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Improv Tip Week #11- Key Fluency (part 2)

Hey Everyone! Welcome to week #11’s tip…Key Fluency part 2. Last week I gave some tips on how we can better our key fluency and I wanted to continue on the same subject matter this week, but give two additional tips on what you can do to increase your fluency in other keys. August is the month where most school systems across the United States head back to school and one of these tips will be great for band directors in getting all of your students fluent in keys that they might not be the most comfortable. The other tip is a great ear-training exercise that musicians on any level will benefit from.

The first is using call and response. Music is an aural art, therefore time needs to be learning music by ear. Don’t get me wrong, learning to read music is very important. However, I don’t think enough time is spent training the ear. Call and response can be used as an ear training aid, but I want to discuss how we can use it to develop stronger key fluency (especially younger musicians). For those that might not know what call and response is…it’s actually very simple. One person makes a call, or musical statement, and then another person (or group of people) make a response back. There’s different types of call and response (which we’ll be covering in week #12), but for the purposes of key fluency-we’ll be talking about an exact response back. When doing this exercise with other younger musicians, be sure not to give them any music or any ideas pre-written out. This should be done all by ear. If the student(s) don’t get the musical statement the first time, play the same statement again until they do. The person making the call should be the teacher, band director or an advanced student who already has great key fluency. Below are a few quick examples of taking a short idea and running them through the call and response exercise. As the short ideas become easier for the group, extend the lines and gradually make them more difficult. My suggestion is to stick with a key area (or scale) each week to further develop fluency in that key/scale before doing another. The exercise below is using the B major pentatonic scale.

The last tip for this week’s Key Fluency (part 2) is one that’s quite simple, yet often times a difficult one to accomplish. Just about everyone is working on some sort of song right now (or at least should be). Take that song and, by ear without looking at any written music, transpose it to different key areas. It’s a simple tip, yet depending on the song you’re working on-can be a difficult task to accomplish. There’s a wide range of benefits from doing this exercise (i.e. you never know when someone might call that song in a different key at a jam session, you learn certain passages in multiple keys that you can use in your improvisations, etc), but it certainly stretches your ear and helps make keys that might be more unfamiliar to you that much more fluent. If you’re one of those that aren’t working on a song-let me make some suggestions: ANYTHING WILL WORK! Just start playing something! Theme songs from TV shows, children’s songs, jazz standards, R&B, Top 40, Gospel….whatever! Just learn a song and start transponsing it by ear and get to work!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this short series on Key Fluency! These past two week’s tips are ones that I am always working on to better develop my own fluency in all keys. If you’ve enjoyed this tip or found it beneficial…please let me know, as I enjoy your feedback. Also, please feel free to share this tip (and blog) via the links below to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, etc. Also, if you haven’t already, be sure to check out the video below for the Jason Klobnak Music August Promotional. There’s about half of the month of August left to get your name registered for the $100 giveaway! For more information, you can go to Jason Klobnak Music or click on the link to the right.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qT3V94m920o&w=425&h=349]




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  1. I love this series of tips, I just discovered it and read it through. Thank you for sharing your knowledge, I thought I could make a very humble contribution in return. Not particularly for you but maybe it can be useful to other readers 🙂

    I found that a good exercise for learning scales is making a pattern (let’s call it 1234)
    and then changing that pattern into all possible forms
    And so on
    You can do this in any scale with any set of notes and you can use any number of notes.
    Also, make your own books with exercises and solo ideas so you will be able to read them again later and extract soloing ideas from them.

    1. Hey Karel,

      I’m glad you’re liking the tips and thanks for sharing yours as well! I actually talk about these a little bit in my book, Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose and how we can use them to creatively target notes. The most common name for the tip you shared are called digital patterns. I highly recommend them to my students. Thanks for sharing!

      All the best,


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