All the things you are?

Hello, would love to get some insight on this.

Currently working on all the things you are. My first instrument was trombone and I used to love playing it on the horn, that was before I got very used to the IFR framework and simply played through the tune thinking of a new key center for each section.

This tune seems like quite a challenge with the ifr framework! Especially with the bridge being a half step down from our original key. When I was improvising through it I kind of found my ear reorienting itself in a new key with the sections but at the same time there was some definite clunkiness moving between them, especially when I wasn’t concerned about absolute note names(which I’m usually not)

The long path is the short path I guess. Would the best way to approach this be to just get comfortable with the harmonic environments of “567123#4” for the second 8 and “7#1#23#4#5#6” for the bridge and the chords that accompany them?

I think that even within IFR there is scope for either approach?

We looked at Blue Bossa in the IFR Jazz Standards Study Group (a one-off workshop that ran from Autumn 2022 through to Spring 2023). That also has a key change. Both options were looked at & the choice of which way to go outside the workshop was left open.

Some might want to go for staying in the main key’ from the start, others might choose to migrate that way as they progress, others might prefer to stay with the key change. No one is going to be considered an IFR heretic. :slight_smile:

My own preference is to stay in the key, but I don’t have the pressure of keeping up with others since I play on my own & for my own amusement (& tend not to target things that have key changes anyway). YMMV…

David Reed ( @ImproviseForReal ) might have something to say, but bear in mind that at present he’s very busy with the currently running IFR Pure Harmony Essentials workshop.

My wife and I are a performing duo. We have a few songs in our repertoire that modulate. My preference for key changes is to change keys and align myself with the new 1.

Thanks for posing the question, @Jaden_Kim! As others have commented, our goal in IFR is to give you the understanding and the resources to make these choices yourself. There is no single right way to think about a tune like All the Things you Are. Bringing all of those sounds onto a single tonal map can illuminate certain things. Breaking it up into several different keys can illuminate other things.

With most songs, I personally prefer to visualize everything on a single tonal map wherever possible. I am quite reluctant to “move my 1”, because I find it so empowering to be able to picture all of the sounds on a single tonal landscape. But even I wouldn’t insist on this approach always, and this particular song is one of the best examples of a song where this approach becomes unnecessarily complicated.

But I also don’t like having to memorize chords using the absolute note names. I always want to be thinking in tonal numbers because this is what keeps my ear engaged and learning, and it’s also central to the way that I’m able to express the sounds that I imagine. So for a tune like this with multiple key changes, there is a hybrid approach that works the best for me.

This hybrid approach is to go ahead and mentally switch to different keys throughout the tune, but to remember those keys by their tonal relationship to the original key. For All the Things You Are, this works out to be the following keys:

key of 1 (the original key of the song, which is Ab in most fake books)
key of 3
key of 5
key of 7


key of 7
key of #5


key of 1

If you like this mental shorthand for remembering the key centers, sometimes there are interesting coincidences you can notice which help you remember where a tune goes. For example, in that first section with all the key changes, notice that we go to the four key centers of 1, 3, 5 and 7, which are exactly the notes of the 1 chord. I don’t believe that there is any meaningful connection between the key choices and the notes of the 1 chord. But it’s a nice coincidence that makes it very easy to remember where this tune goes.

I should also say that if you practice the IFR fundamentals very deeply, you will develop such a strong ability to orient yourself in the key of the music that you can quite literally forget all of the above and just play. When the key changes, you’ll feel it. And if you just listen to whatever note you’re playing in that moment, you’ll know exactly where you are in the new key. I described this experience in much more detail in Exercise 5: Free Harmony in the book Improvise for Real. So this is another technique that we always have available to us. Even if we don’t know the chords to a song, we can always approach it as an exercise in free improvisation and just respond to what we’re hearing in the moment. But since it’s nice to know ahead of time where the harmony is going, you might find the hybrid approach above to be a useful technique.

Thanks for starting this important discussion and thanks to everyone who has contributed.


1 Like