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KEY ?


(@brian-f)
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Joined: 16 years ago
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Could someone please slowly spoon feed me a basic definition of key for newbie guitar player? I need to get past this and move on with my life, I'm just not getting it. How would you answer this question if asked by a child? thats probably what I need.

I'm in very beginning phases of learning, and this KEY thing keeps popping up.

Does it mean that if something is in the KEY of C, that only notes or chords found in the C major scale are used in the music? (doesn't seem right..)

Does it mean that a piece of music would have to begin and end with that note or chord?

I did find the following definition but not sure what to make of it. I'm reading all I can, but don't I need to be equipped with this knowledge before I can really learn theory?

KEY -The key in which a piece of music is written indicates the scale used and the key note or home note, on the chord of which it must end. Not all music is in a key, since attempts have been made in the 20th century to extend music beyond the supposed limitations of key or tonality. It is, in any case, only the very simplest music that remains in one key throughout. Contrast is usually sought by changes of key during a composition, which will end in the key in which it began, although mode may change from major to minor (that is, a symphony in C minor may end with a movement in C major, after intervening movements in other keys). The Fifth Symphony of Beethoven, for example, is in C minor and opens with a movement in that key, followed by a slow movement in A flat major, a C minor third movement with a Trio section in C major and a last movement in C major.


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(@geetar66)
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Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 103
 

Hey Brian,

Here is the basic definition, as I am still discovering the nuances of keys as well...

When something is in the Key of Cmajor...you are using the notes and chords from C maj scale...which are CDEFGA & B. But the most common form of this is making the I, IV and V chords major, and the ii, iii, vi chords minor...and then the vii chord is something diminished or weird...the fascinating thing is that if you look into the notes that make up these chords, they are all from the C major scale...except the weird VII chord.

So you would end up with Cmaj, Fmaj and Gmaj, and Dmin, Emin, Amin and Bdim

Please note, this is a caveman definition, but maybe it will help you on your way...

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(@brian-f)
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Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 122
Topic starter  

thanks geetar66...that IS helpful. Could we then look at a chord as a song in and of itself, with 3-6 notes. I don't know many chords, but seems like the chords C, G, D all start with the notes C, D, G respectively. Are these chords all made up only of notes from their respective maj scales?

I'm probably overthinking this, but i'm good at that.

B


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(@shadychar)
Eminent Member
Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 41
 

thanks geetar66...that IS helpful. Could we then look at a chord as a song in and of itself, with 3-6 notes. I don't know many chords, but seems like the chords C, G, D all start with the notes C, D, G respectively. Are these chords all made up only of notes from their respective maj scales?

I'm probably overthinking this, but i'm good at that.

BCorrect. Major chords are made up of the root, 3rd, and 5th of their respective major scales.


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(@greybeard)
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Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 5899
 

The key is the same as the root note of the scale. If you have the scale of C - C, D, E, F, G, A, B - the root is C and so is the key.

Chords are all based on a triad - 3 notes - which are made up of the notes from the 1st, 3rd and 5th positions in a scale (key). These positions are usually annotated with Roman numerals I, iii and V and are called degrees of scale. It allows you to describe scale construction, without having to refer to any scale in particular.
The name of a chord is always relevant to the root note of that chord - so a Cmajor chord will always be based upon the Cmajor scale

If you want to "play safe" and only have notes from the key that you are playing in, the chords, that result, are maj, min, min, maj, maj, min, dim. The major chords are usually represented by upper case Roman numerals and minor, by lower case. A major scale is, therfore, shown as I, ii, iii, IV, V, vi, vii (diminished also gets the lower case treatment) - which is why I listed the major chord as I (maj), iii (min), V (maj).

See if this helps

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 xg5a
(@xg5a)
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Joined: 16 years ago
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If I was asked by a child:
The key is the main note or chord in a song.


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(@noteboat)
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Joined: 18 years ago
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Key actually has a number of definitions...

The simplest is that the 'key' is the most important note, the one the melody is centered around and resolves to. A song in the key of C in that sense doesn't tell you much about the notes used (other than C) - it could be C major, C blues, etc.

