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Key vs Key Signature

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Bryan R. Tyler, Jun 18, 2016.

  1. Bryan R. Tyler

    Bryan R. Tyler TalkBass: Usurping My Practice Time Since 2002 Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    May 3, 2002
    Sorry for what is likely a remedial question.

    Singer brought some songs to practice last week to play, one being Marshall Tucker Band's "Can't You See?" Simple song with just D, C, and G for chords, all diatonic to the key signature of G. But the music, and just about every version I've found online, has it listed as being in D. I understand that the tonal center of the song is based around the D7, and it feels like the I in the song, but from an ease of playing aspect, it would seem much easier to me to write that it's in G.

    If I understand it correctly, the key is the tonal center and the key signature is the guideline to the likely chords. Does the key usually take precedence over the key signature if they aren't relative?
    punchdrunk likes this.
  2. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    C is a very common chord to use in the key of D. If you're into music theory, you can call it a bVII chord. Bands like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones use that chord frequently. I personally would use a key signature of two sharps, with an accidental for the C natural chord.
    MonetBass, Groove Doctor and joebar like this.
  3. I think in terms of key and key signature being terms that are interchangeable

    Others may disagree but that's how I sense it

    D7 in the key of g is the v chord

    By tradition that would have a harmonic pull to g as the 1 chord

    If the tone centre is d then one option is the the mixolydian mode of g could be used to emphasise that

    In putting these comments I appreciate we live in a world where it seems that anything goes

    And what sounds good is subjective and terms can develop to have new meanings ...

    To take the point above that c could be the the vii chord in d would mean that the c chord in that position could have a flat 5

    Sometimes I find that if I over analyse things I lose the impulsive playing response ...

    Not to be lazy, but if someone says, this song has these 3 chords I now tend to listen to what the other players are doing and then 'try' to play something to compliment that as compared trying to force something from a theoretical interpretation and finding I get in a mess because the theory of tradition is compromised in the written arrangement

    As an example
    In one transcript I have of Paul chambers ...red pepper blues, this C sharp pops up out of the blue ...and it is emphasised over an arpeggio, In the key of f with one flat b

    The harmony is c but the bass line is C sharp ...

    Theoretically makes absolutely no sense in the tradition of key signatures and it hardly makes sense in 'tone centre'

    but in context of the music what he is playing sounds good ...

    With this example I am assuming the transcript is write and I guess that PC played that intentionally, or maybe it just went down as C sharp and he meant c, who knows, but that's what it is ...

    I had a teacher encourage me to understand that for some of us we get hung up on all this stuff and at some stage , whilst it is important to understand theory and tradition etc,

    That we need to let it go, close our eyes and trust ourselves to just play ..

    In doing that we will probably hit a lot of bum notes along the way ...but we eventually will end up learning to play more good notes than bad notes, irrespective of key, interpretation etc

    Like in blues, a flat 7 on the one chord is technically wrong in a classical interpretation

    But if the maj 7 was constantly emphasised in Blues on the one chord the band would probably turn around and say, man what are you playing ....

    But in classical if you constantly emphasised the flat 7 on the one chord, the conductor would probably boot us out...

    As for a song with d c g, that leaves some interesting options but only some will sound better than others and that depends on how the song goes

    ... Lol .. For all of us as bass players

    ... The stuff we have to face ...

    But a good question I feel ...
    Last edited: Jun 18, 2016
    jmattbassplaya likes this.
  4. buldog5151bass

    buldog5151bass Kibble, milkbones, and P Basses. And redheads.

    Oct 22, 2003
    Flat 7th chords are very common in rock, taking away the leading tone (without gettin'all mode-crazy on you).
    eadg98005, INTP and Mushroo like this.
  5. Whousedtoplay


    May 18, 2013
    Here is your answer:
    Can't you see.PNG
    dtiii, Bassist4Eris and Mushroo like this.
  6. TedH


    Dec 6, 2014
    Westchester, NY
    There it is!

    Key and key signature are interchangeable, so the terms are fine. To the crux of the question here, many people say the tonal center is the key, typically the longest or first played chord as the key of the song, which isn't necessarily correct. If someone says that the key whatever mode (e.g. D-mixolydian for Can't you see; B-dorian for Thorn in my Pride, etc), that is legit, albeit complex for those who don't know them (NB - learn ionian, dorian and mixolydian if you play rock/blues/jazz standards, also known as the I, ii and V chords of a major key). The one thing to remember when someone does that is to cross check the 7th chord scale tonality so you know whether it's dominant/minor or major.

    Also helps to know your sharps and flats so you can cross verify. If the song is diantonic, if it's in D-maj, then C is sharp, which it ain't in Can't You See, and the 7th scale tone of D7 is Cnat, so you play a traditional Dmaj7 and it sounds great and like it's in Dmaj, but in reality, you are only playing the tri-tone chord (i.e. D, F#, A), not the 4th scale degree (i.e. the 7th or Cnat in this example). Once the song is non-diatonic (e.g. jazz or blues/R&B), then it gets more complex fast. I was playing a motown tune off of sheet music and F was sharp, except every F notated had the natural accidental. It happens. The song used other sharps (C,G,E,A), so vis a vis order of sharps, it needs to be written with F#, however it doesn't mean that the song needs to use it.
  7. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    Some of you guys are way overthinking this question.

