put aside the idea that you should be comfortable in all keys. As a string player, open strings make a huge difference in how you play, accompany, improvise. There is an equivalent to open strings and jumps on the saxophone, one that a great player called "it just lays right" on the instrument. As an example, Equinox (C#m blues) or Cousin Mary (Ab blues), both are written in unusual keys. I assume Coltrane heard something, maybe while practicing, and the composition resulted from that.

What I'd like to hear from you, as a beginning player, is if you have unusual keys you play in and what scales or patters or melodies "lay right'", work with your inner voice, or just inspire you. I can tell you that I have a tune in C#m on the guitar, with a secondary tonal playing the dominant role on D major 9. The tonic uses open E and B strings to effect, the D includes these as the 6th and 9th, the lydian mode in the D also aids the melodic flow. The melody depends heavily on these features. Anyway, hopefully you get the picture. Here's a live version where everything that is not bass or drums is played on the Roland GR-1 guitar synthesizer, which allows you to play and hold chords while playing the melody above them.


On the sax, it's easier to play in Cm, but I find it interesting to play it in the original C#m as well, it's a little harder to finger. Specifically, there's the F# key trill in the scale used, for example, that is ungainly for a novice player like me.

Anyway, all this background isn't necessary to think about if you come up with some ideas of why you like certain keys. It was clear to me the first day I played an upright bass why F is such a great key for blues. You all know that it's also great on the saxophone family. The sharp keys are more of a challenge, I still can't play a smooth F# major (A major) scale on the alto. Yes, I keep practicing.

What are your favorite keys (please name which saxophone), sharp or less obvious flat keys or even no sharps or flats, C? I'd especially like to know why you like them?

Alternatively, what are the keys you find the most difficult to play on most effectively?
 
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Halfers

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My attitude to music theory is becoming more and more relaxed as I'm playing more and more sax. After going through the 'having to be fluent in all keys' stage (not knocking it), I have settled, for the time being, at least, of just playing tunes. Whether that's stuff we play in the band, or things I want to learn, with the occasional BOTM or SOTM, from here, which I find really useful for my reading skills.

Most of the songs I'm playing I don't really know what key I'm in (is that bad? nah :cool:) Mainly because I haven't thought of it in that way. I'm not playing from sheet music, in the main. So I'm picking stuff up from the original recording(Think Ska/Pop/Soul covers) If it's outside of playing 'cover' riffs and runs and I delve into the world of soloing, I'm thinking about what sounds melodic (and if it's not quite melodic, I only need to move a short distance to get melodic, or maybe just stay a bit unmelodic for a while ;)) That approach takes a bit of hit and miss, but nothing better than practising different approaches to soloing over a song a million times (getting it wrong until it comes right). It's great fun and great practice.

OK, that approach might be quite limiting for me in the long run, but I don't really mind that as I'm playing and learning at the same time. I'm not discounting getting more serious with my theory at some point in time.

So, to answer the question. Most of the stuff we play I'm dealing with I'm playing one or more of the first 5 sharps (or their flat equivalent, I guess) Whatever form of scale those notes might form. I feel pretty confident with playing around with these scales, though only to the point that my current mechanical skills allow. On the whole, I don't think the contemporary stuff we play in the Band is going to take me into much more diverse territory, so delving into a wider territory of different music is useful.
 

thomsax

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What are your favorite keys (please name which saxophone), sharp or less obvious flat keys or even no sharps or flats, C? I'd especially like to know why you like them?
A (B ts, F# bs), E (F# ts, C#/Db bs), D (E ts, B bs) C (D ts, A bs) and C ( D ts, A bs). I'm a (more or less) autodidact saxplayer. I used to play along with rock, blues. soul .... songs. Concert A, E , D and C ... were/are frequent used Rock keys. My best friends are guitar players!!! My fav key is concert A. Comes out great on both tenor and bari. I'm more grounded in this key compared to E. Worse key for me is concert A#/Bb, So boring and flat. .
 

