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I want to be able to just know the scale degree of any key like: C is the 1 of C major, or Bb is the 4 of F major, and also I want to be able to have someone just tell me to play any chord and any inversion and I can play it.

I don't know if it's just me but I also can't do things like count start on a note and count them by intervals whether it's backwards or skipping. It takes me a long time.

And don't get me started on 7th 9th 10th 13th and their sharps. It would be nice if I could reharmonize without having these things not known by heart. I just can't keep track of all these things.

I am currently in rcm 7th grade and have been playing for 3 years, but all I've been doing is like practicing the sheet music and never learning the harmonies; so that was a big part of my problem.

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4 Answers 4

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There is no better way to master keys efficiently than practicing scales. In fact, you should first just give yourself time to practice only the major scales.

All 12 major scales should be practiced to a point where you can play them with both hands together for at least four octaves. You should play with an evenness of tone and the fingering should be absolutely correct.

If you focus on this, you will see the rewards very shortly, and the rewards are immense.

This might sound like boring and generic advice, but it is common advice for a very good reason.

Here's my story.

Over the summer when I was in 9th grade I went to a practice room for two weeks straight. For 2 weeks all I did was practice major scales on the piano.

I made sure I practiced them with the metronome and used the correct fingering.

I share this story with you because those two weeks changed my entire understanding of music. I learned the language of 12-tone western music by simply practicing major scales.

After those two weeks, I noticed that I became a better sight-reader. I no longer saw isolated notes on the page, but rather patterns that belonged to certain scales. I also was able to play with at various tempos, and I could even improvise over chord progressions. I was really happy when I saw how fast and gracefully my fingers could move on the piano. I'm a clumsy person, but my fingers are no longer clumsy because of these two weeks when I did nothing but practice scales.

I would recommend practicing major scales clockwise in the circle of 5ths, and then counter-clockwise in the circle of 4ths.

By doing this you get to know all of the keys, how they are related to one another, and how chords and intervals are just a part of the scales. You will notice that all of this knowledge falls into place by simply practicing the scales.

Within every major scales lies 7 modes i.e. Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian (natural minor), and Locrian (In fact, every time you play a major scale, you are really playing 7 different scales).

When you practice major scales you become deeply aware of these modes, and you will be able to apply them to your understanding of music theory. If you choose to compose or improvise, knowledge of these modes proves to be extremely valuable.

Spend time with the major scales - good quality time. Practice scales every day for at least an hour. I promise that so much knowledge falls into place after doing so :) By doing this, you will be teaching yourself to be able to speak the language of music.

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  • I used to do a new scale per week with my teacher like parallel motion contrary, 3rds 6th tenths chromatic, triads, 4 note forms, diminished, dominant in all inversions including their arpeggios but all that was muscle memory so I didn't get much.
    – Sky Star
    Commented Jul 16, 2017 at 0:28
  • The problem is even after doing that i don't know the triads by heart. If I wanted to play a an inversion I have to start from the root so that's why I can't do and polish my voicing skills with like 7th 9th 10th 13th and all that jazz although I wish to
    – Sky Star
    Commented Jul 16, 2017 at 0:30
  • Let's take C major: After playing a C major scale, it's a good idea to go through the C major triads and inversions when you want to focus on chord practice. The fingering is always the same for triads when practicing inversions (regardless of key). Right hand - [Root position: 1, 3, 5] [1st inversion: 1, 2, 5] [2nd inversion: 1, 3, 5] Left Hand [Root position: 5, 3, 1] [1st inversion: 5, 3, 1] [2nd inversion: 5, 2, 1] If you just keep practicing and focus on quality over quantity, you will see results :) The slower you learn, the better. You will learn it all! Commented Jul 16, 2017 at 0:48
  • I know I have to do slow but what do I think about? Do I have to be able to tell where the root 3rd and 5th at all times and do I have to know things like where the leading tone is in second inversion c dominant chord. That's just what I have actually to rote memorization. And sorry for so many questions, I have a bad habit I want to understand literally everything
    – Sky Star
    Commented Jul 16, 2017 at 1:28
  • No worries. The more you practice scales, the more you'll find that you can play chords without even thinking. The 1st, 3rd, and 5th tones that make up every triad are all defined by the scale. As far as knowing the leading tone in a second inversion C dominant chord, you will know after practicing the F major scale enough that E is the leading tone in F. E is the 7th key in the F major scale which lies a half-step away from F. E is the 3rd in the C dominant chord and thus serves as your leading tone. Commented Jul 16, 2017 at 1:44
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It's not bad to use the root as a reference. Here are some tricks:

Trick 1 - Key Signatures

The note C exists in the major keys G C F Bb Eb Ab Db (and all their relative minor keys). Memorize the key signatures to be able to do this. There is a pattern to the madness in music, it is what makes it so beautiful.

Trick 2 - Memorize Intervals

Be able to automatically tell me how far B is from A# (major seventh), or Bb from Db (minor third). Be able to invert them. Know that, for example, G to D is a P5 but D to G is a P4.

This can be done more generically by leaving out the quality of the interval at first. If I see, for example, (in the key of C Major) an Ab, I know C to Ab is a sixth of some sort - whether minor or major - I know Ab does not exist in C major (because it has no sharps or flats), therefore it is an alteration from the key. A half step down from the diatonic sixth is a minor sixth.

Trick 3 - Memorize the triads from C major

Memorize all the triads from C major and transport them to other keys.

You should also be able to speak in thirds quickly from any root note - e.g. F -> A -> C -> E -> G -> B -> D etc. This is useful with spelling.

Trick 4 - Practice

No trick here. You have to spend time with this. I've been doing this for years and I still make mistakes. Try Tenuto, it's an app for your iPhone that helps mental practice when you have a moment of free time or sitting on the toilet :)

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  • B to Ab is a dim7. B to A# is the major 7th. However, saying 'how far from' hints that the lower note is Ab in your first example. Intervals count from low note to high, it's just the phraseology used, which could be confusing.
    – Tim
    Commented Jul 15, 2017 at 18:02
  • @Tim Ooops. Edited Commented Jul 16, 2017 at 1:37
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I know a great way to learn chords, inversions, and any voicings you need! This comes from my teacher Ted Howe.

First, learn the chords or voicings you're practicing through the circle of 4ths/5ths with the metronome. When you feel solid with them, write out a list of all the chords, put them in a list randomizer online and then put those random chords on staff paper, 1 chord per bar. If you want to master all the major/minor triads, write them all out (ex. C Maj, C# Maj, DMaj... Cmin, C#min, Dmin... then put them in the list randomizer). You can run the list through the randomizer a few times and keep adding to your staff paper for more variations, you don't want to memorize the chord sheet so the longer it is the better.

Turn on the metronome, start really slow and work your way up using both hands. This really helps you master the chords themselves and not just chords in a pattern like the circle. You will be able to play any chord instantly with both hands.

If you want to learn inversions, just make sure you're voiceleading each chord into each other, you will learn those chord tones real quick!! hope this helps

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I was learning just by practising intervals by heart first.

  • Start with major/minor triad.

  • Then learn the cicle of fitfths

  • The 4th interval is just a circle of fiths in reverse

  • Memorize major/minor 6th

  • 9th and 7th is just one step up/above from the root

So i think this will be the good process for all keys/root. You can combine this with my app i just made: It is called LearnMusicIntervals, you can find it there: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.okset.learnmusicintervals

It is totally free and can be useful with combining that process that i just describe. Good luck, happy practice!

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