keys

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keys

Postby austinhumphrey » Sun Jan 15, 2012 10:06 pm

i was reading some music theory stuff and it for some reason utterly confused me. this might be a noob thing to ask but can somebody explain what a songs key is. i tried to do some more research on the subject and haven't found much that helped. basically i'm asking for a simplified version of what it means when says "this song is in the key of..." i thought i knew what it meant before but now i am just lost. thanks
-Austin
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Re: keys

Postby wisedyes » Mon Jan 16, 2012 7:59 am

A song's key refers to the tonal center, or what "home" is for the song. For example, for a song in the key of C then C Major is the home chord (also called the tonic, root, or I (one) chord). In music in the western world, most music is based on a song having a tonal center, or key. Each key has a series of seven notes that will belong to it, which are also the basis for the harmonized chords that belong in the key.

This may be veering into more of an explanation than you were looking for, but I'll keep it brief. Chords are built by stacking notes in intervals of thirds on top of each other. In a key, you come to your harmonized scale chords by starting on each successive note in the scale/key, and stacking thirds on top of this note. For example, in the key of C major the notes are C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C. The I chord (which remember is the name of the key) has C as it's root note, then you add an E and a G to get a plain C chord. The next note in the scale is D - to get the next chord you add F and A to a D and get D minor. The next note is E; adding G and B gets you E minor. F plus A plus C gives you F Major. G plus B plus D give you G (add the B to get G7). A plus C plus E gives you A minor. B plus D plus F gives you B minor flat 5 (add A to make it a full Bmin7b5 chord). This is the harmonized scale - any of these chords belong to the C Major key.

So, the most common chord progression in popular music (rock, blues, country) is what's known as a I-IV-V progression. This just means the 1, 4, and 5 chords. In C major it's C, F, and G7. In G Major it would be G, C, and D7. In E Major it's E, A, and B7. And so on through all twelve keys (plus the minor keys!). You will very often see that in the last bar of a song, before it either goes back to the beginning to repeat, or when it ends, there will be the V chord, and the song will end (resolve) on the I chord - which feels like "home".

Hope this helps you out! There is a LOT more to this, but this is enough to get you going.
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Re: keys

Postby strumminsix » Mon Jan 16, 2012 8:31 am

wisedyes wrote:A song's key refers to the tonal center, or what "home" is for the song.

Hmmm, what key would you consider "I know you rider" in?

Home certainly feels like D for that tune but all the chords fall into the key of C or G (Dmaj, C maj, Gmaj, Fmaj, Em)

I think it was Rusty who said there is a key and tonal key?! Would LOVE to find that old post...
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Re: keys

Postby wisedyes » Mon Jan 16, 2012 9:10 am

IKYR is a bit of an oddball, for sure. I'd consider it to have a key change in the song; starts in D, and then switches to C for the rest - at least, that's how I approach it. Not that uncommon for a song to change keys, especially in jazz. Don't often see it in most rock or pop tunes, though. Or I suppose you could consider the whole song in C, with the D Major subbing for D minor, which again is something that you do see pop up sometimes. If memory of my Real Book serves, though, it's more likely to use a dominant II chord to sub for a ii minor than a straight Major.

Like I said, I was trying to keep it simple for him. What I wrote, in most music outside of jazz, is true most of the time. There will always be exceptions to rules.
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Re: keys

Postby Rusty the Scoob » Mon Jan 16, 2012 9:46 am

strumminsix wrote:
wisedyes wrote:A song's key refers to the tonal center, or what "home" is for the song.

Hmmm, what key would you consider "I know you rider" in?

Home certainly feels like D for that tune but all the chords fall into the key of C or G (Dmaj, C maj, Gmaj, Fmaj, Em)

I think it was Rusty who said there is a key and tonal key?! Would LOVE to find that old post...


That sounds like something I'd say, although it's a bit off the topic of Austin's question.