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@Halfers Nothing wrong with that approach. I'll never be great in all keys, I'd like to be saying something in a few keys. I do see a lot of the range making a huge difference, though. After trying a tenor a couple of times, I feel better with the size of the alto, so I'll stick with that for now. I'm also renting a cheap curved soprano so Eb and Bb instruments, I'm feeling that difference.

I love to play tunes, too, but I'm playing and recording them alone. I want to get to the next level now and even play with people. That's harder than it should be, partly geography, partly age. In other words, in L.A. where everyone has a garage and when we were younger and less bothered by earning a living, guys were playing all the time. There were rehearsal big bands, open jams, all kinds of activity. At the level I'm at, pro rhythm sections aren't gonna want to play with me.

Anyway, the question in my mind was mainly to hear if anyone was working on any tonalities that they found had a sound or an ease of expression or some advantage (or disadvantage).

@thomsax yeah I know about the guitar keys :) and I'm definitely working on them because I have songs I sing in them.
 

Nikki

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From time to time, we talk about changing keys of a song, often to suit the range of the instrument. I'm curious about your most interesting keys and why. Pleazse put aside the idea that you should be comfortable in all keys. As a string player, open strings make a huge difference in how you play, accompany, improvise. There is an equivalent to open strings and jumps on the saxophone, one that a great player called "it just lays right" on the instrument. As an example, Equinox (C#m blues) or Cousin Mary (Ab blues), both are written in unusual keys. I assume Coltrane heard something, maybe while practicing, and the composition resulted from that.

What I'd like to hear from you, as a beginning player, is if you have unusual keys you play in and what scales or patters or melodies "lay right'", work with your inner voice, or just inspire you. I can tell you that I have a tune in C#m on the guitar, with a secondary tonal playing the dominant role on D major 9. The tonic uses open E and B strings to effect, the D includes these as the 6th and 9th, the lydian mode in the D also aids the melodic flow. The melody depends heavily on these features. Anyway, hopefully you get the picture. Here's a live version where everything that is not bass or drums is played on the Roland GR-1 guitar synthesizer, which allows you to play and hold chords while playing the melody above them.


On the sax, it's easier to play in Cm, but I find it interesting to play it in the original C#m as well, it's a little harder to finger. Specifically, there's the F# key trill in the scale used, for example, that is ungainly for a novice player like me.

Anyway, all this background isn't necessary to think about if you come up with some ideas of why you like certain keys. It was clear to me the first day I played an upright bass why F is such a great key for blues. You all know that it's also great on the saxophone family. The sharp keys are more of a challenge, I still can't play a smooth F# major (A major) scale on the alto. Yes, I keep practicing.

What are your favorite keys (please name which saxophone), sharp or less obvious flat keys or even no sharps or flats, C? I'd especially like to know why you like them?

Alternatively, what are the keys you find the most difficult to play on most effectively?
Your question is far too advanced for me but I can tell saxophone isn’t your first instrument.

I like playing in the easier keys like key of C, F, G, A, . Most things I play by ear so I usually pick easier keys but that’s for now since I just started back up. Once I polish up on my scales then I’ll start choosing more complicated key signatures just for the practice but I really don’t like 6 or 7 sharps or flats. That becomes more annoying than challenging at this point in the game.

I’ve recently discovered that I don’t care for sheet music much any more. It’s not liberating enough. Plus my eyes aren’t as good as they used to be so I’d rather rely on my ears more, if that makes sense.

I do know what key I’m playing in though because I’m the one choosing the key to which I’m playing.

It’s a lot of fun picking songs from the top of the head and deciding which key you want to play them in than reading music.
Oddly enough I used to really like reading music but not so much now and it far more fun.
 
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Nikki

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Can’t edit but I’m on a soprano. Bb
I used to play alto but I prefer the soprano currently.

The other stuff you are all talking about, I haven’t a clue.
 

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@SaxyNikki I love messing with the soprano, it's so light and nimble. Lots of great work out there on that sax, too. Yes, 50+ years of guitar but I know now I should have started playing a wind instrument decades ago. Still, I'm into it now. I can only read wellenough to decode stuff in books and exercises and I think I will give up on sight reading because (A) I won't need it for anything and (B) it's too much discipline. I'd rather play by ear and getting a sound that is my voice is far more important to me.
 

