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I don’t understand keys


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#1 OFFLINE   harles

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Posted 23 March 2011 - 09:11 AM

I don’t know what keys are or what they do so I’m here to ask a few questions…

Are keys just random intervals that have a broad consensus in the frame of western music as ‘sounding good’? Keys are built from scales and scales are just arbitrary?

If I were to play an I IV V blues progression and turned the I and IV chords from Major chords to Dominant 7th chords, with those flat 7ths being out of key yet it still sounding good, doesn’t that ‘contradict’ music theory? And why, if those chords were still kept in key, does a minor pentatonic scale with flat 3rd sound good over a chord with a major 3rd? And in solo pieces, how do chromatic notes have permission to be there, does music theory have anything to say about why and how they fit into a piece?

Also I’ve only ever heard of major and minor keys. If scales are built from arbitrary intervals, does that mean there are a multitude of keys?

Thanks for any help :)

#2 ONLINE   carol m

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Posted 24 March 2011 - 08:20 AM

You are really asking about all of music theory, it's a big subject. You can learn a lot from Kirk's content found along the top of every page. Also read through the Member's Lesson Forum - there's a lot of very useful info there. Then when you have particular questions, it will be easier to give answers. Sorry if it's not much help - maybe someone better qualified to answer will have some answers.
One good thing about music is that when it hits you, you feel no pain - Bob Marley

#3 OFFLINE   harles

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Posted 24 March 2011 - 01:51 PM

View Postcarol m, on 24 March 2011 - 08:20 AM, said:

You are really asking about all of music theory, it's a big subject. You can learn a lot from Kirk's content found along the top of every page. Also read through the Member's Lesson Forum - there's a lot of very useful info there. Then when you have particular questions, it will be easier to give answers. Sorry if it's not much help - maybe someone better qualified to answer will have some answers.

:)

Yeah, I did feel like It was a questions that required too mucheffort than people are willing to give in their leisurely free time. I'm asking somewhere else at the moment but I guess actually seeking out a music teacher for the first time would probably be the best route, they're just so expensive!

Thanks anyway :winkthumb:

#4 OFFLINE   karcey

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Posted 24 March 2011 - 02:41 PM

G'day Harles,
I also thought you would've had a few more replies by now from folk who know much more than me, like the teachers for example.
But in their absence, here's an offering from me. After they read this, the teachers will be obliged to correct what I've said, and you'll have your answer.

Music is a series of notes from very low to extremely high, When we listen to them in turn, every note seems to sound the same as a note we heard earlier. That is, they are in harmony with a note further down the range. When we identify the notes we're playing we can see that each A sounds in harmony with each other A, each B with each other B etc.
So the whole range of notes can be divided into sections, each containing the same harmonious repeat of notes.

When you start to play or sing, you're consciously or unconsciously basing your music on one note in one of those sections. Could be you're starting and finishing your music on a C, and the music will likely then be identified as being in the KEY of C. The notes in that music will be based on a C scale.

Keys and notes are in no way random. There's a definite resonance for each note, and the arranging of scales and keys follow a strict mathematical pattern.

Thanks to Carol for starting the ball rolling. Maybe it's now time for you to do a little reading.
"The music matters more than the instrument on which we play it." Jason W. Solomon

#5 OFFLINE   harles

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Posted 24 March 2011 - 04:40 PM

Thanks karceyfor your time, much appreciated!

I got some answers from Donald Duck,in this youtube video. Apparently Pythagoras worked with ratios, 'A' being at 440Hz and i guess at both 220Hz and 880Hz being an 'A' one octave above and one below respectively? All the other notes between, the chromatic notes, being specific ratios. I think. But from what I have read (not much, still reading :)) the note 'A' at 440Hz is arbitrary and was decided by the International Organization for Standardization in 1955, so called 'standard pitch' perhaps? So although the absolute value seems to be arbitrary, the relative values for the chromatic notes are dictated through mathematics.

I guess Indian music threw me slightly, because it doesn't work through keys or scales, no progressions or counterpoint or anything major or minor yet they can still sound as 'good' as western music and for now I don’t know why. I'm still reading up and will update this post if I pursue it further.

To answer my own question apparently there aren't a multitude of keys, just major and minor as far as the western music theory takes us.

So what I've really learnt is that I have to learn a lot more to answer my questions. It seems perhaps that scales and keys are rules in western music, all based on math, but that these rules can be bent so theory only serves to be a guide as far as it is ‘true’ mathematically, not the be all and end all of what can sound good. The ambiguity in 3s and b3s aren’t so much rules as they are a bending of the rules, a bending to a particular subjective taste, I think.

Still though I need to read a lot more. What was frustrating me was hearing of blues and jazz progressions following a pattern, of say I IV V, yet using notes that breached the rules of the key from which the pattern was first derived, like b3s in a scale over a major chord. So there seemed to be rules but then ambiguity. :confused:

Off to read…

:brickwall:


* If anybody has anything to contribute please feel free!

#6 OFFLINE   karcey

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Posted 24 March 2011 - 06:15 PM

You're going where most players don't! Many don't need to know, many don't want to know, and many don't even realise that there is such a thing as music theory.
I think your knowledge is now more extensive than mine, so I will leave you to explore.
One thing to keep in mind though is that for the purists, the explanation and understanding is essential. For the rest of us it's only necessary to learn enough to support what we play. A bit like astronomy really. Many people are happy to know that the sun rotates around the earth (which is actually flat!) But I digress.
I'd suggest that you take your study in small steps, and keep looking for practical examples of how the theory is applied. And beware that there's always exceptions to the rules.
Keep in touch.
"The music matters more than the instrument on which we play it." Jason W. Solomon

#7 OFFLINE   Fretsource

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Posted 24 March 2011 - 08:54 PM

Just to add to the good answers above (including your own) here's a bit more on keys.
We didn't always have keys. They came along in the 17/18th centuries when the new and improved major-minor key system gradually replaced the old modal system, which were a bunch of scales that people, (mostly educated monks) made tunes out of and gave them fancy Greek names like Mixolydian.
Those old modes were tuneful enough in their own way, but only 2 of them were any good with the latest developments in harmony. Those were the Ionian and Aeolian modes. They became reborn as the major and minor scales. The remaining modes were consigned to history except in folk music, which preserved them. They became popular again in the 20th century with modal jazz but that's a whole different subject.

