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Old 08-14-2013, 10:31 AM   #1
SirEP
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Need help figuring out this song's key

This is my first post on UG, hopefully I am in the right thread. I have a quick question regarding what key(s) a song that my friends created is in. I understand the basic concept of finding out the key to a song, but when altered chords and progressions containing more than 4 to 5 chords are used I get a little confused.

Here is the progression:

Gm - D7 - Em - B7
A7 - Em - B7
Em - A - G - B7 - C - A
G - F - G
G - F - G

I want to say it's the key of C Maj, but I don't believe it to be that as the C Maj is only used once in passing.
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Old 08-14-2013, 11:55 AM   #2
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It's hard to know without hearing the song, but a sensible guess (I think) would be G minor during the first two chords, then it modulates to E minor when the first Em chord comes in, and G major in the G - F - G bits.
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Old 08-14-2013, 12:54 PM   #3
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I think it's in Em until the last two lines, which are G major.

It's a little ambiguous early (kind of wants to land on G major, but you never go there), by the B7-E from the second to third lines strongly establishes an Em, and the F-G later do a lot to establish a G.

The relative-minor-to-relative-major switch is pretty common, which makes this easier to hear.

YMMV.

If you want to know what key it is in, listen to the resolution. What chord sounds resolved?
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Old 08-14-2013, 02:45 PM   #4
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That makes sense it is modulating between keys. I had a hunch that it may be doing so. The Gm in the beginning threw me off, and at the last bit of G - F - G is what made me think of C maj (V - IV - V) progression. So with that being in the key of G maj during the last bit, it would make it a I - bVII - I progression? Also, since no accidentals are used and just natural tones (for the chord progression - the chords used contain accidentals but the progression itself does not contain a F# chord for example) gave me the inclination to think C maj. This one is boggling my mind. I can see the relative minor to relative major switch now. The use of the altered chords not necessarily based off scale tones is what confused me.

Last edited by SirEP : 08-14-2013 at 03:11 PM.
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Old 08-14-2013, 03:42 PM   #5
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The bVII-I cadence is very strong. Not as strong as a V7-I, but still very strong.

I can make academic arguments (how you have a V7-i to establsh Em, and a bVII-I to establish G) but at the end of the day you just have to listen. The key is what it sounds like - although sometimes it can be a little ambiguous.

It's very hard for something to be in a key that it doesn't go to. If you had strongly established a C tonal center earlier then G-F-G, G-F-G would feel like a V-IV-V. But you didn't. Nothing in the earlier part of the progression says "C major" to me. DON'T COUNT ACCIDENTALS. Play it and listen.

(Whether or not the F# is in the root of a chord or note doesn't really matter, btw).
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Old 08-14-2013, 07:07 PM   #6
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Do you have a link to the song? The chords alone sound really strange at parts. But yeah, as others have said, it looks like E minor and G major in the end.
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Old 08-14-2013, 08:56 PM   #7
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I do not have a link to the song. I wish I did. On paper/computer screen it looks really strange. The way they pull it off though, it sounds pretty damn good. I will see if I can get a soundclip within the next few days.

Seems my music knowledge does not go far beyond the 3-chord theory. I am trying to learn more as to be able to create music without just winging it and using my ear. Not that there is anything wrong with that, I just want to know why it works.
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Old 08-14-2013, 09:08 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by HotspurJr
DON'T COUNT ACCIDENTALS. Play it and listen.

(Whether or not the F# is in the root of a chord or note doesn't really matter, btw).



Right. Take a D maj chord, it consists of D - F# - A. You can play those in any sequence. That's what inversions are all about.

I was confusing myself as to why there is no F# maj chord in the progression, as the key of G has F# in it. But the F# is right there in the D7 and B7 chords.

Can you explain a little more why I should disregard the accidentals? I always thought that was a big indicator of what key a song is in.

In terms of what chord the song wants to resolve on...I guess I need to train my ear a little better

Last edited by SirEP : 08-14-2013 at 09:14 PM.
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Old 08-14-2013, 11:01 PM   #9
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For training your ear, use the functional ear trainer - a free download from miles.be - and transcribe songs.

You should disregard accidentals because there's no rule saying that you can't have out-of-scale notes in your key. We refer to these notes as "outside" notes, and they are incredibly common in rock, blues, and jazz.