People need to separate the ideas of Key Signature and Tonal Center. TONS of Jerry's tunes are harmonically in Mixolydian. Tennessee Jed comes to mind as being in C Mixolydian, as in C is the tonic note or root: the song ends satisfyingly on C, but if you were to look at the key signature you'd see a Bb. To a pure classical reader, he'd see that and expect to be playing in F major, but none of the chords perform the functions that make a song sound like F major.
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Re: keys

Postby Rusty the Scoob » Mon Jan 16, 2012 10:07 am

austinhumphrey wrote:i was reading some music theory stuff and it for some reason utterly confused me. this might be a noob thing to ask but can somebody explain what a songs key is. i tried to do some more research on the subject and haven't found much that helped. basically i'm asking for a simplified version of what it means when says "this song is in the key of..." i thought i knew what it meant before but now i am just lost. thanks
-Austin


To answer this question a little more thoroughly (but quickly, I'm having a day off and building speaker cabs in the other room :cool: ):

Determining a song's key is a lot more simple than some people make it. First, determine the Tonic Center of the tune - simply put, in most cases this is the note that the song ends on. If not, you'll know it when you hear it, it's the note that makes the song feel most at rest.

Then determine what primary scale the song is using. Examine all the chords of the song, write down each note in the chord, and see what scale they most closely resemble. Most often in Western Classical music this is either major or minor, but in more modern classical, jazz or Rock and Roll, it can also be a mode.

Put these two concepts together and you've found the song's key.



Note: A song may also use more than one key, sometimes you have to separate the song out into sections. This is known as modulation and can be permanent or temporary. For an example: "I Need A Miracle" as the GD played it.
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Re: keys

Postby wisedyes » Mon Jan 16, 2012 10:53 am

Now, see, Tennessee Jed, as I would read it, I would totally take as being firmly in the key of F - but played with a C Mixolydian emphasis. The reason you can think of C as sounding like the "home" chord is because, even though you are emphasizing C Mixolydian, the harmony itself is NOT extended to include the flatted seventh note - therefore, a resolution to F doesn't sound necessary. If you were playing it as a true dominant chord, the resolution would have to be there. But, from a strict theoretical standpoint, all the chords in T. Jed can absolutely be understood as being in an F Major key - with the exception of the C Major itself. The only other questionable chord is the G, which I take as functioning as a secondary dominant of the C (the "V of V" thing).

However, as Rusty said, try playing a straight C Major scale over Tennessee Jed - every time you hit the B natural note it will sound like nails on a chalkboard. Now play an F Major scale over it - it works fine, especially if you keep emphasizing the C. This is how you know that it's in F, even though it is meant to be played as a C Mixolydian song.

But, yes, I think this is getting away from the original question. One of the reasons the Dead aren't always a good "basic theory 101" workshop is because of their penchant for this sort of modal playing! Which, of course, is one of the things that made them awesome!
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Re: keys

Postby austinhumphrey » Mon Jan 16, 2012 11:33 am

[quote="wisedyes"]A song's key refers to the tonal center, or what "home" is for the song. For example, for a song in the key of C then C Major is the home chord (also called the tonic, root, or I (one) chord).

i understand most of what you all are saying but these keys are still tripping me up because i'm not sure if i really ever learned what they were in the first place. so a key just tells you what the one chord is? idk, i am still pretty confused on this
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Re: keys

Postby Rusty the Scoob » Mon Jan 16, 2012 11:38 am

wisedyes wrote:Now, see, Tennessee Jed, as I would read it, I would totally take as being firmly in the key of F - but played with a C Mixolydian emphasis. The reason you can think of C as sounding like the "home" chord is because, even though you are emphasizing C Mixolydian, the harmony itself is NOT extended to include the flatted seventh note - therefore, a resolution to F doesn't sound necessary. If you were playing it as a true dominant chord, the resolution would have to be there. But, from a strict theoretical standpoint, all the chords in T. Jed can absolutely be understood as being in an F Major key - with the exception of the C Major itself. The only other questionable chord is the G, which I take as functioning as a secondary dominant of the C (the "V of V" thing).

However, as Rusty said, try playing a straight C Major scale over Tennessee Jed - every time you hit the B natural note it will sound like nails on a chalkboard. Now play an F Major scale over it - it works fine, especially if you keep emphasizing the C. This is how you know that it's in F, even though it is meant to be played as a C Mixolydian song.

