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keys in a song.

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by mikomiloho, Dec 11, 2006.

  1. mikomiloho


    Nov 8, 2006
    hey, i know i've kinda asked this before but i cant find my thread anymore cos i went on quite a long holiday.. wld someone recap my memory pls? :hyper:
    i know there aint no "right way" in music but this is kinda a basic question.

    let's say i wanna write a song in C. the notes i would usually use are
    C D E F G A B C

    but how do you know whether it should be a minor or dominant or smt? is it the modes? so its C Dm Em F? G? Am B C

    could someone clear this for me?

    my next question would be something similar but i have no idea where to start. what if i wanna write a song in Gm for example?
    what would be the "right" keys to use?
    i know a Gm scale consist of
    G A Bb C D Eb F G

    but again, how do you know whether the key you use would be a major or minor?

    i didnt really know how to convey my thoughts into words, haha. i hope you would be able to understand my question, thanks guys. ;)
  2. zac2944


    Dec 28, 2004
    Rochester, NY

    I think what you're looking for is a crash course in Diatonic Harmony. Here's a link to a site with info on this.

    Hope that helps.
  3. mikomiloho


    Nov 8, 2006
    hmm, Bdim for example is a B with a flat fifth, am i right?

    so if i wanna write a song in C, notes i wld probably use are
    C Dm Em F G Am Bdim C??

    alright, if i'm right then it answers my 1st question! whee, but what about my second question? if i wanna write a song in Gm for example..

  4. Meh theory schmeory...if it sounds good, it's right.
  5. dlloyd

    dlloyd zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

    Apr 21, 2004
    I think you mean which "chords" to use.

    Construct the triads from the scale*.

    G, Bb, D
    A, C, Eb
    Bb, D, F
    C, Eb, G
    D, F, A
    Eb, G, Bb
    F, A, C

    If you work out the intervals*, you find you have the following chords:

    i Gm
    ii Adim
    III Bb
    iv Cm
    v Dm
    VI Eb
    VII F

    For the purposes of pop songs, you won't go too far wrong using those chords.

    The resolution of the v chord to the tonic is a bit unconvincing though, which is why we sometimes use the harmonic minor or melodic minor.

    * If you didn't understand that, you might want to go and read this post I made in the other thread...

  6. cowsgomoo

    cowsgomoo gone to Longstanton Spice Museum

    Feb 8, 2003
    if it sounds good, it IS right, and if you can use theory to understand WHY it sounds right to you, you can replicate it and use it whenever you like, rather than just stumbling around trying chance upon good sounding stuff like trying to pin the tail on the donkey with a blindfold on...

    this is the forum for people to discuss & learn about theory if they want to... if you don't, that's great but elsewhere might be a more satisfying place for you :)
  7. this forum is not just about theory though, this forum is about bass, and less specifically, music. by giving his insight on music, he may have helped someone to learn.

    i think a lot of people forget that there is more to music than what is generally considered "music theory". i know that literally "music theory" would cover every part of music, but in reality, it doesn't, it pretty much only covers the notes, mostly only pitch-wise too.
    think about all of the aspects that that leaves out, groove, echnique, feel, tone, emotion, fun, dynamics...etc.

    im not saying you have to agree with me, but i think that the emphasis placed on notes in this forum is way over-rated and to some degrees, pointless.

    what is the point of knowing what notes make up a Dbmb5, or some other weird chord if you cant make it groove?
  8. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    What's the point of grooving if you can't figure out what to play over changes? There's a hell of a lot more to playing bass than grooving, BTW.
  9. cowsgomoo

    cowsgomoo gone to Longstanton Spice Museum

    Feb 8, 2003
    I agree with you... and if you ever had a chance to read my posts you'd see i'm not just some scale-head to the exclusion of all those other things

    but the original poster asked a specific question about notes, so just going 'forget notes, just groove!' doesn't address his question, at all...

    I think you're 100% right that there's more to music than the pitches... but I think it's important we at least TRY to help people when they ask a question and not just use every thread to ignore the question and push our own little agendas.. which happens a lot here
  10. To me, the OP seemed rather worried about what SHOULD be played next, according to music theory, and I thought encouraging him that his ear was just as good a judge as a theory book has just as much place in a forum discussing general instruction than a discussion strictly on theory. The General Instruction thread also discusses topics like how to slap, how to mute etc and there's not much actual theory to those topics either.

    We're not talking rocket or nuclear science here, we're discussing music...and in my (uneducated) opinion and own music writing at least, the music doesn't depend on theory nearly as much as the theory depends on the music.

    Anyway Cowsgomoo, I appreciate the help and encouragement you gave me when I asked about scales and got some wrong, and I apologise if my reply here made you feel the need to set me straight. It wasn't my intention to discredit music theory as such, or to suggest to the OP that he ignore notes, just trying to encourage him to trust his ear as well as music theory to choose the "right" notes...
  11. cowsgomoo

    cowsgomoo gone to Longstanton Spice Museum

    Feb 8, 2003
    cool, what you say is absolutely right (IMO anyway :) ) I just thought you were being one of the 'who needs theory???' dudes :)
  12. Nope, but it's easy to perceive that and I'll think more about my posts in future. Rock on :bassist:
  13. Its simple if its a song in C (major) the 1st (C) 4th(F) and 5th (G) chords are major and the rest are minor . This is a RULE and applies to every major scale . Theory is just as important as grooving . how the hell would you be able to jam with another musician if you don't know in what key he is ?
  14. Sneckumhaw


    Apr 26, 2006
    Theory is important. But with a good set of ears, a guy can jam without knowing what the notes are called or intellectually "knowing" what key another person is playing in.
  15. Ten Four One

    Ten Four One

    Dec 5, 2006
    You don't write a song in "The key of C" without it being major or minor (or some other variation). You write it in "The key of C Major" or "The Key of C Minor." Major is happier, minor is sadder. (In general, about 98% of the time.)