As you noted yourself, this progression has both F-naturals and F#s in it. So you can't figure out it's key based on counting accidentals. This is a very common issue that arises as soon as you get beyond basic three- and four-chord rock. You'll see a lot of songs that have, for example: C, D F, and G major chords. You can't identify the key by counting accidentals because you have two types of F note. So listen.

The key is defined as what the resolution sounds like! That's what key means. "Resolves to here."

Let's take another simple set of chords: C, G, Am, Em. This could be in four completely different keys, if you just go by counting accidentals. Counting accidentals doesn't work, even in some very simple music.

In functional harmony, every chord serves a function. They're not just randomly interchangeable sets of notes. A V7 chord, for example (this is the easiest function to hear) wants to resolve to a I. Knowing the key then defines the functions of all the other chords.
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Old 08-15-2013, 11:53 PM   #10
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Thank you very much for suggesting the functional ear trainer to me!! That is a pretty sweet little program!

I'm really intrigued by the theory behind the music. I am still green in a lot of ways, though I keep trying to learn more and more. I do appreciate everyone's help here.

A lot of times I get stuck in the guidelines of it all, but that doesn't mean rules can't be bent when applicable. My ears will say it sounds good, but my brain will throw up red flags saying it doesn't follow the rules, thus limiting my creativity. I guess as long as it sounds good then I shouldn't fret too much. Those guidelines serve as a map to get you where you want to go, but surely there can be other routes. I like understanding what I am doing - though it doesn't always work out that way!

I'm going to go research functional harmony now
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Old 08-16-2013, 07:08 AM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SirEP
Thank you very much for suggesting the functional ear trainer to me!! That is a pretty sweet little program!

I'm really intrigued by the theory behind the music. I am still green in a lot of ways, though I keep trying to learn more and more. I do appreciate everyone's help here.

A lot of times I get stuck in the guidelines of it all, but that doesn't mean rules can't be bent when applicable. My ears will say it sounds good, but my brain will throw up red flags saying it doesn't follow the rules, thus limiting my creativity. I guess as long as it sounds good then I shouldn't fret too much. Those guidelines serve as a map to get you where you want to go, but surely there can be other routes. I like understanding what I am doing - though it doesn't always work out that way!

I'm going to go research functional harmony now

Then you have understood something wrong. It's not against rules to play whatever is in your mind. Actually that's what music is all about. Playing what you feel. There are no rules. I mean, how is playing accidentals against the rules? You aren't limited to just seven notes, you can use all twelve.

So, what "guidelines" are you talking about?

It's a common misconception that theory limits your creativity. The first theory lesson should always be about what theory really is. It only explains music and makes you understand what you have done.
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Old 08-16-2013, 11:57 AM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SirEP

A lot of times I get stuck in the guidelines of it all, but that doesn't mean rules can't be bent when applicable. My ears will say it sounds good, but my brain will throw up red flags saying it doesn't follow the rules, thus limiting my creativity. I guess as long as it sounds good then I shouldn't fret too much. Those guidelines serve as a map to get you where you want to go, but surely there can be other routes. I like understanding what I am doing - though it doesn't always work out that way!


You have a very common misunderstanding of theory.

Theory is descriptive, but proscriptive. Theory is a set of labels that allows us to talk about different musical ideas, as well as to recognize the ways in which the same musical idea can show up in a variety of different forms.

Aside from a few basic things, you aren't going to get a lot of "whys" in music theory.

We learn scales because scales are the tool that's used to organize music. It also so happens that in-scale notes are easier to use than out-of-scale notes in many contexts. But don't take from those two facts a third one that out-of-scale notes are somehow wrong or against the rules. Those little sharp and flat signs exist for a reason.

This starts to become clearer as your ear gets better. A lot of us - particular those who spend a lot of time on internet bulletin boards - like to learn things academically. By reading and thinking about them. But the simple truth is that you can't really learn music that way. You have to learn music by HEARING it - and while tools like theory can really help you learn to hear it more accurately, the goal is to be able to think musically - in pitches, not academic ideas.

Last edited by HotspurJr : 08-16-2013 at 11:58 AM.
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Old 08-16-2013, 04:09 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by HotspurJr
We learn scales because scales are the tool that's used to organize music. It also so happens that in-scale notes are easier to use than out-of-scale notes in many contexts.


This is an example of the guidelines I was talking about.

