Keys and Modes....
Lol, I'm posting this in the full knowledge of Noteboat's (a poster whose view on theory leaves me quaking in the thought of how much I have to learn) strong opinion on modes.
I have, um, flirted with music theory. I know a fair bit, even enough to know theoretically about modes. After having to study synthetic modes like Messiaen used, and a bunch of jazz, I sort of stopped thinking in terms of keys, since they can change within a given piece, and you could say Song 1 is in the key of A, but if it uses a modal scale (lets say Song 1 consists of a bass player playing the A note, with noodly modal guitar soloing over the top, just to make it easy) saying its in the key of A seems rather misleading.
And reading Vic's post, I kinda flt the same. The chord he referred to (I've yet to figure out how to post TAB on here, gotta sort that out) is one I've used in many a bluesy piece with either an A7 chord or an Am chord as the main 'theme tone' of the piece, without really thinking about its theoretical value.
Once I read Vic's post, I was however rather stumped about how to name the chord, and it lead me (however indirectly) to thinking about the possible relationships between modes and keys. Say something uses the G mixolydian scale (again, we'll use the e.g. of bass player hitting B repeatedly with noodly mixolydian guitar solo). Would it be accurate to say that the piece is in the key of G? Or would we say it is in the key of G mixolydian? Are there such things as Modal keys? If not, we're left with saying its either in the key of G or the key of C, both of which seem misleading to me. Saying it is in the key of G would confuse an inexperienced (and I'm using that term here in its loosest possible sense) player when they then try to replicate the sounds with a Gmajor (ionian) scale. But saying it is in the key of C (thus giving said player the right scale notes to use) ignores the shift in tonal-emphasis created by using the mixolydian scale.
In short, doesn't the whole idea of keys break down once you move beyond simple songs structured around the Ionian scale with no key changes? (Surely the argument could be continued with reference to Blues scale, and any scale involving quarter tones, and whole tone scales).
If so, is ther a better way of understanding harmony? My shift away from thinking in terms of keys is only partial (I still rely on them a lot more than I'd like) - but I find thinking in terms of 'general tonality' often works better, especially in a practical context when improvising over unusual progressions. But is there a more structured approach down these lines than my partially-educated-flouting of convention?
Ra Er Ga.
Ninjazz have SuperChops.
Keys are tricky little devils, because the idea of "key" means several different things.
You're looking at a sheet of music, and you see one sharp. You say to yourself "I'm in the key of G". You have enough information to get going. But instead of calling this the key, let's call it a resource set - you know what notes you're likely to use (G-A-B-C-D-E-F#).
As you go through the piece, you start seeing a lot of C# notes. And you're seeing a lot of E minor chords. The whole thing feels pretty minor... so now you decide you're in the key of E minor.
What you're really done is refine your thinking from the basic resource set to include a tonal center (E). You've established tonality in your mind.
You keep playing the piece, and you notice that even though you've got all these C# notes, and a definate minor feel, every time you get to a D note, it's a natural. Now you refine your view even more, and say you're in the key of E Dorian. In addition to the "key" as a resource set, and the "key" as a tonal center, you now have another "key" - the modality, or the arrangment of intervals above that tonal center.
In a way, all three views are right.
And in a way, all of them fall short of precision. Take Miles Davis' tune "So What?"... the key signature is C, the feeling is minor, the interval structure is Dorian. Is it in D Dorian? Sure. But the B section is going to play a lot better in Eb Dorian - that's the "key of the moment" for that part of it.
Keys (and scales, and time signatures, and lots of other stuff) are ways we try to communicate information about sounds. But the terms we use are only stand-ins for the sounds... sometimes the terms convey everything we want know, and sometimes they just put is in the right ballpark. The more complicated the structure, the bigger the ballpark :)
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kewl, thanks for that noteboat - so my relying a bit on keys, but not sticking to blindly to them is probably a good move given I play a lot of blues and, in growing amounts, jazz, not my mention my penchant for classical stuff.
btw, I'm not joking in my respect for your views on theory - I have your book listed as top priority once I get through my current spending month. and I'm sure I'llbe asking more theory questions around here in future months also.
So What is a piece I know very well (lol, I think I've memorised every note of KoB and still find new things in it anyway), that perfectly illustrated the point I was trying to make.
Ra Er Ga.
Ninjazz have SuperChops.