Learning New Keys on the Piano

Let’s be honest…there is a reason that most people struggle with learning how to play in new keys on the piano.  I discovered this reason over and over again while teaching my college students.  What is it you ask?  Well…watch and see!

Video Summary

Playing in different keys is a little intimidating to many piano players, especially at first.

Let me illustrate this with a story. Once I had a student come in, still pretty new, and she had a song she wanted to learn that was in the key of E. I thought, why not, let’s give it a try. Sure enough, she learned it and then had another song to learn in the key of E too. Both were fine for her and she performed them well. The next song she had was in the key of C and I was excited to get back to basics. She hated this song though and really struggled. I couldn’t figure out why this was so hard when the key of C has only white keys to play. Finally, I realized that she hated the key of C so much because she just didn’t want to learn another key.

Does this sound familiar?

This is all a common mental game. The other keys aren’t necessarily harder to learn, it’s just another thing to learn. However, if you put in the time and learn the notes, it doesn’t have to be a big deal. Get over the mental hurdle of having to learn another set of chords and notes and become a champ at different keys.

Please leave your comments below and add to the conversation!

24 Comments on “Learning New Keys on the Piano”

  1. True word Mr. McNutt! Thanks 4 the encouragement! I’ve found that even as I try to learn from your tutorials, I’m often tempted to think, ” there’s no way I can learn to play this well”; but then after the initial mental struggle, as I simply commit myself to trying, I realize I can make great strides within just minutes! Really appreciate all your work! It has been suuUPPER beneficial! God bless you and your family! 🙂

    1. Hey Wendy-Ann! I love it…mental struggle is hard for a lot of people. I saw “Kung Fu Panda 3” this week…and there was a sweet quotes in there. Something like: “If you never learn to do what you can’t, then you’ll never be more than you are right now.” Great movie by the way! You rock. -wade

  2. I agree with your female student, I don’t like C either. When you get the black keys involved, you can feel where your fingers are. With C, they’re all on white notes and there’s no reference point. Lots of peeking and hitting wrong notes.
    P.S. Nice hat!

  3. Mental Struggle, I agree, but what can I do about my nerves? How do I build my confidence??? I’ve been trying to play since I can remember and I’ve never been able to get pass the nerves. My teachers would always say you can play just do it. The last teacher I had, this was early 2002 2003 got me a job playing for a church and it was a great opportunity but one day a musician who was just awesome on the keys just totally insulted me. I mean verbally embarrassed me in front of the entire congregations. It hurt so bad. I vowed to never play again but here I am trying it again after all these years. Now that I’ve read this, This too is just a mental struggle huh??? God is Able and I know I can do all things through Christ. Thanks Wade for your given heart. For it I know you are tremendously blessed.

    1. Way to go, Shonda! We’ve all been hurt by rude people, and sometimes it’s really hard to keep plugging along – but you’re doing it! And you can do all things FOR Christ, too. If you’re playing in front of people who think they’re better than you, then shame on them for not being up there playing. If I had the chance, I’d love to come hear you play and sing and glorify our Lord. I’m proud of you, and I know He is, too!

    2. Just keep doing what your doing! I am sure it wasn’t at all about u ! People have a way of hurting other people because there not happy with them selves! It took me along time to figure that out! But through Christ everything is possible!!! 🙂 God bless!

  4. I do well on C but my struggle is with other keys. I practice at home and seldom make a mistake. Then when I start to play for the Sunday School Department, my mind flips and I forget. I shake and find it hard to relax. I pray before I begin but still make mistakes and I feel silly because I am an old woman. I had a teacher years ago. She retired and I stopped playing. You have helped me tremendously. I find it easy to follow your instructions. Thank you so much. God bless you and keep up the good works. I want to learn to play by ear.

  5. Hi Sir Wade.

    Great talk. I really don’t have a problem with the C chord, to me, it’s the easiest key yo play in the music scale, besides that’s the key I learn to play first of all on the keyboard. I’m no pro on playing. I need so much more teaching but I’m able to fill a gap. Other keys I played, I’m somewhat comfortable, even though I make a lot of mistake at times especially in the key B flat.

