Playing in other keys.
At first I wanted to add this to the "muscle memory" thread but thought it might be better in a new thread. It seems to me that the more a player becomes familiar with the notion of interval as opposed to playing the notes the easier it becomes to play in different keys. Of course it becomes imperative to be able to hear and play any note, any interval, and that requires practicing….wait for it….scales. It’s easier to do on some instruments, whistles I think are the hardest and I have no idea about boxes and concertinas. I suppose fiddles, ‘zouks, banjoes are a bit tough because you pretty quickly lose the the open string (note: the capo helps a bit I think), but still doable. As flute player I find that even without keys A is pretty easy, C, F, and Flat (in that order and with a lot of octave hopping) not too bad.
If I may illustrate. 30 years ago I had to take a college 100 level piano course. Never mind why. The instructor used course material that stressed interval instead of notes. After a few weeks of scales and other basics, the first tune we played was written in G and we played in B Flat. Really drove the idea home. Interesting too was the way the method blended both sight reading, and ear-training. As a bassist I’ve relied heavily on interval to get me through the frequent times when I’m playing tunes I’ve never heard or played before or familiar tunes in new keys (A flat anyone?). Sometimes for vaudevillian variety my trombone player friend plays along. The sharp keys so common in trad are out of his comfort zone, but he does it anyway. How? Because he’s intimately familiar with his instrument and interval. One last example, I had a good friend, a pianist, who raised 6 kids by playing piano in lounges (sans Michelle Pfeiffer), and jazz venues. He could nearly double his tips because he could play any song requested in any key…this was before karaoke.
So if we can cement our neural pathways (muscle memory) why should it be harder to take the next step? On my bass it seems instinctive, on my flute, well, not so much. Is it because we’d just rather knock out tunes instead of developing real skills or is something else at work? I get that some instruments have limitations, but do we even push them to those limits? Your thoughts please. How do you feel about this?