Dismiss Notice

Psst... Ready to join TalkBass and start posting, make new friends, sell your gear, and more?  Register your free account in 30 seconds.

What does it mean when a song is in the key of something?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by danqi, Feb 12, 2002.


  1. danqi

    danqi

    May 21, 2001
    Germany
    Hi,
    What exactly does it mean when a song is in the key of something?
    When a song is in the key of C, does that mean when I want to play a major scale I would play the normal C major scale, whereas when a song is in the key of A I would play the mode of the major scale starting on A?
    Or does it have to do something with the chord structure of the song?
     
  2. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    ORGANIC,

    It kind of means both of the things you mentioned, although it can mean many other things as well. If a song is completely "in" any given key, it means that all of the notes of both the melody and chords come from one single tonality (which can be expressed in terms of a scale). Often, though, it means that a song begins (and often ends) in one tonality but passes through others as the song progresses.

    The simple answer is that yes, you CAN play from the scale of the key the song is in for as long as the song stays in that key - but at some point you'll likely become bored with only doing that, at which point you can start to study ways to more specifically outline each chord that goes by if you wish.

    Hope this helps.


    DURRLA BARTOK
     
  3. eli

    eli Mad showoff 7-stringer and Wish lover Supporting Member

    Dec 12, 1999
    NW suburban Chicago
    HOO! Tricky question to answer.

    The key a song is in is USUALLY (not always) the same as the name of the chord that feels like "home" or the settling spot. What you play does depend on the key, but primarily on what CHORD is sounding at the time. Also be aware that rock, blues, and jazz do not follow the same conventions (I hesitate to use the word "rules") that classical music theory will teach you.

    For example: You could learn some elementary theory that tells you you should play an F major scale when the chord is F in a song that is in F major. But if you're in the real contemporary world playing a blues song that's in F major, usually the guitar and keys will play an F7 chord when the song sheet says F. If you play an F major scale, the e natural will sound kind of lame because the other people are playing eb instead.

    Don't mistake me as saying that classical theory is bad. Begining classical theory is the way music was made in Europe 300 or so years ago, and things have evolved since then; so it's a good starting point, but it certainly doesn't explain everthing you hear on the radio today. Different styles of music have different conventions, and you have to learn the ones for the styles you plan to play. And don't be surprised if they don't work in another style.

    Wow. Is that more than you wanted to hear?
     
  4. danqi

    danqi

    May 21, 2001
    Germany
    Wait a second.
    If a song is in - let's say - F. Does that mean I can use an F scale of some kind (major, minor, mixohyrophlicayn) to create the chords from bar to bar (I guess that is called chord progression), thus use this scale at a higher level? And then can I use - on a lower level, within the bars - other scales above the chords?

    :confused:
     
  5. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    If a song is "in" F, meaning that all of the chords from the song are built using only notes from the key of F, then you can use the scale to create melodies over the chords. As far a using other scales above the chords, yes, you can do that. The other scales that you'll be using will sound "inside" if you use the mode of the key that corresponds to the original "parent scale", and some degree of "outside" if you use something else.

    For example, if you know the modes and can do Roman Numeral analysis, you notice that the following chords/modes in Major go together:

    I - Ionian (Major)
    ii - Dorian
    iii - Phrygian
    IV - Lydian
    V - Mixolydian
    vi - Aeolian (Natural minor)
    vii - Locrian

    So in the key of C, the C Major scale is safe to play over all of these chords, or you could also think of the following modes as the specific chords come up:

    C Ionian, D Dorian, E Phrygian, F Lydian, G Mixolydian, A Aeolian, B Locrian.

    Once you get the pattern down, it gets easier.
     
  6. danqi

    danqi

    May 21, 2001
    Germany
    When you say "using onlynotes from the key of F", do you talk about the major scale? Or can I use any scale in the key of F to create chords, this way? (maybe even the agyptian hyperboranticlyphis scale :D )

    I think I am now starting to understand this stuff.
    I don't know why I am having such a hard time with it, I am pretty smart otherwise :D ;) .
    My problem is that I am never pleased with understanding just a part of something. When I get into new stuff I always want to understand "why", " why not" and "what if that is this way"
     
  7. eli

    eli Mad showoff 7-stringer and Wish lover Supporting Member

    Dec 12, 1999
    NW suburban Chicago
    Again: All of the modes are built from the major scale. If all you ever play is modes, you will always sound a certain way.

