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Keys vs Chords - what should I focus on more?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by LooFunk, Jan 17, 2017.


  1. LooFunk

    LooFunk

    Jan 3, 2017
    I'm a little confused about keys and chords. For example a song might have the key specified in b flat, whilst everyone in the band will be just referring to the chords being used and don't care about the key.
    Does the key even matter when you have all the chords laid out infront of you?
     
  2. jallenbass

    jallenbass Supporting Member Commercial User

    May 17, 2005
    Bend, Oregon
    Chords definitely.
     
  3. RustyAxe

    RustyAxe

    Jul 8, 2008
    Connecticut
    I'm not understanding the question ... it's not either/or ... it's AND. You need to know the key of the song (how else will you know the scale?). You need to know the chords so you can play your bass line to work within that chord structure.
     
  4. Does the key matter if you have the chords shown? No you can get by with just the chord's name - and playing the notes of the chord - as they come up in the song.

    Should you want to clear up the difference in a key and a chord.

    1. When we say this song is in the key of C. What have we just said?
    2. Well, the key of C contains the notes in the C major scale.
    3. If we take those scale notes and stack every other one we get the chords used in the key of C.
    4. So when we say the song is in the key of C we are telling the treble clef guys to draw their melody notes from the C major scale - and we also tell the harmony guys (us) to draw their harmony from the chords in the key of C.
    5. A key contains the scale and the chords made from that scale.
    With out going into more detail I hope that helped clear up the confusion.

    A Google on harmonizing a melody will go into more detail, should you care to go there.

    Have fun.
     
    Last edited: Jan 17, 2017
  5. stringtapper

    stringtapper

    Jun 24, 2009
    Denton, TX
    Yes, it's a weird question because to know how keys work is to know what chords are inherent to each key.

    So by knowing your keys (really knowing them) you already know what the chords are (at least the diatonic chords).
     
    wisconsindead and MonetBass like this.
  6. buldog5151bass

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

    Oct 22, 2003
    Connecticut
    The two are not independent of each other. What the chords are will reflect the key. Unless you just planning on pounding roots, knowing the key can help you know what passing notes to play.
     
  7. MCS4

    MCS4

    Sep 26, 2012
    Fort Lauderdale, FL
    The answer is there is no answer. Everyone has a different opinion as to which is more important and to what degree, or whether they are equally important, although most would agree that at least some awareness of both is ideal.

    Focusing more strongly on chords seems to be a trend in instruction at the moment.
     
    LooFunk and HolmeBass like this.
  8. lz4005

    lz4005

    Oct 22, 2013
    Neither.
    You should be concentrating on the structure of the song. The intervals between chords and extensions of each chord (minor, flat9, 7sus4, etc). That way when you have to play it in a different key all you have to do is start it in a different position.
     
    QweziRider likes this.
  9. stringtapper

    stringtapper

    Jun 24, 2009
    Denton, TX
    None of that actually makes any sense though. Especially if the OP is playing music that has definite key centers.

    Knowing keys IS knowing chords. The "knowing" part inherently involves understanding the major or minor scales that the key is based on and what chords are built on each scale degree.

    In other words, you might eventually learn about keys by just studying chords, but (thoroughly) learning about keys will inherently give you an understanding of diatonic chords.
     
  10. stringtapper

    stringtapper

    Jun 24, 2009
    Denton, TX
    But that's contradictory advice, really.

    The part in bold is most easily accomplished through the study of how keys work and what the qualities of the diatonic chords they contain are (including extensions).
     
  11. Robroy

    Robroy

    Jun 21, 2006
    Central Kentucky
    I compare it to learning to read. You can learn phonics or you can learn rote words. The thing about rote words is that it works, but you never really fully understand why a word sounds like it does. But as your vocabulary increases, you do know more words.

    When you learn keys and the information behind it (what chords are included in that key) it is like learning phonics. You can usually say a word correctly even if you've never seen it before. i.e. Keys are the path to being a professional. Chords are the path to being competent. Once you understand the information behind keys, you know most of the chords and only need to be made aware of deviations in the chord structure, as in 1,4,5,4,1 vs 1,5.4,1, etc.
     
    LooFunk, HelpImaRock, SpyderX and 3 others like this.
  12. Skeptismo

    Skeptismo

    Sep 5, 2011
    Washington
    LooFunk, are you tracking diatonic chord formula? 1 (root) major, 2 minor, 3 minor, 4 major, 5 major, 6 minor, 7 diminished, 8 (root octave) major ?
     