    The simple answer is that the bVII chord (C in the key of D, F in the key of G, D in the key of E, etc.) is a common and beloved part of the folk/blues/rock/pop/country vocabulary. If you are writing a song, then you are "allowed" to use it. End of story.

    Don't fall into to the trap of thinking that all chords must be diatonic to the key signature. For example, you could write a song in D major with 5 major chords (D, G, A, C, and F for example) and it will sound great (if you use them in the right order).

    Also don't fall into the trap of adding 7ths to chords that don't need them. Many times it's preferable to play a triad, or a simple power chord (root-5th) and turning it into a major 7 or dominant 7 will sound weird. A perfect example of that, is lots of times beginners will play dominant 7th chords for every single bar of a 12 bar blues. Drives me nuts.

    I used to work in music publishing, and our "house style" was this: If a song is in the key of D, then there are two, and only two, acceptable key signatures: two sharps (F# C#) for D Major, or one flat (Bb) for D Minor. If the song uses a "mode" (such as dorian, mixolydian, or whatever) then accidentals are written as needed. For example, if you are writing a blues in D, you would use a key signature of two sharps, and write lots of natural signs for the C naturals and F naturals as they occur. The reason for this is that, let's say you use a key signature of 1 sharp (F#) to save yourself ink writing C natural accidentals, you might confuse the performer into thinking the song is in the key of G. Writing two sharps screams at the performer, "hey! get ready! this song is in D!" I recognize not everyone agrees with that philosophy of notation, just sharing what I was taught.
    Last edited: Jun 19, 2016
  8. joebar


    Jan 10, 2010
    although this chord sequence is very common and simple looking, it is probably the most frequently asked about topic in GI-

    it is best to see the C as a borrowed chord; it is a vii 7 chord. tonal centre is D.
    an interesting thing occurs though using the example of this song:
    so technically, the notes of these three chords imply D mixolydian. however, that doesn't mean you want to play a D7 chord as your I chord. when I see this progression, I know the vii 7 chord is where is can use the vii note (C) with great effect. when I get to the G or back to the D, I would likely work within pentatonic major avoiding the 7 altogether. the three chords in this song have a really strong major vibe and vii is a strong note and should be used with discretion.

    there are no hard fast rules, but it is a fascinating study I find.
  9. Whousedtoplay


    May 18, 2013
    I'd go further.

    We have D major. Next, we have D major with C in the bass. What's more the guitar plays D sus chord not the clean C.
    I'd rather call it a secondary dominant. Pop music is full of it.
    We get to G as a "pure" subdominant chord, and back to D major.
  10. DChalo


    Dec 16, 2015
    Austin, TX
    D is the Mixolydian mode of the G scale. The fifth (D7) is very common melodic basis in rock, jazz, etc
  11. joebar


    Jan 10, 2010
    you're totally right- I love it
  12. joebar


    Jan 10, 2010
    looking at it this way shows the power and pull of a 7 chord to the 4
    Mushroo and Whousedtoplay like this.
  13. Wooly John

    Wooly John

    May 16, 2014
    In D, the Scale of Chords is:
    I - ii - iii - IV - V - vi - viidim

    Although the 7th chord is properly diminished you will find that in popular music the bVII is commonly used - on the Circle of Fifths the C falls in the bVII position (in D), there is no diminished chord on the Circle - it's a touchy subject, some people will get really upset when you say that the VII chord is flat and not diminished - some call the bVII a borrowed chord or an optional chord - in practice, the bVII is used in popular music much more than the viidim even though the viidim is technically correct from the Locrian mode
    Last edited: Jun 19, 2016
  14. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    There's a lot of rock songs that use the I-bVII-IV progression: Sweet Home Alabama, Do Ya and Gloria come to mind immediately. There's also many folk and country tunes that use a I-bVII-V progression.
    Mushroo likes this.
  15. Whousedtoplay


    May 18, 2013
    Yes, Sweet Home Alabama, indeed, has that pure I-bVII-IV progression.
    Can't you see - DOES NOT.
  16. Lots of theory was written to explain classical music a loooong time ago. Pop music simply doesn't follow these conventions, so don't make the rookie mistake of forcing everything to fit your current level of understanding.

    Note: several people above stuffing up VII chord... It's definitely a bVII chord and very clearly not a diminished chord.
    MonetBass, joebar and tbz like this.
  17. A song that's both in Am & C major has an odd dilemma. Is Am a i or a vi chord?

    If your song above was D C G for verse but went to G (eg. G C D) in the chorus....
    Is the verse pattern I bVII IV or V IV I ??

    People argue about those, and technically both are right - it just depends on what else happens. (triad only, any other chords in song, etc).

    Mushroo's point above follows a standard convention for simplicity, consistency, etc. Great for publishers sales as it avoids the deep end of the swimming pool. ;)
    Last edited: Jun 19, 2016
  18. DavC

    DavC Supporting Member

    May 17, 2005
    Tallmadge , Ohio
    play what sounds right in that context ... your ears will tell you ...

    Rock music isn't always theory correct ...
    ed morgan and tbz like this.
  19. Whousedtoplay


    May 18, 2013
    You forgot one more choice. :confused: o_O :(

    I - V7 / IV (to indicate a secondary dominant of the IV degree) - IV. :rolleyes:
    Groove Doctor likes this.
  20. Gotta crawl before you can walk, let's not discuss running just yet. :help:

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