    Thanks a lot Mr. Mcnutt

  6. Shonda,
    The person who insulted you needs to find an altar and then ask you to forgive them.
    Musicians are notorious for displaying their “pride” about the gift God has given them – like they developed it themselves – and we all know what God thinks of pride!!
    Don’t quit. That person had to learn to play just like everyone else. You can do it. Just commit to playing a song in a new key and keep at it. You’ll get the hang of it.

    Good video Wade. It is just a mental thing that people have to overcome.

  7. When I started de to learn music, I Was in the the key of “C” always. Now I know it is time
    To learn Other keys as well.
    Thank You for reminding me such an important change.
    God bless You and your family.

  8. Hi Wade, Pray all is well. I am the lady from SC. As I have mentioned to you during our recent conversation, I love your style of teaching. It is deep, but yet simple to understand and follow. I am currently working on the song, “Revelation Song.” You did a great job with the lesson. I have a question regarding the key of this song. Your lesson is taught in the key of G major. You use the D, Am, C and G chords. The 1, 4 and 5 chords seem to suggest its in the key of D maj. My singing key is in G major but the lead sheet I downloaded from the CCLI Song Select uses the G, Dm, F and C chords. I am trying to prepare myself to play with a band in the near future and, it’s bad enough that I am a solo player and have no clue how to play with other instruments, let alone not knowing what key I am playing in! What key am I really playing in. Although I am playing in G, it seems more like the key of C. I am trying to follow your lesson but in my key (G). Thank you so much for your help. Blessings, Mimi

    1. That song I’m sure could be debated about key…but the way I saw it was that the “D” was the 1 chord (since it feels like home base). Because of that it would make “A” the 5 minor (which seems odd…but I’ve seen even stranger things). The “C” is the b7 chord. That is the reason this song feels the way it does…because they are not “normal” chords in a standard chord structure. If that makes any since.

      1. Yes, it can make sense! It is not your norm. I originally had it in the key of C but it had a Bb which seemed like it was in the key of F major. I got the lead sheet from another source on line. Using Song Select gave me the key of G but the chords suggested it was in the key of D. There are a few ways of telling what Je you are in, but this song did not fit anything. I normally hum the the song to find the key. Thank you, Mimi

  9. Hi Wade, talking about playing in the key of C major is actually one of my favorite keys because the white keys are easy for me to find and I make less mistakes. I have been trying to learn how to play Gospel style but can’t seem to be able to stretch those fingers to play in too many black keys. I can sing Gospel style but my fingers do not follow my voice, so for now I have given up. I don’t understand how folks can play all their songs in keys that use mostly black keys! I can play C maj, D maj, Em, F maj, G maj, and A maj, but the rest I don’t touch! If I have to change a song to sing it in a key I cannot play, I use my transposer on my keyboard and avoid the hassle of making mistakes. I also have some arthritis on some of my fingers and swelling on my wrist and it is painful to manipulate my fingers in strange positions. This does complicate things for me when I have to play an entire set of songs for a Sunday worship service or Prayer service because I have to stop to change the key of the song using the transposer. It breaks the flow of the songs when they are in different keys. My only solution is to try to keep most of the songs in the same key, if possible and use the songs with different keys when there is a break during the announcement periods or communion. I love to play the keyboard but I have to put more effort than anyone else because of the RA on my hands. That does not stop me from playing, praise God! Blessings, Mimi

    1. Hi! I’ve known people that have just played in the key of C…and they manage to make it work. Just like you were saying, it does take some extra prep (and remembering to change back to the right key). If it works for you then it sounds like no problem. But…I know you can do it (learn other keys). I have faith in you : )

      Blessings and love,

  10. I went from guitar to piano so those supposedly difficult ones E. A. Came natural to me because I didnt need to think about the progressions.. I am after years venturing past transposer buttons and trying to learn the flat/# notes. F# Db Ab B etc because some of the songs requiring singing in that range. Now I have to retrain. In what inversion I have to play for that key… But it boils down to dont fear.. Just sacrifice the time for practice.. Im way to busy but God is blessing so Im going on to new notes and also I was asked to fill in for another church whose musician was away.. They dont have an electric keyboard.. So it is good for me to do this and I feel so good when it is all done and the song actualy sounded good..lol God Bless for your encouragement and great lessons.

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