    Like I said before, there are other scales (blues, diminished, rock pentatonic or "5-tone") that will give your playing different textures and colors. Modes is an OK place to start building your understanding of music, but it will not in itself give you much to play that sounds current.
     
  8. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY

    I think you're getting it. If the song is "in" the kkey of F Major, then you would draw the chords from the major scale. If it's in F minor, then things get a bit more complicated - then you would most often use F natural minor to draw the chords from, but at least one of the chords (the V is the most common) would have an altered tone in it (in this case, the altered tone would be E natural as opposed to Eb). Did HASBRO cover diatonic chords from minor in his "Idiot's guide to Scales" primer? I can't remember.


    CRISP FISHJAWS
     
  9. danqi

    danqi

    May 21, 2001
    Germany
    Ok, cool, I think i got it know. I will just need some time to incorporate these new concepts into my palying. You have really helped me out.
    Just one more thing:

    What has irritated me a little is that everybody always talks about the major scale. This makes me wonder about them other scales.
    I have often heard people say a song is in the key of F Major or Minor (see Chris' post), but can it also be in the key of F "some freaky scale that has nothing to do with the major scale"? I would not see why not, it is just that everybody always talks about major and minor scales.
    I don't really know much about other scales, I am just curious. i would like to try some kind of aegyptian scale or something like that one day.
    Also, does the circle of 5th only apply to songs that are in a major key? Or could you apply it also to a song with chords derived from an aegyptian scale (for example)?

    Maybe I should just stick to them major and minor scales for now.:rolleyes:

    Thanks
     
  10. stephanie

    stephanie

    Nov 14, 2000
    Scranton, PA
    I'd like to jump in here and ask a question I'm assuming is similar to orthanc's:

    Say you want to base your piece (or at least a portion) on a weird scale, let's say an Egyptian scale (not that I know any). It starts out in that scale, now the key signature would be related to that scale? That's what I'm confused about. I know I read here somewhere, that you can change a key to relate to the (weird) scale you are doing, does that hold true if the whole piece were in that weird scale?

    Let me find a scale I know to show an example: the Blues scale. The Blues Scale is formed using the 1, b3, 4, b5, b7 notes of the major scale.

    Ex: A Blues Scale=A C D D# E G A

    Now, if that scale was used throughout the whole piece, what would your key signature show? I'm assuming, maybe, the Key of C major? (No sharps or flats). There is a D# in that blues scale, but would the # just be an accidental?

    I hope I'm correct in saying that key signatures only reflect what major key or minor key the piece is in. Can you call weird scales "offshoots" of the major and minor scales?

    Confused Today,
    Stephanie
     
  11. thrash_jazz

    thrash_jazz

    Jan 11, 2002
    Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
    Artist: JAF Basses, Circle K Strings
    I'm not sure, I've never seen a key signature that was in a "weird scale". I have seen melodic and harmonic minor and things like that, and those are reflected in the key signature.
     
  12. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY

    This last part is correct - key signatures only get you in the ballpark or major or minor keys. When music gets complex and chromatic enough and starts modulating all over the place, the key signature can actually be a hindrance because you can find yourseld trying to play in Db for a few bars while remembering an overall key signature of "A". Often, unless the tune in question is very simple and stable, I won't use a key signature at all when I write. But for many styles of music, they are essential.

    Also, what you need to remember about "weird scales" and the like is that many "weird scales" do not produce functional harmony. Many "Egyptian" sounding scales function mainly over single note drones rather than chords, and if you've ever heard any "Indian" (eastern) music, the lack of western harmonic structures is among the first things you notice.
     
  13. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    Well - you don't have to have a key signature - a lot of tunes I've seen just don't bother, as after all the idea of putting sharps and flats at the beginning of a piece is really only to save time on copying out parts and so that the reader can get an idea of what notes are involved.

    I've seen quite a few Jazz tunes as well, where the first chord in the piece isn't in the key that you would assume from the signature and analysis of the chord structure.

    I think that getting hung up on "what key" a piece is in, is a bit of a waste of time and it's far better to take each chord on its merits within the chord sequence - you need to play something that makes sense in the context of what is going on at that time/place - not based on come concept of what notional key we are in!

