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keys
Hardest key for violin
Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 (7 votes) 
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stringy
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May 30, 2023 - 4:03 pm
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I was wondering if there are certain keys that people find harder than others, I personally find playing in  A quite tricky, what do  you think?

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ABitRusty
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May 30, 2023 - 9:40 pm
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Ill answer from a 1st position only player.  'A' can be tricky with the longer stretch on G# of D string.  So I can see it being different.   My range so far has stayed pretty much Bb to A ( along with modal variations) Think one tune was in E.  Really liking F ( and modals of ) lately.  But most of my stuff, as you probably guessed, stay comfortably in D,G, and A.. fewer in C.. and a few in F key sig.

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ELCBK
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@stringy -

I think it just depends on the piece for me.

If a tune has awkward fingering, leaping all over & not easy for me, I might have no choice but to FIRST learn it in in the designated key, just so I have something to play along with, but then I can change to lower, higher or easier (once memorized). 

Honestly, I've played in so many different keys (AND modes) it doesn't really matter to me anymore.  Never let one stop me from learning - BUT, sometimes changing a key (or tuning) just a half step away can make a HUGE difference! 🥰 

I try to play a lot of tunes lower (no matter what key that may be), because I want to get better at playing on my thicker C & low F string - it's hard for me to get a good tone on them.  ...also been welcoming (instead of my usual avoidance) more 3rd finger sharp stretches & my 4th finger always needs strengthening.  

As far as playing in a session, or jamming with others - I'd have to just comp with a couple chord notes or chops, if I'm not comfortable with their key.  

https://img2.embroiderydesigns.com/StockDesign/Large/Satin_Stitch/SS12170697.jpg

 

REALLY would like to get into the habit of exploring other positions to play in when I'm learning by ear & fingering feels awkward.

I've only just started to try changing the way I think about this. 

- Emily

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Mark
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May 31, 2023 - 12:15 am
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I personally prefer the keys of C, G, D, A, and E  that said with the privilege i have to play with a very good pianist she has open my horizons to F, Bb, Eb, and Ab. Starting at 5 flats normally switch it to two sharps.

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AndrewH
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It depends on the piece; for me it's more about how well the music fits the hand than about difficulty of reading. That said, unlike most string players, I tend to prefer keys with flats in their key signatures, rather than sharps; I think it's because it tends to be a little easier to sight-read in half position in keys with flats. The keys I find most comfortable are probably E-flat major and C minor, because music in those keys seems to fit my hand well on viola. I often find E major and B major (and their relative minors) especially uncomfortable for some reason.

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Gordon Shumway
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E is not such a nice key. Flats are nicer.

We are playing a piece at the moment that goes from Bb major to Bb minor (5 flats  all of a sudden). It's OK if you hear in your mind how it goes and also prepare by working out the best fingerings for notes such as Db (2 or 3?) so that your fingers are in place for the notes that follow, a bit like the Hindemith I mentioned the other day.

Andrew

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SharonC
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I think I find that a key is difficult/easy by my familiarity with it (i.e., how much I’ve played in that key).  I looked at the circle of 5ths, and decided this is where I stand right now with the keys (dark green=easiest to dark red=difficult). 

Cof5scaledifficulty.jpgImage Enlarger

“Difficult” to me=harder for me sight read and/or time for me to learn and play the piece.

I would say G & D are the easiest on the violin, and in the few months I’ve been fumbling with it, C for the viola.

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Strabo
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June 9, 2023 - 4:17 pm
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Y’all are so advanced -- it makes me feel like I’m stuck in the Stone Age!

I play in first position with just occasional daring jumps into third position. Many old-time fiddle tunes are in D and G, keys that feel familiar to me and let me improvise as needed. I can do OK in A, and C and F are growth areas for me.

E is a natural a guitar key. And those guitar players all have capos, so why don’t they just go up three frets, play in their easy E pattern, and make everyone else happy?🫠

Then there are those keys like Eb, Ab, C#, etc. I use those to practice chopping, haha.

Seriously, I have great respect those who can play in all or many keys. I have seen fiddlers who play with singers. The singer asks to go up or down a half-step, and the fiddler doesn’t hesitate! Those folks are magicians. 

Reading this thread makes me want to get out of my comfort zone and extend my range of keys and positions. The violin’s transparent tuning (in fifths) makes it possible to use a few basic patterns all over the fingerboard, so what’s holding me back?

