I am a novice jazz pianist. My teacher had me learn tune up in its original key (D major) and memorize it with just melody on the right hand and shell voicings in the left. Now he wants me to play it in 2 other keys, Eb major and A major.

I'm trying to figure out the best approach to do this, because I know the next assignment will be to be fluent in playing this in all 12 major keys.

What are the recommended approaches here? Should I always be thinking of the melodies pitches in terms of the key I'm in, for example, the first few bars being: P5, P4, m2, M2, M3?

Or should I be thinking in terms of the phrase I'm in, given the the first 12 bars are all 2 5 1 patterns?

Or am I overthinking this entirely?

2 Answers 2


I would just comment this but I cannot do that yet because of my recent registration. My vote for rochard's answer also wasn't shown because of this.

But to just add something maybe valuable, I'd say that not only pay attention to the chord progression, but when you are also playing the melody in the RH you think in terms not only in what degree of your scale you are in, but also what degree is in relation to the chord being played in that bar. Is it the 9th of the chord? Is it the 3rd?

In terms of rithm, pay attention to strong or weak beat, as this will give you an idea of the main most important notes, and following the idea of Richard's answer on [not loosing the overall flow] of the main melodic construction. Is it a passing note?, Is an anticipation note? Is it a real chord note?

  • FYI I think this info is worthy of being an answer so I'm glad you were forced into not leaving it as a comment. Welcome! Dec 11, 2016 at 3:35

You're not overthinking this at all, it's a great question!

I do not recommend thinking in terms of the intervals that you gave; that ruins the sense of large context and the overall flow in the music, and your performance will often come across as stilted and disconnected.

Instead, try to find larger patterns. The good news is that you already did: this chart is just a succession of three ii--V--I patterns, each one a whole step below the previous! This means that you have the following ii--V--I patterns for each transposition of the piece:

  • In D: D, C, Bb
  • In Eb: Eb, Db, Cb (=B)
  • In A: A, G, F

I recommend separating the hands first; make sure you can play the harmonies in the LH before adding in the melody in the RH (assuming that's how you have it orchestrated).

Then you're just transposing the melodies themselves. I recommend thinking in terms of scale degrees: the opening three measures is 5--4--b2--n2--3. You might think this is the same as your intervals from earlier, but it's different because this way shows how they all connect in a given key; the intervals from earlier could have changed keys every beat.

Of course, you'll use the same process for the final phrase.

You mentioned you'll probably eventually transpose it to all twelve keys---you're probably right! So get that ii--V--I progression in the LH fluent in all twelve major keys, and then get that opening 5--4--b2--n2--3 melodic line fluent in all twelve major keys, too, and before you know it you can play Tune Up in any key you want!

  • This makes sense when I am in the ii V I phrases, but what scale should I be thinking in when I'm beyond that?
    – tarun
    Dec 10, 2016 at 19:15
  • My vote is to take a similar approach: know the chord changes (whether in Roman numerals or something else) and add the melody once you've transposed the chords.
    – Richard
    Dec 10, 2016 at 19:29
  • 1
    But keep in mind that it's just plain going to be a slow process at the start. But like with anything, your transposition skills will become more fluent the more you do it!
    – Richard
    Dec 10, 2016 at 19:30
  • I guess the more tactical follow up here is - with the E-7, F7, BbM7, A7 phrase - I'm not sure how to evaluate what roman numerals apply to that - do I Just make it up for myself, or should I be thinking of this relative to the key of the song (ii, III, bVI, V)?
    – tarun
    Dec 10, 2016 at 20:29
  • I don't follow your ii-V-I patterns . In D won't it be Em-A-D, etc.?
    – Tim
    Dec 11, 2016 at 8:16

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