  13. stringtapper

    stringtapper

    Jun 24, 2009
    Denton, TX
    For the benefit of the public, what this poster is calling the "root" is really called the "tonic" or scale degree 1 of the key. Every chord has a root, not just the I chord.
     
    SteveCS and Max Blasto like this.
  14. fearceol

    fearceol

    Nov 14, 2006
    Ireland
    Forgive me if I don't try to answer your question directly. :) As with your other thread..." Modes - am I getting this right"... you appear to be jumping into theory somewhere in the middle, i.e. you have not started at the beginning. It seems that the more people try to give advice, the more confused the situation becomes. This is not a put down. We have all been there at one time or another. I admire your quest for knowledge. However, if you have not put in the ground work, you are always going to end up confused and out of your dept.

    I offer the same advice (and tutorial link) as in your "Modes" thread. Go to the study guide on the "Studybass site (link below), start at the beginning, and SLOWLY work your way through the lessons in chronological order. This way, there are no gaps in the learning process.

    Best of luck. :thumbsup:


    Study Guide | StudyBass
     
  15. elgecko

    elgecko

    Apr 30, 2007
    Anasleim, CA
    If you were playing a song you've never played and were given a choice between the chords and the key, which one would be more practical?

    It's easy to play a song if you have the chords. If all you have is the key, you have to guess/listen for the chord progression and hope they're diatonic.
     
  16. stringtapper

    stringtapper

    Jun 24, 2009
    Denton, TX
    That first sentence doesn't make a whole lot of sense though, and really doesn't apply to the question.

    He didn't ask which is better to be given in a rehearsal situation. He asked which is better to study. Several of us have answered that the question (also) doesn't make sense because chords are necessarily tied up with the concept of keys.

    Again, in order to truly understand keys one will necessarily learn about the structure of the diatonic chords that make up those keys.
     
  17. elgecko

    elgecko

    Apr 30, 2007
    Anasleim, CA
    ...until they're not.
     
    Jim Carr likes this.
  18. LeeNunn

    LeeNunn Supporting Member

    Oct 9, 2012
    Charlottesville, VA
    I think it's both, but you need a little context. If someone tells you that a song is in C major for example, that doesn't mean that there will be no sharps or flats. You need to know what chord is being played if you're going to play anything besides the root, but you should know the scale that goes with the chord so that you don't have to limit yourself to the chord tones. For example, a minor 7th chord often uses a Dorian scale, but sometimes it's natural minor. Extensions (e.g., Cmaj13) sound complicated but give you more clues to the scale. The extension implies other notes. For example, C9 comprises C E G Bb and D. Finally, many bass lines use approach notes or chromatic patterns that don't fit in a scale. Everything is interrelated, and you'll learn music theory faster by applying it under the guidance of an instructor.
     
  19. Ant Illington

    Ant Illington I'm Anthony but I'm only illin' Banned

    Emphasis on diatonic.

    As someone who knows and understands the major scale and it's modes backward and forward and has known for decades while only having a cursory understanding of all them weird jazz chords, I can say that each day that I study jazz theory it becomes more and more evident that chords is where it's at. One little example in an ocean of oddities, as you must know bassed on your TB profile ... What scale tells you that we commonly raise the 9th on the iii chord of a major scale to avoid the "avoid note" 4th? Ono the other hand, follow the chord and that will save you.

    We all learn differently. Scales are very important but put yourself in a less experienced student's shoes. If nobody says "hey, forget the rigidity of a scale for a minute and just trust the chords," only then are they (me) gonna go "holy shtick, now I finally get it." Sure, there are weird and altered exotic scales that were created to facilitate odd stuff (odd stuff like commonly making the V chord major in a minor ii V I, where it SHOULD be minor according to scales most commonly known by regular guys... but the harmonic minor scale was created to facilitate it so that there is an easier, half step between the 7 and 8 ). If one just follows the chords one can get by, especially non-solo instruments.

    Again, scales are cool and I'm not picking a fight but I have been there, bewildered by chords that don't fit the rigidity of common scales and the given key signature.... not all too long ago and for a long time. Giving up and just following the chords worked until I have time to more thoroughly understand what is really going on.
     
    vin*tone, HolmeBass and joebar like this.
  20. stringtapper

    stringtapper

    Jun 24, 2009
    Denton, TX
    But one should start somewhere. Starting with borrowed chords, secondary dominants, and chromatic harmonies sounds like a disaster waiting to happen compared to starting with diatonic harmony.

    Remember, the OP was asking which one to study, and once again the answer is both, because the two are interrelated and starting with the diatonic chords within major and minor is a tried and true way to start studying harmony.
     

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