Strabo

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Nobodysdriving
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June 9, 2023 - 5:34 pm
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For me right now Db is a killer but am getting better :D  

it's the bit where I start in 3rd position (2nd finger) and have to 'stretch back' for the Db which has been driving me crazy, however it's getting there now, does not feel as uncomfortable anymore

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ELCBK
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@Strabo - 

Yes, take the plunge! 

Just spend some time exploring tunes in keys you aren't used to playing in. 

If you have a few simple tunes well memorized, sounds like you already know a few things to try.

IF you need a reason to try a different key, you can go to thesession.org Tunes Page (or other Tune site), pick a key/mode from the drop-down menu you don't normally use, then pick a tune to learn from that search! 

Violin Fingerboard Notes & Positions Chart

 

One of my favorite videos:

 

When I started playing violin, many of the Irish tunes I liked were in different Dorian modes (I'd never heard of 'Modes' at that time).  I easily know what a Major & Minor scale sounds like & now I can start a well-memorized tune anywhere, no matter what mode.  But, if I'm asked what key/mode I'm playing in, I'd still have to stop & figure it out - if there's no sheet music for reference. 

This "Modes Circle of 5ths Chart" is fabulous, because in each 'slice' of the chart's pie - the listed scales/modes ALL share the SAME notes!  So, for instance, if you know what the D Major scale is, you also know the notes of E Dorian, etc...

Modes Circle of 5ths Chart

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Jim Dunleavy
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June 10, 2023 - 12:57 pm
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I find some keys fit under the fingers more easily than others. It's no accident that many folk fiddle tunes are played in G, D or A - I reckon it's mainly to with the awkwardness (for less advanced players) of playing low 2nd finger.

I'm reasonably comfortable with anything up to 4 flats or sharps but I definitely prefer sharps.

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ELCBK
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Got to thinking, it kinda troubles me to think that anyone would shy away from playing something because of what key it is in. 

I'm definitely not familiar with what people are forced to do when playing in an orchestra, except there's NO option of changing the key. 🤣  If comfortable finger placement is an issue, can't choosing to play in a different position help with that?  

Too many sharps or flats in the key signature might seem hard to remember, but 'shouldn't' that only be an issue for the 1st or 2nd play-through - once the melody becomes apparent? 

Is there some disconnection between playing what is seen in notation vs being comfortable with our fingerboard?  Or, is there some disconnection between reading notation vs being comfortable with how scales/modes are constructed? 

I certainly can't (and I don't want to) remember what ALL the interval patterns are for ALL the scales & modes!!!  ...but once I hear one played, by me or someone else, I don't have any issue.  I'm sure ear training helps me, but 'I' still don't explore higher positions enough! 

Crap, somewhere (maybe amongst stuff I learned about extended chords) it stuck in my head that a few chords (the important notes) were easier to remember than a zillion different scales!  ...my point being: there's always easier ways to learn/remember things! (lol)

I was looking for a 'fresh perspective' (not necessarily new) & ran across this video (starting the video where info becomes relevant): 

"The Unintended Benefits of Practicing in 12 keys" (holds true for ANY instrument)

 

I've always felt it was important to feel comfortable all over the fingerboard, so I try to at least play some phrases in different keys - and on a fairly regular basis.  BUT, I realized I've only been doing the easiest ones - ALL one 'type', e.g., all dorian, all major, all minor, etc... 

It's only been a recent thing for me to even think to practice changing a phrase from a major key to a minor key!  Again, not too hard to think about flattening a major 3rd for 'minor' or sharpening a minor 3rd to get the 'major'.  So, I've started to take a minute (once in a while) to play a major phrase in minor & visa versa, but I need to do it more often. 

But what about practicing a phrase in ALL 'relative' modes? 

I've never really considered starting to play a phrase (or riff) on different notes, while also keeping the original scale accidentals!  Oh jeez, now I'm going to have to actually 'think' about what the heck I'm doing! 🥴

The modal circle of 5ths chart I've been utilizing makes it a little easier to get my head around this.  By looking at just one section it's easier for me to relate to what scale or mode I should be feeling (the phrase will start on the root) & what accidentals I need to remember.  ...think I also better take time to consider if I like, or dislike any of these alternatives compared to my original phrase/riff... and if it would be worth trying a whole tune.