The important thing about the major and minor scales is the note they are based on, which is called the tonic, or tonal centre or key note. To write music in a major key you can arrange those major or minor scale notes in any order but each note's duty, (apart from sounding pretty) is to reinforce the tonic and give that feeling of 'home' when we hear it. Music (which includes most Western music) written in this way is called "tonal music".
Play a major scale and stop on the 7th note. Listen to how it strains to go up to 8th note, which is the tonic. Thats an example of how notes are used to reinforce the feeling of tonic. Chords do it even more convincingly.

Those scale notes are the main notes but all the other notes also have a relationship with the tonic too, and music theory covers that completely. For example, a song in a major key can borrow chords from the minor key in what's called "mode mixture". Or outside notes can be used for what's called "chromatic decoration". (chromatic meaning colourful). They can also be used for changing key within the music. Tonal Music theory covers all that.

If the music in non-tonal, such as in certain ethnic music, or classical atonal music, then different music theories apply. If the music is only partly tonal, such as blues, the music theory is similar in both cases but not exactly.
If you wanted to compose a song like a kid's typical nursery rhyme but always played the tonic chord as a dominant 7th, like in blues, it would ruin the effect. (might improve it though.)
On the other hand in blues if you played a tonic chord without the 7th, it would be disappointing, because the 7th is an essential and expected part of the sound.
So music theory recognises the context as more important than just a set of static blind rules. It's constantly evolving to keep up with new music being created. Theory comes from music, not the other way round.

#8 OFFLINE   solidwalnut

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Posted 07 May 2011 - 08:38 AM

View PostFretsource, on 24 March 2011 - 08:54 PM, said:

...Theory comes from music, not the other way round.
What more could be said, really? :) This is the bottom line.

When it comes to modern western music, there are certain 'rules' that are followed as far as trying to basically explain what it is we're hearing. It doesn't always work, but it does for the vast majority of it.

There are several tools to help wrap the brain around it all, and many different ways of saying the same. One way the subject is dealt with is the harmonization of the major scale, with the understanding that the first, or root note, of the scale is the label for the name of the key (sort of like the key that starts the engine), and how it all begins with this, the mother of all scales in western music. All other scales are derived from this.

Here are a couple of visuals that might help toward that direction. The attached is a graphic that mimics a keyboard and shows the major scale and it's intervals and how the intervals are maintained while moving through the scale (the modes), and how the 1-3-5 and 7 components of each create the musical chords that are the essence of harmony. These chords all move in a symphony and become labels themselves.

The Music Building, one of Kirk's lessons, which shows how the components of each key stay the same.

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#9 OFFLINE   askaguitarpro

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Posted 24 July 2011 - 11:12 PM

This is a great question and most of us have been in your shoes as well. I like to think of a key of music as a number of notes that will be occuring in a song. Let's remember that there are 12 notes in music to choose from so it's kind of a "recipe" so to speak. If you used all twelve notes in a song it would likely be difficult to recognize anything melodic. Having recognized that, most cultures across the world have created music using less than twelve notes. For example, a lot of western music (Europe & West to the U.S.) is based on seven notes more often than not. This is often referred to as the "natural" or "diatonic" scale. Moving further east, you may see variations of this.....e.g. music based on six notes, or even five notes. This is where the whole "recipe" idea ties into the key discussion. A "key" of a song is merely identifying the notes that will be present during the song. Almost like the ingredients you pull from a cooking recipe. Having said that, you can create any combination of notes that you want in a song and it can be your "recipe" or "key". However, remember that the human ear recognizes dissonance.......or unpleasant sounds. This is why the interval, or distance between the notes played in your recipe is important. A good example of a "pleasing" grouping of notes is when you hear someone winning a jackpot on a slot machine. These notes have an interval between them that is not by accident. So.....the intervals between the notes in your recipe definitely change how it tastes (or sounds). Think of the difference between classical music and music in the middle east. Although they may be using some of the same notes, they don't sound very similar.

So...to answer your question, keys of music are really just the recipe.....they identify what notes you'll be hearing during the song. In my personal opinion, a scale is really the same thing as a key......i.e. it is a pre-defined bundle of notes that have a specific distance between them.

Does that help you?


View Postharles, on 23 March 2011 - 09:11 AM, said:

I don’t know what keys are or what they do so I’m here to ask a few questions…

Are keys just random intervals that have a broad consensus in the frame of western music as ‘sounding good’? Keys are built from scales and scales are just arbitrary?

If I were to play an I IV V blues progression and turned the I and IV chords from Major chords to Dominant 7th chords, with those flat 7ths being out of key yet it still sounding good, doesn’t that ‘contradict’ music theory? And why, if those chords were still kept in key, does a minor pentatonic scale with flat 3rd sound good over a chord with a major 3rd? And in solo pieces, how do chromatic notes have permission to be there, does music theory have anything to say about why and how they fit into a piece?

Also I’ve only ever heard of major and minor keys. If scales are built from arbitrary intervals, does that mean there are a multitude of keys?

Thanks for any help :)

AskAGuitarPro





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