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  1. #1

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    I am curious about how well most of us transpose tunes on the fly. Meaning that take a standard such as The Days of Wine and Roses and my question. Normally I play the tune in F not ever had it called in any other key so I don't play it in other keys. Now I can transpose it generally but on the fly at a gig if a singer wanted to do it in say Ab, I would really not be able to do it on the fly. I could in a whole step away up or down, or a 1/2 step but moving away from that would require time to digest. It is not that I cannot transpose but that to any given key.

    Wonder how well others do this and I am talking about general standards and jazz tunes? Lately I have been taking standards I know and simply playing them in keys I normally never would but finding this a chore.

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  3. #2

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    It's a valuable skill, and does get better the more one works at it. Most folk that do it well seem to favor a "Roman Numeral" approach (Wine and Roses is Imaj/bVII7/iii/ VI7/ii/V7/iv/bVII7/ etc, then play it in whatever key you choose, than a chord by chord "F goes up a minor 3rd to Ab, Eb7 goes up a minor 3rd to Gb7 " approach

    PK

  4. #3

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    I pretty much can play any piece in any key as long as I can hear it. The ear reference is always in Roman Numerals. If it has a place where the Do is, I can play any of the diatonic chords. The trick is to know what changes happen in the bridge, or if there are twists within the section. These are the things that make the tune. I need to work them out and be aware.
    Other than that, the guitar is good for me in that once I learned the big map, all keys are the same.

  5. #4

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    I just tried it

    Days ..... in Ab
    hmmm well i kind of bluffed my way
    through it , not comfortably tho.
    i was thinking some roman numerals
    and some actual hearing

    if it was called by a singer in Ab
    at a gig I would definitely read the changes off irealb !

    I am constantly working to improve
    my ears , and they are stronger than they used to be but i can’t hear like I want to as yet

    meanwhile back at the farm
    I love irealb , it’s a flippin lifesaver

  6. #5

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    I just had an Ah ha ! moment ....

    I think that hearing the changes well
    is the key to improvisation
    (it’s the main thing i need , to get the freedom in improv .... for me)

  7. #6

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    good thread ....

    try ‘At Last’ in G

  8. #7

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    It was doing a weekly duo for three years with a singer who never had a set key...that did it for me. We'd be on the set, she'd say "You know Blue Moon?" and she'd hum the start to indicate the key. I had to provide the introduction, and the piece in her key, and make the changes in the bridge.
    There was no set list. I never knew what key or song she was going to want but I welcomed the challenge and my ear got REALLY good. Oh yeah, I had to solo, unaccompanied, on each tune too.
    If I'd been asked if I could do it, I would not have thought so, but after a while I didn't need any kind of book or notes. It was all by ear. Sometimes on the car ride to the gig, we'd listen to music. She'd say "That's a nice tune. Let's do it!" and sometimes they were songs I'd never played before. But I heard the changes and that was what I needed.
    Until then, I never knew just HOW much working from a Real Book hindered me. Your ear learning to guide your hands. Yeah.
    Working with a singer. I can't recommend it enough.

  9. #8

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    As a side note, I'll pick a key of the week. Ab, F#, anything, and pick out tunes from my list of tunes I know (make one and take pride in making that list a substantial one) and I'll play all tunes in that key. You'll learn a lot!

  10. #9

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    tunes I dont know .. and HAVE to play on the spot..no sheet music..please fasten your seat belt..(hold your ears too)

    I have played with some pros that went through hell with some name acts..they would change keys at will and you better be on the same page

    the roman numeral system works..and its fairly easy to transpose to any key using it

    Ami7-D7-GMa7 is good for one key ii7 V7 IM7 is good for ALL keys

  11. #10

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    Playing by ear, and hitting all the correct chords, is difficult for me. But transposing a song I know isn't. If I were transposing from F to Ab, I would just play in F, but 4 frets higher. The patterns are the same, regardless of the key. Some transpositions are a little harder than others, but I don't find any impossible.

  12. #11

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    The more one can work on it, especially in a sink-or-swim no Realbook bandstand situation, the better one can get. Moving a set of grips up a few frets can bail you out of an emergency for sure. Looking at tunes with Roman Numeral analysis is a solid next step. But the folk that really do it well have internalized harmony and form to the extent that playing Wine and Roses in any given key is no less simple (to them) that playing a I-IV-V basic blues. Most here on the forum wouldn't flinch if a singer called Johnny B Goode in a 'strange' key, with experience and commitment, Lush Life can be performed with the same ease...


    PK

  13. #12

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    Wine and Roses gets played in Ab sometimes. Bill Evans did a version that cycled from F to Ab, back and forth.

    For me, the key to that tune is to hear the first change as down a whole step. Then, there's a ii V that I find a little ear twisting -- in F, it's the Em7b5 A7b9 Dm7 G7.

    I understand the value of thinking in roman numerals, but I've never been good at it. If the tune is simple enough, I don't need them. If the tune has internal key changes, the Roman system can get unwieldy. How do you do it with a tune like Stella?

