Some frustration with my own incompetence, and some fun improvisations in the one key I can decently improvise in.
So time after time I hear these jazz pianists playing improvisations in wild keys. I can improvise fairly well in C, but I get screwed up every time I try to play in another key. (I’m sure any good jazz pianist could improvise even in C a thousand times better than I could, but let’s address one issue at a time, shall we?) I’m tired of only being able to play in C. How can I fix this? I thought about that question, and I came to two conclusions.
First, I have to be able to play every major scale, especially the ones in flat keys. That much is obvious.
But second, I have to be able to play those flat key scales entirely in the realm of the black keys. I’ll explain this a bit more. Right now, what I do whenever I play a scale is keep my fingers physically away from the black keys — so that, for example, if I moved my hand straight right or straight left it would hit only white keys. And I only break away from that pattern (so, move my hand forward to touch any black keys) when there are specific black keys that I know I have to hit.
But the big overarching thing that enables me to improvise so well in C is that I always have the key’s scale in my hand. By this, I mean that if I just throw my fingers down in a 1-2-3-4-5–kind of fashion, it will come out with something that sounds good, and that means scale tones. This means I need—as my idle state, when my fingers are not playing notes—each of my fingers to be resting on scale tones. In a key like Db, those are going to be mostly flat keys. Thus, I need my entire hand to be migrated forward a bit from where it is any time I play a scale using my current method.
That might seem like common sense, but I think it’s important enough that it bears mentioning. Once I’m fluent in navigating that keyboard, I’ll have access to all 12 scales with, theoretically, no barriers.
Another thing that I want to do, which I just think would be kind of cool, is to be able to play piano with my eyes closed. I can certainly play fiddle with my eyes closed, so logically I should be able to do the same with piano, if I get comfortable enough with where all the keys are. But I won’t worry too much about trying to engineer this kind of thing—it should just come naturally with time.
So, I’m off to play scales. And after scales I’ll learn left-hand chord voicings. And after that I’ll, I don’t know, transcend humanity and go play unending meandering jazz piano in a parlor in Heaven or somewhere.
On a separate note—I wrote a tune a month or two ago, in C (or Am, depending on how you look at it). Here’s about half an hour of improvisations on it that I did today. I think they’re a good example of improvisations that I would like to be just as competent with executing in other keys.
The second take sort of departs from the mood of the original piece. What can I say? I was on a roll.
The chords are as follows:
Am F C G7