Victor Wooten: There are 30 keys

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Tupac, Jan 13, 2022.

  1. Tupac


    May 5, 2011
    12 notes in an octave, each major and minor... so 24 right? Not so, according to Vic:

    His argument is: for the major scale, you can have either: zero sharps/flats, 1 - 7 sharps, or 1- 7 flats. 15 total. Count the relative minors and you get 30.

    It's obvious he's double-counting enharmonic keys. Why? Is there a benefit to thinking of, for example, Db major (5 flats) as C# major (7 sharps)?
    iiipopes likes this.
  2. Why is he counting enharmonic keys?... because they exist. It's not a matter of if there is a benefit. It's just a statement of fact.
  3. Technically defensible math. Ridiculous pedagogy.
  4. Papageno


    Nov 16, 2015
    If you are playing a tune in F# major, and at some point the tune modulates to the dominant (a very common modulation), you will be in C# major (not Db major). This is so because you modulate by sharping one single note: B ---> B#.
    But if are playing a tune in Ab major, wich at some point modulates to the subdominant (another very common modulation), you will be Db major (not C# major). You modulate by flatting one single note: G ---> Gb.

    Of course, if you are playing a piece that is entirely in Db major, you can equally write it the enharmonic key of C#: it is the same piece. That is why Bach has 24 preludes and fugues in each of the 2 books of the WTC (not 30). Same for Chopin's 24 preludes which cover all 24 tonalities. It is actually the point of equal temperament that Bach wanted to demonstrate with WTC: in equal temperament, C# and Db sound exactly the same, i.e. they are enharmonic. With non equal temperament, C# major and Db major would not sound the same, and it would not be possible to go smoothly around the circle of 5ths, so that modulations would be awkward or impossible.

    In the WTC, one may wonder why Bach choses to write in C# major (7 sharps) instead of the simpler Db major (only 5 flats). I suspect it is because he uses the same key for both major and minor. Since there is a key of C# minor (4 sharps) and no key of Db minor (that would require double flats in the key signature), he writes in C# rather than Db major.

    Wictor Wooten knows all of this, and his point is that one needs to be equally fluent with C# major and Db major, because there are contexts where they are not harmonically equivalent.
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2022
  5. BassyBill

    BassyBill Still here Gold Supporting Member

    Mar 12, 2005
    West Midlands UK
    Not ridiculous at all - just correct. Yes, he’s counting enharmonic keys twice (for example, C# major and Db major, or F# major and Gb major). But he’s also avoiding counting keys that don’t exist unless you start using double sharps or flats, such as G# major.

    For the record, here are the 15 major keys that exist using up to 7 single sharps or flats:
    C G D A E B F# C# F Bb Eb Ab Db Gb Cb. Note that there’s no A# B# D# E# G# or Fb, and the asymmetry of existing sharp and flat keys in this respect. You couldn’t work that out by thinking “12 notes = 12 major keys”.
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2022
  6. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    According to Adam Neely there is arguably more than 30.
    DJ Bebop and jschulman like this.
  7. RichSnyder

    RichSnyder Columbia, MD Gold Supporting Member

    Jun 19, 2003
    For us, on bass, C# and Db can be used interchangeably, but if you're playing with a group then you should know the difference and when to use which.

    I attended a Victor Wooten session at the Bass Boot Camp. It was a late night session, actually it wasn't specifically his session now that I remember it he was there and ended up taking over (not maliciously, just how it flowed). This was after 14 hours of bass sessions already in the day, doing yoga with your bass, Anthony Wellington rattling off the sharps and flats in all scales, etc, etc. Victor (great bassist) started going down the metaphysical path of the existence of the bass and the connection to the player. And I had enough for the day. Unfortunately I was sitting in the front row and couldn't sneak out. Yes Victor, you're a far better player than I and I should be listened to any nugget dropped but I'm going to explode if I hear another slap lick. But I made it through. I think we got out around midnight. Lesson learned, always sit in the back.
  8. Esteban Garcia

    Esteban Garcia bassist, arranger, aelurophile Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2018
    Portland, OR
    The real secret is there are zero keys. You can play any note against any chord, and it will either sound consonant or dissonant. Use dissonance to build tension and consonance to resolve tension.