    Chords are made up of "triads" of three notes. A triad starts at a note & then skips every other note. A "C major chord" is C, E, G. Notice how you skipped D and F.

    You could also say this "root third and fifth" for the first, third, and fifth note in the key or scale.

    Whether a chord (or a key) is major or minor depends on where the 3rd falls (and to a lesser extent the 6th & 7th). The chord either has a major third or a minor third. (or augmented or diminished, but let's ignore than for now).

    If you were to play C major triad would look (on a bass) like this:

    G x-----
    D --2--5
    A 3-----
    E x-----

    A C minor triad:

    G x-----
    D --1-5-
    A 3-----
    E x-----

    Note that the minor third is simply one fret lower than the major third.

    Now, you can build a chord starting from each note in the scale simply by starting at that note and building a triad - every other note.

    1 C E G
    2 D F A
    3 E G B


    If you do this, you'll find that 1, 4 and 5 (as someone mentioned) are major, and all the rest are minor.

    To build a minor scale, just use all the same notes as the C scale, but start on A - A, B, C, D, E, F, G.

    Does this answer your question at all? I know it's a bit much to digest, but those are the basics.

    If you want to create a really musical exercise for yourself, much better than just running scales - run triads. Start at C and play a C triad, then a D triad, than an E triad and so on.
  16. ^^^^^^


    Very good post. This is one of the best breakdowns of this information that I've seen. All killer, no filler.

    And I don't care what anybody else says! ;^)

  17. The way I do it is to allways remember the chord progression scale for ANY major key:

    I ii iii IV V vi viidim

    as in: Maj, Min, Min, Maj, Maj, Min, Dim.
  18. Ten Four One

    Ten Four One

    Dec 5, 2006
    W00t! Thanks!

    The way I remember it is pretty much how I described it. Eventually you just "know" that the third or 5th is in this position away from the root. I used to sit around with an acoustic guitar and play triads/chords up and down the fretboard.

    G 0 2 4 5
    D 2 3 5 7
    A 3 5 7 8

    But this is bass, so I think my little etude is better, and it makes more sense to start on G because you run out of stings in the standard 1 octave hand position.

    Key of G (major)

    (The F#dim is diminished because the 5th note is flat)

    I never came up with a minor version because I'm a lazy bum, but it would look like this:

    Key of A minor

    Do it backwards & forwards. Do it to a metronome if you want to drive yourself crazy.
  19. spc


    Apr 10, 2004
    South of Boston
    With regards to "the rest are minor", you're forgetting that the 7 is diminished (you knew that though I'm sure)...

    Here's my take:

    1 4 and 5 are major
    2 3 and 6 are minor
    and the 7 is diminished

    So we all agree, that means:

    major= 1 3 5
    minor=1 b3 5
    diminished=1 b3 b5

    since we've been talking about the key of c, that means:

    BDF (remembering diminished= 1b3b5)
    The way I do it is I think of the key, let's say D, and if I want the 6th chord for example, I know because of the above "here's my take" section that the 6 is minor, so I know I'm looking for Bmin, I think of Bmaj, make that minor (so BD#F# would be BDF)

    Hence I recommend that every musician memorize the maj chords:


    In other words, be able to apply the formulas that you've memorized...so if you want to know what Edim is (notice I'm talking about the chord, not keys, but for the record, Edim can be in two keys, F and Dminor, diatonically speaking)
    you would think E=EG#B (and we know that dim=1b3b5)
    so Edim would be EGBb...

    Also helpful might be the following:

    Since we've memorized the majors (135),
    the 2 is a whole step above the root
    the 4 is a 1/2 step above the 3rd
    the 6 is a whole step above the fifth
    and the 7 is a half step below the root

    I find most musicians I encounter (whether they can play well or not, remember, we're talking harmony, follow the rules or don't, dig?) don't know the above material, and or can't do it without an instrument, etc. Then people want to discuss bigger chords (7ths, 13ths and the like) and how can they ever understand that stuff without knowing the above?
    FWIW, there are rules for that stuff as well, but this should be a good start for the op.

  20. spc


    Apr 10, 2004
    South of Boston
    "You don't write a song in "The key of C" without it being major or minor (or some other variation)."

    What other variations?

    "Chords are made up of "triads" of three notes."

    So is a power chord not a chord? (having two notes)

    "Theory is important. But with a good set of ears, a guy can jam without knowing what the notes are called or intellectually "knowing" what key another person is playing in."

    Why not have a good set of ears, and be the guy in the room who knows theory? The op was asking about how to figure out what chords are in what key...

    "what is the point of knowing what notes make up a Dbmb5"

    that would be Dbdim or Db Fb Abb

    Sorry, rant over...


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