    Can people really memorize roman numerals for hundreds of tunes? I think it has to be a very well trained ear. I do think that it can be helpful to have something memorized for twists you can't hear well enough on the fly.
    Last edited by rpjazzguitar; 11-02-2021 at 04:52 PM.

  14. #13

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    Quote Originally Posted by paulkogut
    It's a valuable skill, and does get better the more one works at it. Most folk that do it well seem to favor a "Roman Numeral" approach (Wine and Roses is Imaj/bVII7/iii/ VI7/ii/V7/iv/bVII7/ etc, then play it in whatever key you choose, than a chord by chord "F goes up a minor 3rd to Ab, Eb7 goes up a minor 3rd to Gb7 " approach

    PK
    I started using the Roman Numeral approach about 5 years ago but I wish I did this decades ago when I first starting learning jazz standards.

    I have always written the Roman Numeral (as well as harmonic differences like when the IV, which is major is either minor or dom7), over the chord. I did this for use in soloing but not to help memories a song's harmonic structure.

    Now I just have the Roman Numerals; for me this gives me an overall mental picture of a song's harmonic structure and assist me in knowing a song by "muscle memory" based on the harmonic placement of a chord instead of chord note choices; E.g. In C, Either II\V\I of the IV or V (m7), I (dom7), IV, instead of Gm7, C7, Fmaj7.

  15. #14

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    I started using Roman Numerals in MMVII.

  16. #15

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    The roman numeral approach is the key, but in addition it is way easier if you think of things in big chunks rather than individual chords.

    So in bar 9-12 of "Days of Wine and Roses", instead of thinking bar by bar (meaning that you go ok a iii in Ab is Cm7, then next bar you do the conversion again and say the vi in Ab is F, etc) you think of it just as a whole chunk and already know the iii-vi-ii-V7 in the key of Ab, think of that as one piece and play over it, and not have to individually transpose each chord bar by bar.

    Being able to know these very common big chunks of chords that appear over and over in songbook tunes without thinking comes in very handy. Progressions like the following in every key:

    - ii-V-I (also resolving iii-vi-ii-V-I instead) in every key
    - iim7b5 - V7 of the relative minor of that key
    - ii-V to the IV in the that key, then the minor iv or backdoor dominant back to I
    - and on and on and on

  17. #16

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    Quote Originally Posted by Paulie2
    The roman numeral approach is the key, but in addition it is way easier if you think of things in big chunks rather than individual chords.

    So in bar 9-12 of "Days of Wine and Roses", instead of thinking bar by bar (meaning that you go ok a iii in Ab is Cm7, then next bar you do the conversion again and say the vi in Ab is F, etc) you think of it just as a whole chunk and already know the iii-vi-ii-V7 in the key of Ab, think of that as one piece and play over it, and not have to individually transpose each chord bar by bar.

    Being able to know these very common big chunks of chords that appear over and over in songbook tunes without thinking comes in very handy. Progressions like the following in every key:

    - ii-V-I (also resolving iii-vi-ii-V-I instead) in every key
    - iim7b5 - V7 of the relative minor of that key
    - ii-V to the IV in the that key, then the minor iv or backdoor dominant back to I
    - and on and on and on
    Good advise, and what I was trying to explain (but didn't do so well), with my I\V\I of the IV example. I also notice that explaining how to play a song to others at my level is easier; Instead of having to name each chord in a song, one can just explain the various "chunks".

    E.g. with the simple Parker Tune My Little Suede Shoes all one has to say is; A - Play II\V\I twice, than II\V III\VIdom7, II\V\I

    B - IV, III, II, I, IV, III\VIdom7, II\V, I

    Only really two "chunks" in this entire song.

  18. #17

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    Quote Originally Posted by rpjazzguitar
    If the tune has internal key changes, the Roman system can get unwieldy. How do you do it with a tune like Stella?

    .
    Does Stella have a central key? Does it have a III chord? Does that III chord have a secondary dominant II V? Does it have a IV chord? Does that have a secondary dominant that goes to it? Does it have a VI chord? A secondary dominant that goes to it? Can you get to the I chord from a whole step below (modal interchange it's sometimes called, or heard as)?
    All these things exist as sounds, more sophisticated sounds admittedly, but tonal sounds and diatonic dominant sounds. They're all in Stella.
    If somebody played Stella in the key of C, would it still sound like Stella to the listener? Of course. All those relationships in the turnarounds are ones you can find in other songs, and they're all based on diatonic (I, II, III, etc) chords and the ways to get to them.

    When you can hear tonal harmony, you can hear Stella and you can hear the changes in your positional ear. When you know where they are located on the guitar, you can play stella in any key.

  19. #18

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    One guy I know studied with Billy Bauer, and he asked him about Tal Farlow.
    Billy just said, "Any tune, any key, any tempo".

    And that was it....