🤔... suppose it won't be quite so daunting if maybe I try something small, once - to start.  Okay, got my work cut out for me today!

Sorry, didn't intend to get burrowing down yet another rabbit hole. 🤭

 

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ABitRusty
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Strabo said
Y’all are so advanced -- it makes me feel like I’m stuck in the Stone Age!

I play in first position with just occasional daring jumps into third position. Many old-time fiddle tunes are in D and G, keys that feel familiar to me and let me improvise as needed. I can do OK in A, and C and F are growth areas for me.

E is a natural a guitar key. And those guitar players all have capos, so why don’t they just go up three frets, play in their easy E pattern, and make everyone else happy?🫠

Then there are those keys like Eb, Ab, C#, etc. I use those to practice chopping, haha.

Seriously, I have great respect those who can play in all or many keys. I have seen fiddlers who play with singers. The singer asks to go up or down a half-step, and the fiddler doesn’t hesitate! Those folks are magicians. 

Reading this thread makes me want to get out of my comfort zone and extend my range of keys and positions. The violin’s transparent tuning (in fifths) makes it possible to use a few basic patterns all over the fingerboard, so what’s holding me back?

Strabo

  

@Strabo I dont practice playing in keys for the prqcticing in different keys sake..  I see the advantage to that though.  New tunes to me in those left side of C keys is what drove me to practice that.   Its like anything else.  once you spend a bit of time on it it becomes easier.   I always let the melody and where it falls decide what im gonna work on.  probably not a wise approach but it is what tis. 

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ELCBK
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I think the 2 things I admire most about folk musicians who have been playing for many years: their ability to quickly pick up a new tune by ear, and their ease at playing in different keys (their ability to use Modulation, to add variation).

It takes time/practice (like EVERYTHING), but I don't believe it's a 'difficult' goal to be able to jam in a different key with limited-key instrumentalists, or add variation to a tune by modulating a phrase - I have to have tunes memorized for it, though. 

What keys are common for limited key instruments & singers?  ...maybe a good place for some folks to start.

Assuming the tune is memorized, the 'structure' of the tune isn't changed at all by playing it in another key (not including relative keys or modes here) - it's only changing what note I start on.  If not just jumping a 5th across to another string, fingers will end up in different places/a different pattern, but if I know the tune well I already have a feel for the intervals & use my ears to help - I HAVE TO DO THIS SLOWLY to start with. 

I've discovered sometimes it's much easier to play some key changes (for tunes 'I' play) in 'half' (low 1), or even 'one & a half' (low 2) position - these aren't huge shifts, but ways that can help keep familiar finger patterns.

Once I have the new fingering pattern of a tune, I still may have to play it slowly a few times to be able to anticipate what's happening. This is why I thought the video exercise of only using a small riff/phrase to practice changing keys a good idea - better than a whole tune. 

In Classical study/training, don't students have any etude exercises that do this?

Folk musicians who have been doing this for MANY YEARS do these transitions quickly, because they've had time to make many patterns feel familiar.

 

d3a04280d42a9f112f512d7d088debb2.jpg

Seriously, how many people only play "Happy Birthday" in one specific key? 

Same principle.  I remember while I was growing up I needed to try singing "Happy Birthday" in different keys just to find which suited my voice best (and it definitely changed over the years 🤣) - tried embarrassing myself a little less when the rest of the family (or friends) sang it... which only worked if I started off the singing/set the key for everyone else. 😉 

So it didn't feel very 'safe' for me singing 'Happy Birthday' until I got better at it in a few different keys. 

 

Anyone consider trying the exercise in "The Unintended Benefits of Practicing in 12 keys" video (besides me)?  I like that they were also concentrating on/reinforcing the rhythm & phrasing/note grouping in that exercise.

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ELCBK said
I think the 2 things I admire most about folk musicians who have been playing for many years: their ability to quickly pick up a new tune by ear, and their ease at playing in different keys (their ability to use Modulation, to add variation).

It takes time/practice (like EVERYTHING), but I don't believe it's a 'difficult' goal to be able to jam in a different key with limited-key instrumentalists, or add variation to a tune by modulating a phrase - I have to have tunes memorized for it, though. 

What keys are common for limited key instruments & singers?  ...maybe a good place for some folks to start.

