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Key Confusion...

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(@nathan080)
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Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 131
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So I thought i understood musical keys... I thought that there were 12 notes and so 12 keys to tell us which notes sound good with the tonal note. Now I'm thinking after more research that I was wrong...

So how many keys are there? Whats the difference between a major and minor key? And how can I figure out the key of a song?

Thanks in advanced,
Nath

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(@fretsource)
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Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 973
 

So I thought i understood musical keys... I thought that there were 12 notes and so 12 keys to tell us which notes sound good with the tonal note. Now I'm thinking after more research that I was wrong...

So how many keys are there? Whats the difference between a major and minor key? And how can I figure out the key of a song?

Thanks in advanced,
Nath

Yes, the key is the tonal centre note plus the set of notes that relate to it and sound good with it. But there's more than one set of notes that can sound good with it. There are two main sets of notes that can be used. Those are the notes of the major and the minor scales. (There are other sets too and those are modes).
If you write a song with A as the main note (tonal centre) and you choose the other notes from the A major scale, then your key is A major.
But if your other notes are from the A minor scale, instead of the A major scale, then your key is A minor.
Both keys have A as the tonal centre but the set of accompanying notes is a little different, which gives a whole different feel to the music.
So there are 12 major keys and 12 minor keys. There are others keys too apart from those that look different but sound the same, e.g., the key of F# major sounds exactly the same as Gb major but the notes are spelled differently, giving a total (at least on paper) of 15 major and 15 minor keys.

Conversely, if you look at a piece of music and recognise that a certain note is the main one, and also recognise which scale based on that note the other notes belong to, then you can identify the key.


   
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(@nathan080)
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Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 131
Topic starter  

Ok... So I've been trying to work out the key of this George Michael song (joke away, I like it, and I'm not starting this stuff on Dream Theater :P)

http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=U2Jyu9Dji8A&feature=related

I've figured out that it contains the notes:

Ab, Bb, C, Db, Eb, F, and Gb, which makes it the Key of Db....

BUT these notes can also be written as:
G#, A#, B#, C#, D#, E# and F#, which would make it C#

So how do I figure out which key it is?

And how do I then figure out whether it is major or minor? Is it major if it sounds generally happy, and minor if it sounds generally sad... or is it more complex than that?

Thanks again,
Nath

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(@fretsource)
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Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 973
 

The key is C# or Db MAJOR because the notes and chords are from the C# or Db major scale not the C# or Db minor scale. It's as simple as that.

As to whether it's in Db major or C# major - that's impossible to know by listening or watching. They're the same thing. The difference exists only on paper. You'd have to ask George which key he was thinking of when he wrote it. Many (most?) people would prefer to think of it as Db rather than C# because Db contains only 5 flats compared to the 7 sharps of C#.

Historical note - It wasn't always the case that C# and Db were the same key. They used to be slightly different, but nowadays most instruments are constructed in accordance with the tuning method called equal temperament so that those two keys now sound exactly the same. That's why the note on the second fret of your second string can be called C# or Db. If someone plays that note you can identify it as C#/Db but unless you're a mind reader, there's no way to tell if that person was thinking C# or Db.


   
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(@nathan080)
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Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 131
Topic starter  

Ok... one last question lol :). You talk of the notes coming from the major scale... is there an easy way for me to see this or for me to work it out myself? I still find that particular part of it confusing.

Thanks muchly for all your help :).

Nath

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(@fretsource)
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I think you already know this but maybe don't know that you know. :D
You wrote out the notes of both scales correctly, although you started from the wrong note. You recognised that those notes Ab Bb C Db Eb F Gb belong to the key of Db major. If you had started from the KEY NOTE Db - you'd have the Db major scale Db Eb F Gb Ab Bb C
Those notes also belong to the key of Bb minor. So the the key could have been either Db (or C#) major or Bb (or A#) minor. To know which it was, I listened to the clip and heard that the main note (tonal centre or key note) was Db/C# and NOT Bb/A#. Therefore the key MUST be Db or C# MAJOR, not Bb/A# minor.

Memorise every major and minor key signature, i.e., the flats or sharps that belong to each key, and also the major and minor scales built on each key note. Then all that's left is to listen for the key note with its (hopefully) distinct "HOME" feel.


   
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(@nathan080)
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Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 131
Topic starter  

Ok, Ill work on this :). Thanks a lot for all your swift and concise help, muchly appreciated :D.

Nath

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