GCinCT

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In the 90's I was in an improv class that was actually taught by a guitar player. He emphasized the importance of fluency in all keys. So I spent a lot of time working on that. As a result, there really is no key I am uncomfortable with. I can improvise on the blues in every key, play ii-V-I's major and minor in all keys and I'm now working on rhythm changes.

Although I play soprano and tenor as well, alto is my main instrument. It's what I play in the big band. If I had to choose what is most comfortable, I guess I would say concert F and Bb for blues (D and G on alto) because so many blues tunes have been written in those keys. But I honestly don't have a problem with any key. With enough practice they all become comfortable.
 

Nikki

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In the 90's I was in an improv class that was actually taught by a guitar player. He emphasized the importance of fluency in all keys. So I spent a lot of time working on that. As a result, there really is no key I am uncomfortable with. I can improvise on the blues in every key, play ii-V-I's major and minor in all keys and I'm now working on rhythm changes.

Although I play soprano and tenor as well, alto is my main instrument. It's what I play in the big band. If I had to choose what is most comfortable, I guess I would say concert F and Bb for blues (D and G on alto) because so many blues tunes have been written in those keys. But I honestly don't have a problem with any key. With enough practice they all become comfortable.
Your expertise is where I’d like to be and your post I understood.
There was a time when I knew my key signatures really well but I have been out of practice for years but it is coming back quickly.

I think people who play guitar or an instrument that uses chords can grasp this stuff much easier. I played keyboards for a while and are familiar with some of them but wish I knew them better.
 

GCinCT

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Your expertise is where I’d like to be and your post I understood.
There was a time when I knew my key signatures really well but I have been out of practice for years but it is coming back quickly.

I think people who play guitar or an instrument that uses chords can grasp this stuff much easier. I played keyboards for a while and are familiar with some of them but wish I knew them better.

Playing chord instruments is definitely a huge asset in learning theory. Many musicians that I respect have told me that a horn player should have basic piano skills. I have a couple of beginner jazz harmony books for piano and I play around on the keys sometimes. The piano is great because it's all laid out in order from left to right. You can visualize while you listen.
 

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I've never met an accomplished professional saxophonist who couldn't find chords on the keyboard. This is probably from studying harmony. But the only thing that matters is getting where you want on the sax, regardless of what you know intellectually. It's what you hear and can play, tone and intonation, obviously, too.

Right now in my first year on the alto, I like (concert) F, G, Bb, C and D for blues, both dom 7 and minor. I found The Christmas Song in Db to be reasonable in the majory-7th ballad sound. I think another year or two of familiarity, it won't matter much, but there are still unique fingering issues, good and bad for each key, I would think.
 

thomsax

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To be able to play and improvise in all keys? Is not important to me. Why should I , as an amatuer playing blues, rock .... , learn to play in all keys? I can understand if your music pays your bills. Musicians that plays in big bands, symphomy orchestras, horn sections (rock soul ..) and get paid must be able to play/improvise in all keys. But why should I struggle .... .
 

GCinCT

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To be able to play and improvise in all keys? Is not important to me. Why should I , as an amatuer playing blues, rock .... , learn to play in all keys? I can understand if your music pays your bills. Musicians that plays in big bands, symphomy orchestras, horn sections (rock soul ..) and get paid must be able to play/improvise in all keys. But why should I struggle .... .

Very valid point. I do have another take on it, from my own perspective.

I am not a professional musician and never will be. Not only do I not pay the bills that way, I make 0 dollars. I am a complete amateur. Despite that, I am determined to reach my full potential. I love challenges. Playing in all keys allows me to hear and play intervals quickly. All music is made of intervals. Huge boost to developing my improv skills and improvisation is my favorite part of music.

Also, I don't find it a struggle. It really isn't all that difficult to learn new keys. It's just a matter of consistent practice, very slowly at first. My improv teacher always told us, "Everything is difficult until you master it".

Just my 2 cents (or tuppence).
 