    I get the feeling that people are looking for "short cuts" - you know, "I can play any notes from the key we are in" - this is just not the case! Every single Jazz song I've played, has changed key during the song and if you stuck to playing "notes from the key" it would just be plain wrong! Also you would have no sense of where the song is going or its structure, which is often the vital part of a good bassline.

    My view is - first you look at the chord, then at its relationship with those chords around and try to understand its function. Then you look at what scales will fit over that chord, so you can determine you available note choices.

    What key we are in, is virtually irrelevant - you might discover that for a brief period, all those note choices implied a certain key - but I don't see that that information necessarily helps you at all!

    Forget about the key and concentrate on what to play! ;)
     
  14. bizzaro

    bizzaro

    Aug 21, 2000
    Vermont
    Steph I thought it would be the relative minor because blues is derived from minor scales. But it doesn't work.

    Durrl, Eli??? What is the key signature for pentatonic scales?
     
  15. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY

    WEIRDO,

    Major and minor pentatonic scales are simply major and minor scales with two notes removed: the Major pentatonic is missing the 4th and 7th, while the minor pentatonic is missing the 2nd and 6th.

    The minor Blues scale (the commonly accepted one spelled 1, b3, 4, #4 (b5), 5, b7, 8) is just a minor pentatonic with an added #4 (sometimes called a b5). The #4 is really just a tension tone which almost always resolves by half step either up or down. There's a thread around here somewhere on the topic of Blues scales. But like I said earlier, the blues scale is more of a melodic construction as opposed to a harmonic one.

    Hope this helps.

    VISUALIZE DURRL PEACE
     
  16. bizzaro

    bizzaro

    Aug 21, 2000
    Vermont
    CRISP FIGTURD
    I am profoundly offended and will report this to a moderator immediatly. NO! NO! Wait, I am going striaght to the top. PAUL!! (In screaming,urgent voice) PAAUULLLL:eek:

    Seriously I am honored that someone of your stature here at TB took the time to mess with my moniker. ;)
     
  17. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY


    I do endeavor to give satisfation, sir.


    P.G. WODESHED
     
  18. steve 1

    steve 1 Guest

    Feb 18, 2002
    utica, ny
    when a song is written in a key, all triads (chords) related to that key will change. i.e.
    the chord progression in any given chord is-
    I-major
    ii-minor
    iii-minor
    IV-major
    V-major
    vi-minor
    vii-diminished

    it is like this in every key. say you are in the key of D. you will have two sharps, F and C. you take the root, which is D, and write a triad on that. this is the I chord, so it is a major triad (chord) in THE KEY OF D (this could change in a different key). the ii chord is a triad based on E, and the iii chord is a triad based on F, both being minor, as shown above. written in a different key all of these triads could change tonality. key just defines the chords, and it also makes writing music easier, because it allows for a common theme, and you dont have to keep putting accidentals in.
     
  19. danqi

    danqi

    May 21, 2001
    Germany
    Finally my thread is getting a bit more popular!:D

    Hoppe you don't mind if I repeat my question from above. It seems like it got lost.

    IF (for some reason) I would like to write a song using chords derived from an Egyptian scale (and because of that this song would be in the key of that weird scale), could I still apply the circle of 5th to figure out my chord progression?
     
  20. thrash_jazz

    thrash_jazz

    Jan 11, 2002
    Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
    Artist: JAF Basses, Circle K Strings
    OARTANK - The Circle of 5ths is meant to provide an easier method for remembering sharps and flats. If you are talking about the major-key Circle (which Steve1 referred to), no, it wouldn't apply to other scales.

    If you want to figure out what the chords would be, look at how they are all built around the key. The chords would be composed of notes that are part of the key.

    For instance, the ii chord in the key of Emaj is F#min. Why? The maj3 of F# is A#, which isn't in the key of Emaj. The 5th of F# is C#, which IS in the key of Emaj.

    Now, if we drop the 3rd a half step, we get an A, which is in key. A minor 3rd is a half-step down from a major 3rd, so we've just made ourselves an F#min chord.

    It's the same thing for all other chords in a progression. You can adapt it for any key that you like with a little work. Just check to see if the notes fit with the key.

    Of course, there are other methods of coming up with bass lines (as Bruce Lindfield said). Another method is to just look at the chords and play according to them. No doubt you will find a few scale tones and passing tones in there that aren't in the original key, but work nonetheless.

    TRASHED_FADS