I'm a Big fan of C Major and enjoy improvising songs on C Major, even when the song is not in C, I Always "Transpose" the chord or arpeggio into C Major.

Unfortunately, when accompany someone, or playing with other people, we always "force" to play with different keys, and it slows me down significantly, and I can't improvise freely.

What practice do I need to improve agility when we do not play on "comfortable" keys? Is there any hacks, guidelines, or even "universal arpeggio" that we can use?


2 Answers 2


I believe the only thing you can do is to do whatever you did on the C major. The same way you practised on C major, practise on other keys in order to get more comfortable.

You can start from C major and then move to the next scale (on the 'circle of fifths'(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Circle_of_fifths))

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If you move to the next scale(left or right), there will be only one different note from C major (either Bb or F#), so you won't find it really hard to improvise.

At first play the scale again and again, ascending and descending, play the chords of the scale and then when you feel comfortable enough, start improvising over some simple chords of the scale.

Practise the scale just like you did with C major,with which you now feel comfortable with and you'll be able to improvise after some time and practice.

  • What is the relevance of the circle of fifths here?
    – slim
    Commented Jan 6, 2014 at 10:06
  • 2
    Well, OP said he can improvise on C major. So I suggested that he started improvising on C major, then moving on to F major or G major, so as to have only one different note on his scale.(I, myself) find it more difficult to improvise on Ab major (if I could improvise mainly on C major) rather than F or G major Commented Jan 6, 2014 at 10:09
  • That's my opinion/suggestion on how I could help him, it could be wrong -- and then he could move on to the next scales* (forgot to add it to my answer) Commented Jan 6, 2014 at 10:14

Practice scales.

Piano teachers always ask their pupils to practice scales. It's seen as a chore, and many pupils wonder why they have to do it.

Well, the answer is, to solve your problem. Practising scales, arpeggios and ultimately chords and pieces in a particular key, teaches you the sharps and flats in that key. It teaches you the fingerings that work in that key.

Playing in C major is easy for beginners because you don't have to think about black keys. But at intermediate stage and beyond, it's not most players' favourite key because the position of the black keys in other keys can facilitate more fluid hand movements.

For example, you'll probably find that you can soon play a D major upward scale faster and more fluidly than a C major scale because as your third finger sits on F#, it leaves a bigger gap and a better angle for your thumb to reach G, than in the C major scale getting from E to F.

Which keys to practice first?

  • Books for beginners will introduce keys in a thought-out order
  • You could work around the circle of fifths as @Shevliaskovic suggests, learning keys with one sharp/flat, then two, then three etc.
  • If you're more interested in pop/rock, then you could concentrate on the commonest rock/pop keys, which tend to be influenced by what guitarists like: G, A, E, D etc. -- use the keys given in any transcriptions you use.

Perhaps you also want to be able to work out chord progressions on the fly. In that case you need to also learn "working sets" of chords for every key you learn. To start with, I, IV, V are enough. Maybe add the minor VI.

  • C, F, G, Am
  • D, G, A, Bm
  • E, A, B, C#m

... and so on.

For a pianist, this is pretty easy if you know the scale. You can take a few moments to remind yourself of those chords - which will all use only notes from the scale - before playing the piece. In more complex songs, more chords will crop up, but you can derive them on the fly as long as you know the scale.

Of course, there are more complicated pieces which break the rules and have accidentals. You just have to deal with these as you find them.

  • You're right, well, I mostly play just for fun, but my friend who is piano jazz player, he love to play on E flat. Anyway, is there any exercise that can make us "fast" to guess the next chord progression? Commented Jan 6, 2014 at 11:23
  • Oh I see, you want to know chords on the fly. I will add something about that.
    – slim
    Commented Jan 6, 2014 at 11:28
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    Yes. Learn scales, become familiar with your scales books. I thought they were garbage before I started improvising (and transposing). I thought I'd just mention the extreme usefulness of model scales in improvisation.
    – Nathan
    Commented Jan 6, 2014 at 15:17
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    @reptildarat: for a quick result in a short term, try to focus on E flat for the next few days. Study the notes in that key and the chords. When you can figure out the 1,2,3 (do, re, mi) etc it would be easy. The iii minor chord will stay a iii minor chord even after you change key. So if you play a iii minor in C (which is the Em chord), after transposing to Eb it will become the iii of Eb... and the 3 (mi) of Eb key is the note G, so now you will play a Gm chord. That is G-Bb-D.
    – mey
    Commented Jan 26, 2015 at 11:16
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    Then when you have gained some confidence(having successfully played in E flat), go back to @Shevliaskovic's suggestion re the circle of fifth.
    – mey
    Commented Jan 26, 2015 at 11:17

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