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Key vs Key Signature

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

  1. Growing up with jazz, I had very helpful buddies guide me thru playing any parts I found complex. I feel I can navigate anything now as a result. It's never too late to start.....

    Dummies guide to Jazz....
    of the chords in jazz are simply familiar patterns and familiar exceptions/variations to those patterns. Instead of thinking scales or key, I've always thought in terms of a "pool of note choices" that will work with that chord or group of chords (chord progression).

    I've found thinking "add this note", "change this note", and "try to avoid this note (unless it sounds good)" vey helpful - it opens your ear & your playing tremendously.

    My brother can play anything on guitar/dobro/mandolin, but cant explain note choices other than "it sounded good". As Chris stated, at the end of the day that's what really matters.
    Last edited: Jun 20, 2016
    BBQisgood likes this.
  2. joebar


    Jan 10, 2010
    this is a great thread-sure beats "why does my squire sound better when my window is open?" threads.

    as you were-
    carry on.
  3. Whousedtoplay


    May 18, 2013
    P.S. WOW! Thanks for a nice tip!
    joebar likes this.
  4. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    As a funcional dyslexic, I struggled mightily with reading music and understanding "written" theory concepts in my younger days. The lightbulb moment came when some great teachers gave me some tools and concepts for adapting and connecting the things I naturally did well to better learn to understand the things that did not come easily. When it came to jazz and more complicated music, the trick for me was to understand the harmony as a number of shifting diatonic key centers; further study showed that I could benefit from understanding the number of notes that adjacent key centers shared.

    Before coming to this way of looking at jazz harmony, it was often incomprehensible to me. Once I could see more complicated progressions as arrangements of diatonic chunks from different key centers, it became much easier. As mentioned earlier in this thread, theory should (IMO) represent an explanation of why we hear things the way we do; it should never represent a set of rules that we must follow. It may seem like an elusive distinction, but in my experience it was the fundamental distinction tat unlocked everything else.
  5. Very nice way of explaining it Chris. :thumbsup:
    BBQisgood and Chris Fitzgerald like this.
  6. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    The other big "lightbulb moment" with understanding changes came by throwing out the concept of "chord scales" entirely and looking at the chords themselves without making assumptions about what's attached to them. IME, this is what our ears do behind the scenes upon hearing a progression while the analytical brain looks for a formula and prelearned answers. In the case of the song in question, there are three ways of looking at it:

    1) Chord scale by chord scale in a vacuum (no context): Would lead the player to play D Major, then D Mixolydian, then G major, or one concept/thought per chord. (This is the way theory is unfortunately often taught, but I personally find it the least helpful in terms of actually understanding what's going on)

    2) Chord by chord in a tonality (tonality context): Would lead the player to play D Major, then D Mixolydian, then G Lydian; technically these are 3 chord scales, but in reality they are the tonality of D major with a toggle switch on the 7th which flips down on the second chord and then back up again. In this sense, it's like one thought with an asterisk, and IMO is an infinitely better level to be at when approaching a song than the approach outlined in #1 above.

    3) Broad brush (blanket tonality, or "meta tonality"* context): if you took all of the harmonic notes of all three chords actually played and threw them into a bucket, then tumped them out onto a table and lined them back up, you'd end up with D-E-F#-G-A-B-C-D, which is just a D7 scale. This is why this scale - and the D major pentatonic it contains - works so well over the entire progression. If you add in the F natural that you hear in the flute and the vocal on the last phrase (i.e. - she been doin' to me), you end up with a collection that now includes D-E-(F)-F#-G-A-B-C-D. While I don't know if this collection has an official universally recognized name, I'd call it a sort of "D7 blues" sound, and it works well over the entire progression. It also allows players to play the D minor blues sound over the G chord if they like, since with the addition of the F natural it contains the D minor pentatonic scale.

    Sorry for the long sidebar. :help: But over the years I've learned that it's best for me to approach things from the big picture (#3) first, then understand #2, and only deal with #1 when absolutely necessary, and only long enough to get me back to one of the other levels where the music flows more freely.

    * the term "meta tonality" isn't a recognized term, but could be useful in describing the higher level of abstraction involved in looking at harmony in this way... or not. :D
  7. Again, an elegant explanation. It's how I think too, just better expressed.
    Spin Doctor and Chris Fitzgerald like this.
  8. When improvising, this is the only thing that ever worked for me. Chord scales felt like too much thought was involved and didn't seem natural. Approaching the thing as a big picture, made sense. As I got more into it, I learned to find spots where I could throw in juicier bits over certain dominant chords with melodic and harmonic minor stuff. So I'm currently going back over tunes that I have already learned and started digging through the harmony for more information.

    Very well put!
    Chris Fitzgerald likes this.
  9. tilt724

    tilt724 Not too old to learn...I hope!

    Jan 1, 2016
    All that sounds very interesting...I don't understand it yet, but it sounds interesting.:confused:
  10. bozobarnum


    Oct 23, 2014
    Key signature is more of a classical, staff paper term, referring to what notes will be in a piece (excluding accidentals). Its a list of notes notated on a staff. Because classical music is intended to be played as written, key center is unimportant, because you play what is on the page.

    Key is a looser term which usually includes key center, eg A Major, E minor, F Lydian or whatever.
  11. It takes awhile to wrap your head around it all...
  12. AngelCrusher

    AngelCrusher Supporting Member

    Sep 12, 2004
    Mesa Boogie, Tech 21, Taylor
  13. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    Keep in mind that, in most case , composers are not explicitly thinking in terms of borrowed chords, parallel modes etc.
    While It can be useful to know how unexpected chords relate to the nominal key of a song,
    "this chord sounds good here" is all the reasoning that is needed.
    Groove Doctor likes this.

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