Assuming the tune is memorized, the 'structure' of the tune isn't changed at all by playing it in another key (not including relative keys or modes here) - it's only changing what note I start on.  If not just jumping a 5th across to another string, fingers will end up in different places/a different pattern, but if I know the tune well I already have a feel for the intervals & use my ears to help - I HAVE TO DO THIS SLOWLY to start with. 

I've discovered sometimes it's much easier to play some key changes (for tunes 'I' play) in 'half' (low 1), or even 'one & a half' (low 2) position - these aren't huge shifts, but ways that can help keep familiar finger patterns.

Once I have the new fingering pattern of a tune, I still may have to play it slowly a few times to be able to anticipate what's happening. This is why I thought the video exercise of only using a small riff/phrase to practice changing keys a good idea - better than a whole tune. 

In Classical study/training, don't students have any etude exercises that do this?

Folk musicians who have been doing this for MANY YEARS do these transitions quickly, because they've had time to make many patterns feel familiar.

 

d3a04280d42a9f112f512d7d088debb2.jpg

Seriously, how many people only play "Happy Birthday" in one specific key? 

Same principle.  I remember while I was growing up I needed to try singing "Happy Birthday" in different keys just to find which suited my voice best (and it definitely changed over the years 🤣) - tried embarrassing myself a little less when the rest of the family (or friends) sang it... which only worked if I started off the singing/set the key for everyone else. 😉 

So it didn't feel very 'safe' for me singing 'Happy Birthday' until I got better at it in a few different keys. 

 

Anyone consider trying the exercise in "The Unintended Benefits of Practicing in 12 keys" video (besides me)?  I like that they were also concentrating on/reinforcing the rhythm & phrasing/note grouping in that exercise.

  

do you memorize patterns or tunes? 

Yes once you know the tune its easier to transpose because you know the melody, especially if you really woodshed a tune.  play it more than just a I got the notes down and played  it a couple of times.   that happens alot though for various reasons.  sometimes its just not a favorite tune and I learned it because it was something people were playing.

I also think sometimes theres this feeling of trying to stack up a bunch of new stuff before really knowing what I just memorized.  Think its good to spend a while on just 1 or 2 tunes/songs, go back and play the old stuff..repeat... then maybe a new one.  Ill never learn them all anyway.

limited key instruments...

what Ive noticed with some of the limited key instrumentalists that come to some events is alot of times the flute players will switch to a different key whistle instead of having all the fiddle players change to a key that the tune normally isnt played in, regardless of how easy that may be.   or a piper switch to a whisle.  even seen different key flutes.  Thats usually how it works from what ive seen in person...granted havent been doing it for many years.  guitar or backing can change tuning or capo...or even just play different chord shapes.

i think the key thing would be more of a deal if say attending local sessions then traveling to a whole nother region where the repatoire is different.  E.G. Kesh and silver spear may be popular in one place but somewhere else the local favorites are an entirely different set of tunes maybe largely in Dm or some Eb variant as opposed to the G, D, A tunes locally.   But as Irish goes really...most of it falls in G and D and A..  so not much to say there.

Not really debating the value of knowing how to switch keys on the fly.  it goes without saying thats good muacianship.. its just that from what ive seen when starting off so much time is spent getting the particular style and repitoire down that some things like that come later and even as a process of learning the tunes.  Time may be better spent getting a tune up to speed with decent tone vs plqying it in all the keys.

theres more than one way to learn and what i think is cool and useful may not work or have value to someone else.   Whats important is take what motivates oneself to pick up the instrument and play and try to improve.   If thats playing in different modes keys thats great..if its spending a week on one passage thats fine too.  

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ELCBK
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ABitRusty said:

do you memorize patterns or tunes? 

Much of the time I listen to a tune so I can at least somewhat anticipate what's going to happen, first.  Then, playing it reinforces the tune with the pattern.  They both seem important to me for speed. 

 limited key instruments...

what Ive noticed with some of the limited key instrumentalists that come to some events is alot of times the flute players will switch to a different key whistle instead of having all the fiddle players change to a key that the tune normally isnt played in, regardless of how easy that may be.   or a piper switch to a whisle.  even seen different key flutes.  Thats usually how it works from what ive seen in person...granted havent been doing it for many years

😞... doesn't say much of anything good about fiddlers.

Time may be better spent getting a tune up to speed with decent tone vs plqying it in all the keys. 

I totally agree that tunes should sound good with the speed you want, before doing anything else with them. 

Time - that's why I mentioned the exercise with it's small phrase, or a riff. 