Nikki

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Playing chord instruments is definitely a huge asset in learning theory. Many musicians that I respect have told me that a horn player should have basic piano skills. I have a couple of beginner jazz harmony books for piano and I play around on the keys sometimes. The piano is great because it's all laid out in order from left to right. You can visualize while you listen.

Absolutely.!! Now that I’m awake this is starting to make sense. I completely agree with you. Seeing the chords laid out from left to right REALLY helped me greatly in learning them and understanding them.
The finger chord charts for guitar only are much harder to grasp for most people’s brains , when learning , except the ones playing those stringed instruments since they become accustomed to them

Very interesting!
 

thomsax

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I try to understand to play differnt scales in Rocksax!! What scale in what style? Or a mix! I did, joint arrangment with Andrew Clark, a "Rocksax Workshop in A and E" in Copenhagen for some years ago. How to play a solo in a reggae, blues .... song? We just covered A and E. B or F# blues scale is not so difficult. B blues scale is just one sharp and F# blues scale is two sharps. But how should we through in the other notes. To create interst to a solo, so it's not just playing lots of tones up and down? You can do this in all keys.
View: https://youtu.be/Kk8r5U0weks


skalor i A.JPG
 

Nikki

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That’s crazy good. Thanks for the video.
It just shows how studying theory can certainly pay off especially for those who wish to improvise either for solo work or working with others.
 

jbtsax

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Growing up playing alto and playing with "garage" guitar bands I got a lot of practice playing in sharp keys. To this day I am more comfortable sightreading and improvising in sharp keys---probably due to the fact they are more familiar. Even on my audition to be accepted as a music major when I was asked to play the Cb scale from memory, I cheated and played the B scale instead. :)
 

Colin the Bear

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For songs, the range of the human voice is the deciding factor. Most old school songs, written for big band, are pitched so that most singers can cover the range.

I've noticed that I sing quite a few songs written for female voice. As well as saxophone, is Baritone voice an octave down from alto voice?

Modern guitar stuff seems to be in sharp keys and old wind band stuff seems to be in flat keys.

I'm only recently beginning to notice the ambient emotion of keys. Some avail themselves more easily to certain emotions or feelings. Cmaj seems cheerful, Abmaj seems more romantic. Db comes across as quirky to me. Eb min feels very jazzy.

An old school New Orleans trumpet player told me a tale recently. He was asked to dep at a gig to backing an up and coming Jazz and blues singer. At the rehearsal she explained to the band what she wanted. This in A, that in E and the other in G. The band leader nodded sagely. No problem. Being a non reader and playing by ear the trumpet player expressed his concerns about being unfamiliar busking in these keys. The band leader smiled. Don't worry he said. We''l play them in Bb, Eb and Ab. She'll never know. :)
 

6441

 
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Hmmm, maybe what I meant was enharmonic notes? Nah, it's alternate fingerings.
I found this Alternative Fingerings for Saxophone and I think maybe it's what I was thinking of in the second use case. So now I'm looking for ways to use these to musical effect.

I guess from the replies so far, interesting as they are, that saxophone does not have this concept of keys sometimes being not just moods, but having very specific characteristics like the strings I pointed out in the initial post. Maybe the impetus to be able to play in every key rounds off any potential effect of thinking of keys (and melodic lines, scales, patterns) in this way.

On the guitar, the open strings, as I've said, make a huge difference, not just for chords, put for pull-offs, especially in the blues and bluesy-jazz. (Pull-offs are when a tone if fingered and sounds, then the fretting finger is snapped away to play the open string). One of the things that attracts me to the saxophone is the ease in which you can do large-interval jumps.

On the saxophone, there are "tricks" like alternating two equivalent fingerings of of the same note. That would be an example of what I'm looking for. I have found in Cm concert that on the alto I can make a pattern using that concept. There must be a name for this effect, but I don't know it. Here's a recording of me trying to do it at 01:36.

View: https://soundcloud.com/randulo/peters-blues#t=1:36

But better still, I think Charles Davis includes this technique in the opening melody of Half and Half:, I THINK? Aren't some of the repeated notes played on two different fingerings? Or its this just the result of the slower attack on the bari?


 
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