Key Signatures: Scale Theory

Doing exercises in all keys

A Question by Anonymous

In your opinion, if running through exercises, it is really necessary to practice them in all keys? I understand that the standard educator response is “yes,” but I was recently working through Jerry Coker’s “Patterns for Jazz” and a lot of the patterns weren’t terribly useful because they just involved half-step increments. Where this might be a challenge for a horn player, for guitar, it’s usually just a one-fret shift.

Looked at another way, if it were that useful, then all of the thinking around CAGED would have never come about.

Thoughts? Thanks.


Nice question.

I think on the guitar, the answer lies within playing the same pattern (same key) in many different fingerings.

Is just the opposite of saxophone and piano.

Playing a simple pattern in C major, you could easily find a dozen fingerings (including octave transposition) on the guitar.

Then it is useful to employ the exact same fingering and play that pattern in all keys (just to link the keys to frets locations on the instrument.) It might be “dull” to go up or down by half-step, so try different cycles.

I hope this helps,
Marc-Andre Seguin


“All Keys” OLD Comments on page:

Jul 07, 2011
RELATIVITY : explanations, by: Marc-Andre (Admin)

Yes … it’s exactly what I meant. Dm7 = iim7

Furthermore, it’s also a good idea to use relative indications when dealing with different keys centers within a piece. It’s a broader perspective than having to think of every chord.

An example…

Familiar with “All the Things You Are”? Let’s look at the first half of the tune (before the “bridge”) Think of it this way :

In the key of I, cadence to III …

Then in the key of V, cadence to VII …

Four key centers : I, III, V and VII. The root form a major 7th chord. How great is that?

In absolute terms (key of Ab) : Ab, C, Eb and G.

So, yes, there’s a vi-ii-V-I-IV progression for the first and third keys (I and V), but once you know the tune really well, you’ll will retain that this is the particularity of AATYA (or connect the tonalities with other cadences if you wish to and can hear it well). Check out Gary Peacock. He does this beautifully.

It’s not even about simple substitutions anymore at that point. It’s just the “flow” of a simple standard viewed from a very large angle. Ever heard people play it through the cycle of fourths. It’s exactly how it’s done!


Jul 07, 2011
12 keys of relativity. by: Anonymous

I think Jerry Coker’s idea of “evening keys” is important to guitarists as much as any other instrument. My thinking is if a tune comes up that is in F# and you’re not as comfortable as a Bb blues, you have work to do. Shifting isn’t as good as knowing.

Mark could you elaborate on what you mean by RELATIVITY? I think I know what you mean, thinking of tunes in terms of ii-7, instead of D-7, but perhaps I’m off base.


Jun 07, 2011
Gambale’s point, by: Marc-Andre (Admin)

Yes, I think that is a good point : practicing just exercises in all keys might be a waste of time.

It’s probably more rewarding to try [familiar repertoire] in different keys. For instance, play blues in F# instead of F and “I got rhythm” in B instead of Bb.

The guitar is such a different beast when it comes to musicality!

On a very personal note, it’s only when I started to play Stella by Starlight in a few (then in all) keys that I realized the importance of RELATIVITY in chord progressions…

When you have the ability (it’s mental gymnastics really) to play from that relative standpoint, then learning tunes, licks, solos, improvising (and even composition) are transformed into a totally different “musical game”!

Marc-Andre Seguin


Jun 06, 2011
All 12 keys may not be best use of time, by: Robinson

I don’t think practicing exercises in all keys, in general, is necessary (I think it was Frank Gambale that said it was a waste of time).

I like to practice things in the keys of FCGDAEB (Fat Chicks Get Drunk After Eight Beers) and call it a day, but I mainly play guitar-based blues and these keys cover just most of that repertoire.

Someone that plays with horns should probably figure out what keys they are most often asked to play in and come up with their own sequence of unique keys that they need to work in. Working an exercise in different positions within a single key can be as important.