Hope I didn't give the wrong impression! 

I'm certainly not going to take all my tunes thru ALL 12 keys, relative keys & modes!  I did the video exercise only ONE TIME, thru all 12 keys (might do it again with some riffs, down the road).

I've already had to learn new finger patterns for my tunes (still have some old tunes yet to do), in different scales & different octaves, now - kinda boxed myself into this situation by changing my strings. 🙄 

But, I don't think I'd be able to do it if I was concerned about what scale/key I was getting into.

theres more than one way to learn and what i think is cool and useful may not work or have value to someone else.   Whats important is take what motivates oneself to pick up the instrument and play and try to improve.   If thats playing in different modes keys thats great..if its spending a week on one passage thats fine too.  

Agreed. 

Just to be clear, I have respect for ANYONE who may only play 1 or 2 tunes, in one key - if they are happy, that's all that matters. 😊  

 

I think I would've benefited from the '12 key exercise' video even right after I learned what made a 'major' scale different from a 'minor' scale.  Wish I would've thought of it - makes more sense (to me) than just playing scales.

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ABitRusty
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 limited key instruments...

what Ive noticed with some of the limited key instrumentalists that come to some events is alot of times the flute players will switch to a different key whistle instead of having all the fiddle players change to a key that the tune normally isnt played in, regardless of how easy that may be.   or a piper switch to a whisle.  even seen different key flutes.  Thats usually how it works from what ive seen in person...granted havent been doing it for many years

😞... doesn't say much of anything good about fiddlers.

i dont think it says anything about them.   Most people that get enough courage to go to a session and put themselves out there in that setting arent full time muscians with years of classical experience if any.. We are talking about mostly everyday people ( non-pros ) that just want to try and a play a few tunes theyve learned with others as best they can.  Between jobs and everything else are doing good to learn a few tunes by memory that are played.   I mean yeah...going from A to D or G and back isnt alot but youre already doing alot by listening to yourself and the group, getting the tempo and rhyhtm matched, recall of the next one...now what are we playing next??   😀  I think most of us are shooting more for eae of playing at a faster tempo, intonation, lilt amd playing new ones by ear. 

Then theres people that have been playing trad for a long time.  May have 100s of tunes learned.  The group above has learned from them.  They may be able to transpose easily.. 

But

The reality is A person may like The Kesh played in Bb major.  But most everyone else is in G.  Not to say it shouldnt be attempted if thats what everyone wants to try... but WHY would you. dunno whats the point?

To be honest that situation doesnt or in my limited experience hasnt come up too often anyway and its usually associated with a tune not falling as easily for a flute ( keyless meaning a wooden flute with no keys ).  Sometimes their lowest note goes below what they have available.  At that point Ive seen/heard them substitute and go higher for that phrase.

On the flip side... if say someone brings a new to the group tune and starts it.. then yeah at that point the ear traing comes into play and everyone tries to play along like that.   But that kind of thing is usually sorted out before hand and before people start playing.  

All in all where ive been fortunate enough to participate, things like that are very easily worked through.  Most of this discussion i think is hypothetical and my main thought is that transposing isnt as necessary as youd think in an Irish setting.   Bluegrass probably but its just hasnt been a skill as needed in Irish sessions on the fly from some unexpected key swaps for some reason.

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ELCBK
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@ABitRusty -

Thanks for the discussion - appreciate your insight, especially for IT!

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scales are the key to learning keys. I am not a good student but I know what I need to do. The one drawback to DIY learning is there is no instructor to keep me on track. I should probably write it down and follow my own advice. tongue

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I hear a lot of great music to play on the fiddle - in flat keys. 

Ethnic folk music, blues, jazz, etc... have plenty of flats/flat keys, even if you only consider G Minor - MANY trad Irish tunes listed at thesession.org in G minor that I like (and other flat keys, too)!  

Related discussion at The Session:

Your Favorite Tunes in the “Flat” Keys. FMaj, BbMaj, Gdor, Gmin (Irish & Scottish).

I believe a lot of Scottish music (especially in relation to GH Bagpipes) use flats/flat keys.  

Once there is 2 or more flats in a key signature, I know my pinky finger is going to get a workout!  

I'm looking forward to new workshop with Amy Cann (she composed "Catharsis") at the Online Fiddle Hell Sunday - "Getting Comfortable With Flat Keys"

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