But, yes, I think this is getting away from the original question. One of the reasons the Dead aren't always a good "basic theory 101" workshop is because of their penchant for this sort of modal playing! Which, of course, is one of the things that made them awesome!


You're understanding it well but still looking at it through the fairly limited eyes of your first or 2nd year music theory teacher. Even Beethoven used concepts that are beyond those classes.

Theory can absolutely explain the GD, they were quite logical once you look beyond the basics that you learned in school. Theory should serve the music after all, not the other way around.
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Re: keys

Postby austinhumphrey » Mon Jan 16, 2012 11:52 am

see i understand why a C mixolydian would work when t. Jed is in F. i guess my next question is, is understanding keys more important for the chords or knowing what to solo in? also can keys tell you where to play a song on the neck? for example i play i know you rider with open chords, could a key tell where else to play it? if not then how to you know where to play it? thanks
-Austin
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Re: keys

Postby Tennessee Jedi » Mon Jan 16, 2012 12:16 pm

austinhumphrey wrote:i play i know you rider with open chords, could a key tell where else to play it? if not then how to you know where to play it? thanks
-Austin


Learn the different chords shapes up and down the neck ; all the D chords ; all the A chords; etc.
Find a book/source that has the chord shapes mapped out.
When you learn the shapes apply scales to them.
Part of Jerry's soling technique comes from playing with chord shapes up and down the neck.
:-)
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Re: keys

Postby vwjodyme » Mon Jan 16, 2012 4:45 pm

Had to add this...Stewie's house is G :lol:

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Re: keys

Postby austinhumphrey » Tue Jan 17, 2012 4:56 pm

what do you mean apply scales to the scales to the shapes?
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Re: keys

Postby wisedyes » Tue Jan 17, 2012 7:48 pm

Okay, Austin, what you really seem to be asking about is how to move about the neck more freely rather than being stuck in one position, correct? Just to clear this up, this has nothing to do with keys; keys are a collection of notes that share a defined harmonic relationship. You need to learn movable chord shapes, how to apply them to your playing, and the scale forms that you use over them.

There is tons of information available on this, both online and in book/dvd form. You want to look for what is known as the "CAGED" method; one source right off the top of my head is the "Fretboard Logic" series of books. What this method is is that you can move any shape all over the neck (usually while using your first finger to serve as a capo), but the five shapes to focus on are the first (open) position C, A, G, E, and D chords. For example, if you slide up to the fifth fret, bar that fret with your first finger (like it's a capo), and play a C chord with your other fingers you have an F chord (your root -F- being the 7th fret 5th string). If you played an A chord on the seventh fret while barring the 5th fret it makes a D. If you play an E chord starting on the 6th fret (while still barring the 5th) you get an A chord. If you play a G chord starting at the 7th fret (still with the barre at the 5th fret) that makes a C chord. Playing a D chord at the 7th fret gives you a G chord. This works all over the neck, you just have to learn what your root notes are.

So, the trick to this is that there are 5 Major scale forms - each one corresponds to one of these CAGED chords. Just like the chords, these shapes also move all up and down the neck - they DO NOT change. So if you learn the major scale shape that goes with the G major chord shape (Hint - it is the same shape as your basic pentatonic minor scale with the root on the second note of the scale), then you know it all over the neck - you just have to line it up with the chord.

Try it - play a C chord, and play the minor pentatonic scale at the 5th fret over it, but focus on the notes on the 8th fret as your root. Sounds pretty good, right? That's because you're playing a C Major pentatonic scale. Now, play an E chord, and slide the pentatonic scale up to the 9th fret - see, same scale shape, but now you're using it to play over E major.

DO NOT get caught up in learning a bunch of useless stuff like separate scales for each mode, it is a waste of time and money. Learning how this method works will get you through 99% of all situations you will find yourself in (there a few more scales you'd need for jazz). These 5 scale forms contain in them all the modes (like mixolydian, dorian, etc.), the pentatonics, and the minor scales - it's just a matter of learning how to think about them once you get them under your fingers. Hopefully this points you where you want to go. Good luck and have fun!
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Re: keys

Postby vwjodyme » Wed Jan 18, 2012 6:41 am

Check out Justin Sandercoe's website if you haven't already. He has free online lessons and vids on this stuff. :smile:
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