Most folks talk about key as the scale notes that are most commonly used, so a song in C would use mostly C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C. It doesn't have to stay with those, though - additional notes can be added, and they're called 'accidentals'.

The key also tells you what chords are likely to be used. As Greybeard noted, the chords in a major key are major for the 1st, 4th, and 5th scale notes, and minor for the 2nd, 3rd, and 6th notes - so in C you have C major, F major, G major, D minor, E minor, and A minor as the chords that show up most often. The C, F, and G (the I-IV-V) will be the most important... that's where the term '3 chord rock and roll' comes from; thousands of songs will use only three chords.

Any major chord will be made up of only notes from its major scale - in fact, the major scale is used for forming all chords, even minor ones... there are three different minor scales in traditional harmony, and there are other variations of minor scales that are also used - but there's only one major scale for each keynote, so all chords get related to that.

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(@brian-f)
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Joined: 16 years ago
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Topic starter  

thanks guys....all very helpful! Making more sense now.

Noteboat, would you suggest your book for beginners, tha thave no idea, or vey little, of theory or how to read music?


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(@kingpatzer)
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Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 2198
 

I was going to post a reply to this, but as I worked on it, I realized I have no idea what key is either :)

If I have a lead sheet with no sharps or flats it's in either C-Major or A-minor, but I have no idea which from just the lead sheet. I MIGHT be able to figure it out from the chords, but there's no guarantee of that.

I always sort of think about key in terms of the written staff, but I'm not sure that's the right way to think about it.

"The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side." -- HST


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(@noteboat)
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That's one way to think about it - 'key signature' - but as you've realized, several keys can share one signature.

If you see no sharps or flats after the clef, you're definately in the key signature of C. That means you could be in any of the following:

C major
A minor
C blues
D Dorian
E Phrygian
F Lydian
G Mixolydian
A Aeolian

and that's just a starting list... a transcription of the melody from tunes in other keys might be written in the C signature as well!

There are a couple of clues for sorting out minors and blues tunes buried in the melody of the music - you look for the accidentals. Most songs in A minor are written (at least in the harmony) with the A harmonic minor scale; that uses a G#. So if you see some G#s in the piece, that narrows the field.

Blues tunes are going to flat the third pretty often, so if you've got a slew of Eb notes, you're likely in C blues.

All the others listed depend on the tonal center - that's the thing that throws most guitarists off when learning to work with modes. You can dive into some of the longer mode threads here for discussions on how that works...

Brian, I wrote my book for beginners (beginners to theory, that is). It assumes a basic knowledge of the guitar, but nothing else. I do use standard music notation in it (as well as some tab), but I explain how that works as well.

The book is introductory - it gives you the vocabulary and basic concepts of theory: scale formation, interval types, chord building, rhythm analysis, etc. So if you're looking to get your theory feet wet, that's exactly what it is.

If you already know some theory and are looking for a bit more (like this discussion on what keys fit what key signatures), it's borderline - you'll probably pick up a few things, but I don't go into tremendous detail on any one topic... for instance, the section on modes is only two pages long; I've written posts in threads here that have at least ten times that :)

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(@greybeard)
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Noteboat's book is really very well suited to the guitarist, who wants to introduce himself to theory as it relates to the guitar. Whilst the theory applies to all instruments, Tom explains it's relevance to guitar playing rather than piano, violin, bassoon or ocarina.

I started with nothing - and I've still got most of it left.
Did you know that the word "gullible" is not in any dictionary?
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My Articles & Reviews on GN


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(@brian-f)
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Joined: 16 years ago
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Topic starter  

Interesting! I didn't suspect I was going to get a cut/dry one sentence answer, although I feel like I found a loose thread on my shirt, pulled it, and now the whole thing is coming undone. I think I'll ultimately get your book, noteboat, but for now will concentrate on the basics of playing, chord changes, learning slowly to read music, get some more songs down, and then dive back into this stuff later.

Thanks as always for spending the time to get into these explanations.

b


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