1. #1

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    I have a very practical question on learning melodies. It is about relative pitch.
    My experience is that many people don't teach music by using relative pitch (or at least very little). This is not a post about bad teachers. I just want to understand my experiences.

    Let's take My funny valentine as an example. First of all, is this really jazz unless you jazz it up? It just sounds like popular music of a certain age. But anyway, it is a good tune to use as an example.
    Jazz musicians or accompanists in general need to be able to play in 12 different keys as singers use all of the twelve keys. For my own voice I have to transpose it from Eb major to F#major.

    When I transposed the song something happened. I had to think of things like the intervals in the melody. I finally started to understand the melody. Before I transposed it I struggled with it and had to use sheet music but still struggle to play it.
    All I am saying is that focusing on learning a song in one key never really helped me. I couldn't find or hear all the intervals until I transposed the melody. It also helped me with the harmony.

    With singing for example I find that many people begin with just playing notes on a piano (guitar seems less popular with such exercises) and singing them. This never worked for me when it came to learning relative pitch. I had to play eg Eb3 and sing Eb3-Bb3 (a fiths). It's like I only learn relative pitch when I have to think and listen to what is going on.

    Perhaps I would have learned the song much better if I started by playing the melody by ear (without the sheet music, the Real book)?

    So learning a song in one key first never helped me. Why then do we focus on just one key first in jazz (and use a lot of sheet music)? Is this because I am so different from other people and most people just hear and see the intervals if they just focus on one key? What is going on?

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  3. #2

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    The composer decides the key of the tune. That key is what is usually published. It's not possible to have a lead sheet in every key, in a single copy. It's up to the player to transpose to different keys. On a guitar, transposing is easier than for other instruments, at least in my experience. The patterns are the same anywhere on the neck, in any key. Everyone learns differently, so I have no advice for learning a new tune, other than practice, practice, practice. I learn by ear a lot, but sometimes need the sheet music because my memory isn't always 100% reliable. One can learn by ear by replaying a tune over and over, but sheet music makes it easier for most. With digital technology it's much easier to replay a section than it was when all that was available was a 78rpm disc. I learned some tunes from those.

  4. #3

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    While it is great for your playing to play tunes in all keys and learn them in each key, practically it is not needed. I have never played ATTYA in the key of D# but I assume it has been done in that key. Being a hack player I find playing the tune in the most used key to be the best use of practice time. At some point the great players can simply play the melody beginning anywhere pretty much by ear. I don't fall into that category but I still will practice transposing. My major problem is I am a pretty fair sight reader so I rely on music, which at times is the detriment to the ear. Most standards are done in a few known keys so that is what for me makes the best use of time.