    It's great to learn theory, I love it. But it's descriptive, not prescriptive.
    bassrique, DirtDog, Winoman and 32 others like this.
  9. bfields


    Apr 9, 2015
    Ann Arbor, MI
    Weirder keys definitely pop up every now and then too, like G# (which has 8 sharps, if you count the F-double-sharp twice). Though in every case I've seen I think it's a temporary modulation--I don't think I've ever seen a double-sharp or double-flat in a key signature.

    It happens because if you, say, modulate up the cycle of fifths repeatedly, it's a choice between double sharps or switching suddenly from a key with a lot of sharps to one with a lot of flats, which may be harder to read.

    So if you want to be a good sight reader, you also need to know those weirder keys exist, and need to recognize what and mean, but the "30 keys" are what you'll mainly practice.

    (Edit: "what and mean" was supposed to be "what (double-sharp sign) and (double-flat sign) mean", but I'm not going to try to figure out what talkbass software doesn't like the characters I tried to use....)
    AGCurry, Winoman, Mastermold and 3 others like this.
  10. This is a great reply. The Bach vs Wooten thing has come up for me before, this is great information.

    Also how hard/soft is the rule, or convention, against double sharps or double flats in a key signature? I have never seen the like, but I don’t regularly read sheet music either.
  11. iiipopes

    iiipopes Supporting Member

    May 4, 2009
    On instruments that do not use equal temperament tuning, especially on some pipe organs, some harpsichords, and some builders' and players' preferred historical niche, Wooten's statement may have some merit because different tunings and temperaments do favor certain different keys. But especially on an electric bass, with (at least theoretically) 12 equal semitones per octave, the enharmonic aspect is more a reading charts issue than it is a musical issue.
    BBQisgood likes this.
  12. In an equal tempered world, people who write in double sharp or double flat keys are just being jerks.
  13. stringtapper


    Jun 24, 2009
    Denton, TX
    Its pretty absolute at this point. When notational conventions were still being developed there were different ideas of how to approach key signatures, most notably in relation to minor keys. Some composers and theorists in the 18th century recommended using a mixed accidental key signature for minor keys to represent ‘harmonic minor.’ For instance, a G minor key signature would have Bb, Eb, and F# in the key signature. Obviously that didn’t catch on.
  14. SteveCS


    Nov 19, 2014
    Hampshire, UK
    Its a pretty hard rule - you haven't seen them because they don't exist.
  15. Hmm, I am not sure I agree. If they wrote the song on guitar and modulated to a bridge that winds up w/ double sharps or double flats, the only issue that arises is when scoring the tune, not when writing it or playing it.

    But the key was actually picked by ear, to go with the singer’s voice and/or mood, without thought of how it would be scored.
    Tupac likes this.
  16. Medicine Man

    Medicine Man

    Apr 10, 2015
    I can't even get one of the guitar players to say what chord he is actually playing with a capo on. If his fingers are in a G chord shape, he calls it a G chord regardless of the actual notes. This level of semantics has little impact on many of us, despite being technically correct. One of the many reasons Vic get better gigs, i guess.
    Winoman, whero, Waltsdog and 6 others like this.
  17. Thanks for the clarification. I was thinking it was a rule, or at least a very strong convention, but I don’t have the experience or knowledge to emphatically say it is so.

    But now I’ve read it on the internet so I am golden! (Small joke - I trust your knowledge. Thank you.)
  18. Like I said, jerks. :D
    Audiomicrowave likes this.
  19. lfmn16


    Sep 21, 2011
    charles town, wv
    Although I’m firmly in the camp of more knowledge is always better, for someone playing in the average band situation, there isn’t a lot of call for playing in C#. I think you should spend the bulk of your time practicing in the keys you play in the most.

    Having said that, my current band transposes a lot of tunes for the BL and I have to play in C#, F#, Eb, F, B, and Ab; not keys the typical rock band uses a lot.
    Phaidrus likes this.
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