  20. #19

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    I think it has something to do with the way we learn the guitar. When I learned the instrument, I studied classical. It was extremely positional. Things were absolutely fixed as to where notes were on the guitar. I thought the idea of transposing to another key was a nightmare process that advanced geniuses do.
    It was when I encountered the Van Eps method with movable triad shapes that I started to use a relative orientation of playing. A triad with the root on the second string is a I chord for any key if you know where that note is. AHA! The map of the fingerboard was movable and the scales, chords and where they were could be seen if you just gave the chords numbers. Light goes on!

    Transposing Question on the fly-screen-shot-2021-07-07-4-32-43-pm-png
    (some of the minor chords are left out on the second string... if you can fill them in, you'll get how this works)

    I teach my students to find, hear, see and play from movable positions...right from the start. How many teachers spend time teaching their students ear training off and on the guitar? I am curious. A serious question here.
    How many players out there learned ear training as a part of their lessons? And at what point did that become assimilated?
    I wonder at the correlation between the trained ear and the ease of playing in different keys.
    Guys and Gals? Thoughts and experiences?

  21. #20
    Ear training as Joe Pass said was knowing the melody so well you can hear it and simply play it on the the guitar from any starting point. That is different than finding the chords that go along with the particular melody but related of course. Barney Kessel said to take tunes like Christmas tunes because we all know them so well and simply find a note on the guitar and start playing the tune like Silent Night.

    Pass then went on further to say that once you know the melody you then can find the chords or the center of the sound. To me this is ear training in at least one major aspect. The other major aspect of ear training is to simply be able to play back a phrase you just heard pretty much instantly. When you can do this really well then probably transposing becomes much easier on the fly and combined with the number system you probably are pretty good at it.

    Finally I remember reading the great Howard Roberts said he could simply practice in his head. He could play tunes simply by seeing the fingerboard and playing in his mind. He claimed that he did this to learn all the standards while being out in the desert in Arizona target shooting with a rifle if I remember correct.

    Now this is a different topic but it reminds be how great Howard Roberts was an much under appreciated now that years have passed since his death.

  22. #21

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    Quote Originally Posted by deacon Mark
    Ear training as Joe Pass said was knowing the melody so well you can hear it and simply play it on the the guitar from any starting point. That is different than finding the chords that go along with the particular melody but related of course. Barney Kessel said to take tunes like Christmas tunes because we all know them so well and simply find a note on the guitar and start playing the tune like Silent Night.

    Pass then went on further to say that once you know the melody you then can find the chords or the center of the sound. To me this is ear training in at least one major aspect. The other major aspect of ear training is to simply be able to play back a phrase you just heard pretty much instantly. When you can do this really well then probably transposing becomes much easier on the fly and combined with the number system you probably are pretty good at it.

    Finally I remember reading the great Howard Roberts said he could simply practice in his head. He could play tunes simply by seeing the fingerboard and playing in his mind. He claimed that he did this to learn all the standards while being out in the desert in Arizona target shooting with a rifle if I remember correct.

    Now this is a different topic but it reminds be how great Howard Roberts was an much under appreciated now that years have passed since his death.
    My experience is that I can do it with melody. If I know the melody I can play it in any key without thought. Tunes with big, unusual jumps are a little harder, but most tunes don't do that.

    But, that doesn't translate to chords. So, I can play, say, Stella in any key. But I'll struggle to comp it in an arbitrary key.

    I work on it with IRealPro, changing keys by a 4th every chorus. That's helped.

  23. #22

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    Quote Originally Posted by rpjazzguitar
    My experience is that I can do it with melody. If I know the melody I can play it in any key without thought. Tunes with big, unusual jumps are a little harder, but most tunes don't do that.

    But, that doesn't translate to chords. So, I can play, say, Stella in any key. But I'll struggle to comp it in an arbitrary key.
    .
    Just curious, have you ever fooled around on a piano? For me, becoming familiar and somewhat adept at getting around on a piano keyboard made a lot of things fall into place, especially in seeing and feeling harmony spacially, which I think you need to be able to do when learning to chord "on the fly".
    Have you ever tried to learn a piece by ear? I mean chords too? It takes a bit of a learning curve, but it removes the visual chord symbol crutch and assigns that task to the ear.
    Old standards and Christmas carols are really useful this way.
    Also I have a PEMDAS of ear milestones
    Diatonic harmony
    Secondary Dominant harmony
    Modal substitutions
    Tritone subs
    Secondary Dominants on tritone subs
    Modulations
    Secondary Dominants on modulations

    This is roughly a fundamental to exotic list of devices you'll encounter, each one essential and with a sound of its own that will be hugely useful to be able to recognize.

    No, it's not a simple process to hear harmony, but familiarity through use and a good order of attack can go a long way.

  24. #23

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    It's something you have to practice. If you practice transposing, you get a LOT better. I have been playing everything in 1 major key plus its relative minor every 1 or 2 days then go up a half step. After only 2 months, I am way better and can play the tunes that I knew in 1 key from my memory banks and play them in my daily key. I can't play new things easily in any key but I'm sure that will come. It's also not a chore anymore and has become fun because I'm fluent and it even sounds better to my mind to be working every key instead of the tired tunes in 1 flat key ad infinitum.