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Keys...confusion...graaaaaah!

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Aaron Saunders, Apr 18, 2003.


  1. Aaron Saunders

    Aaron Saunders

    Apr 27, 2002
    Ontario
    Alright, after a very confusing talk in IRC about keys, I've decided to ask here.

    How many keys are there, and what are they? I'm under the impression that there are twelve:

    A
    A#
    B
    C
    C#
    D
    D#
    E
    F
    F#
    G
    G#

    However, apparently there's minors and majors thrown in somewhere. For instance, in B flat, the placement of the two flats indicate that all B's and E's are considered flat unless marked with a natural sign. Is this a minor key or a major? Neither? If made into a minor or a major key, how does this affect the notes played? How do I know if ___ is a major or a minor key? Help is greatly needed and would be even more greatly appreciated.
     
  2. mflaherty

    mflaherty Supporting Member

    Oct 9, 2001
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  4. moley

    moley

    Sep 5, 2002
    Hampshire, UK
    There are in fact, more than 24 keys, due to enharmonics (e.g. there is both F# Major and Gb Major).

    Each note of the scale has a major and a minor key associated with it. E.g. C Major, C Minor, D Major, D Minor etc.

    However, each key signature (that is, set of sharps or flats representing the notes that are assumed to be flattened/sharpened) has two keys it represents - a major one and a minor one. The major key is *always* a minor third above the minor one. For example, Bb Major and G Minor have the same key signature. So to D Major and B Minor. The minor key is always a minor 3rd (3 semitones, or 3 half-steps) below the major one.

    Here are the keys that you'll find used, together with their key signatures.

    C major / A Minor : no sharps or flats

    F Major / D Minor : 1 flat - Bb
    Bb Major / G Minor : 2 flats - Bb, Eb
    Eb Major / C Minor : 3 flats - Bb, Eb, Ab
    Ab Major / F Minor : 4 flats - Bb, Eb, Ab, Db
    Db Major / Bb Minor : 5 flats - Bb, Eb, Ab, Db, Gb
    Gb Major / Eb Minor : 6 flats - Bb, Eb, Ab, Db, Gb, Cb

    G Major / E Minor : 1 sharp - F#
    D Major / B Minor : 2 sharps - F#, C#
    A Major / F# Minor : 3 sharps - F#, C#, G#
    E Major / C# Minor : 4 sharps - F#, C#, G#, D#
    B Major / G# Minor : 5 sharps - F#, C#, G#, D#, A#
    F# Major / D# Minor : 6 sharps - F#, C#, G#, D#, A#, E#

    So, a quick count up there, we've got 26 keys. The reason it's 26 not 24 is that we've got both F# major and Gb major, and both Eb minor and D# minor. The reason is that you don't really gain anything by using one over the other - one is 6 sharps, the other is 6 flats.

    There are also key signatures with 7 sharps/flats (7 sharps is C# Major/A# Minor, 7 flats is Cb Major/Ab Minor) - but, you could say that you don't really need them, because you've got all the bases covered with the above 26 keys.

    It's generally considered that, the fewer sharps/flats in a key signature, the better. From the point of view of reading music - the fewer you have to remember to mentally put in - the easier it is.

    So, you'll see Db Major (5 flats) used instead of C# Major (7 sharps) etc.

    So, key signatures with 7 sharps/flats could be said to be redundant - as you only need 6 to cover all the bases.

    In answer to your question about the key of Bb, with the Bbs and the Ebs - it is a major key. There is also Bb Minor, which has five flats - Bb, Eb, Ab, Db, Gb. And, G Minor also shares the key signature of 2 flats with Bb major.

    So if you see a piece, with a key signature of 2 flats (it'll always be Bb and Eb, in this case) - it could either be in Bb Major or G Minor. The same goes for any of those pairs of keys I've listed above.
     
  5. Fishface

    Fishface

    Jul 26, 2002
    Denver, Colorado
    The difference between a major and a minor generally starts with the 3rd note of a given scale. In a major scale the 3rd note is 2 whole steps (4 frets) from the root and the 5th note is usually 1-1/2 steps (3frets) from the 3rd. In a minor scale you would reverse that (1-1/2 from root to 3rd, 2 from 3rd to 5th).

    This is very simplistic and there is much more to majors/minors than that, but that is a starting point.

    Those 3 notes give you your basic chord tones, which are root/3rd/5th. This is also called a triad.

    Best to get a teacher (as many will tell you here), or get some books and study them.
     
  6. jazzbo

    jazzbo

    Aug 25, 2000
    San Francisco, CA
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