9
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I was taught to do improvisation by practising playing random tunes using just the black keys on a piano, and although it had a very oriental sound, the tune was quite pleasant if you introduced enough variation when playing.

I am wondering if there are any pieces written using only the black keys for piano, or even pieces written for other instruments with the same notes.

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    Not a piece for piano, or even a piece as such, but may be of interest : dinahmoelabs.com/plink – topo morto Apr 6 '16 at 6:29
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    IIRC, Superstition by Stevie Wonder is in Eb minor and sticks mainly to the pentatonic minor, so it is almost entirely or entirely black keys. At least that's how my brother used to play it. Eb pentatonic minor is really fun to play in because it's a totally different feel to just play the raised black keys. It's a lot harder to hit a note out of the scale, since the black keys kind of block access to the white keys. – Todd Wilcox Apr 6 '16 at 11:29
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    A surprising one (it doesn't sound oriental at all) is the song "My Girl" by The Temptations. – Darrel Hoffman Apr 6 '16 at 14:58
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    @ToddWilcox - Stevie's solo in Sir Duke is pent, apart from a couple of passing notes, making it technically maj. blues, but near enough pent. – Tim Apr 6 '16 at 16:04
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You have stumbled across the PENTATONIC SCALE. Of which there are two - major and minor. Ascending, by starting on F#/Gb, you have the major pent., start on D#/Eb and it's the minor. The five notes (hence pent!) work well and harmoniously together, with nothing that clashes (is dissonant).

These notes work well together, as the 'avoid notes' as we call them, are actually avoided - from the full major and minor scales. In F#, those notes are the 4th and 7th, B and E# respectively. Played together,they produce the Devil's interval, thought to be dissonant for many centuries. Although now often used in Blues music. On that tack, by adding the flattened 5th (A) the pent turns into the Blues scale.

There are many tunes that only use the pentatonic scale notes, Amazing Grace being one of the best known. Although the harmony to most of these tunes will include the avoid notes. Google 'Penatonic melodies'. Please note that they may well NOT be in the key which is quoted - F#/D#m - but will still only contain the appropriate notes, but in other keys - and can still be played purely on the 'black keys' on a keyboard.

  • Thanks for your answer. Why were they thought to be dissonant (as the Devil's interval) if they actually aren't dissonant? Also, why are they 'avoided' still today? – Winterflags Apr 6 '16 at 6:44
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    @Winterflags - they are still considered dissonant. The interval is a tritone, which over time has become an accepted sound. Hear something enough and you begin to believe it! I guess the theorists of the time didn't like it, so outlawed it. In Blues they're NOT 'avoided still today'. – Tim Apr 6 '16 at 6:49
  • ...hence why we call blues The Devil's Music... – topo morto Apr 6 '16 at 6:56
  • @topomorto - true or tongue-in-cheek? – Tim Apr 6 '16 at 6:57
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    Not just blues, Benjamin Britten uses the tritone frequently and there's an interesting section on its uses in the tritone wikipedia page – dumbledad Apr 6 '16 at 7:29
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In the classical sector, there is Chopins etude for the black keys, G flat major, op. 10, no. 5, cf youtube for sound and imslp for the score.

0
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Yes any piece written in they key of f# pentatonic will only use the black keys on the piano. That is actually how I teach people how to figure out the notes of the pentatonic scale. If you start on f# the key will only have the notes of the black keys on the piano.

0
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a saxophone solo called Zebra Crossing by Andy Scott has an odd arrangement for the pianist's hands - the name Zebra Crossing comes from the Piano part, the left hand plays mostly black notes whilst the right hand plays mostly white notes, and towards the end of the piece the hands cross over, hence the name Zebra Crossing. It is a UK grade 6 sax exam piece.

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The liner notes of Pete Townshend's album Scoop say that the intro to Love Reign O'er Me was composed entirely on the black keys, as it's in Eb minor.

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