I believe I'm being misunderstood a little. I never said anything was set in stone and you cannot do it. Take the three chord theory of I-IV-V. That is map to get you started on your way. I said there are other routes as well, you do not have to do three chord progressions all the time. This is an example of a guideline. Take it or leave it, there is more than one way to create music. What I meant by guidelines is ways to make music sound harmonious, rather than just mashing random notes. I never said you cannot use out of scale notes. I've noticed it happens a lot. It's just a confusing concept for me at this current time and I am trying to understand how it fits.

I also stated my ear will say it sounds good. So, yes, that is playing what I feel. I am not right or wrong in doing so. I just do not understand why it fits together all the time. As HotspurJr stated, I am one of those who likes the academic aspect of it as well, though I do not always understand it - and no, there is not a "why" to it all the time. I like learning it on paper and in practice, though sometimes they are not cohesive with each other.

Bad choice of the words "guidelines" and "rules" on my part in an attempt at articulating my thoughts. My ear for music is not bad by any means, but like anything, it can be improved. Sometimes I get stuck trying to figure out how it all relates to each other - the intervals used, the structure of the chords, the pitches that are used, hence the conception of this very thread.

Isn't music theory the study of how music works? An aspect of that being how the notes and chords used relate to each other? I'll state again, poor choice of the words "guidelines" and "rules" on my part. But yes, there are rules and guidelines in music theory. How do you form a major chord? By using the 1-3-5 scale tones, that is a rule. I do not believe I have a misconception of music theory or have understood something wrong.

Regardless, I appreciate everyone's input!

Last edited by SirEP : 08-16-2013 at 04:24 PM.
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Old 08-16-2013, 04:30 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SirEP
Isn't music theory the study of how music works?


Not really.

I think it's better to think of music theory as two things:

1) A nomenclature that allows us to talk about music intelligibly.

2) A codification of common practices.

Knowing that a V-I is a perfect cadence doesn't tell us how it works. Rather, "perfect cadence" is just the name we've given to that thing that works well to establish a tonal center.

There are a few things in music where we can point to physics and psychology and say, "That's why this works." But for the most part, the labels are just describing things we hear. Learning the labels can be a part of learning to hear them, but ultimately it's about having an intuitive understanding of the SOUND, not the underlying concept.
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Old 08-16-2013, 05:13 PM   #15
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Well now we are discussing semantics. Yes "music theory" is about the nomenclature and the practices used. It is more than that, though. Sound can be explained through physics and psychology. Music is taking sounds and putting them in a certain sequence which some may find pleasing while others detest it - one of the psychological aspects of it. Sound can be explained by physics, and music is comprised of sounds. One can play an instrument without know anything theoretical behind it. Music theory exists as a way of understanding the underlying concept of what is going on with the sounds used. I'm sure there is a physical reasoning as to why a perfect cadence works in terms of how the frequencies of the sounds relate to each other, but that is beyond me - I am not a physicist, nor do I study psychoacoustics or psychophysics. Music theory is an umbrella term including, but not limited to, the two points you have stated.

I do thank you for the input you have given me, and for recommending the program HotspurJr. It is appreciated.

Last edited by SirEP : 08-16-2013 at 05:59 PM.
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Old 08-16-2013, 06:05 PM   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SirEP
Music theory exists as a way of understanding the underlying concept of what is going on with the sounds used.

Yes, but music theory doesn't explain the why of it. It doesn't go into the physics of sound. It's simply a system that musicians use to either talk to other musicians about certain musical concepts or sometimes as a tool for composing or improvising.
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Old 08-16-2013, 07:12 PM   #17
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In the broadest of terms this is true. If you start delving into harmonics and overtones - which plenty of music theory books I have looked at do - it starts going into the physics of why they work. Just an example of the "why it works" part. Why is a major chord called a major chord? Because it forms a triad consisting of the root, a major third, and a perfect fifth. The major third is why it is called major. Music theory answered why that is. I guess it depends on the question at hand and the context being used. My words are starting to get obfuscated and nit-picked into not being able to see the forest for the trees. I don't even know what "it" is now, and why music theory doesn't explain "it."

Yeah...

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Old 08-16-2013, 07:24 PM   #18
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I can see the problem lies with "how vs why." Again, semantics and the words chosen. Forgive me.

This is all starting to go off topic, by the way. It was a good conversation while it lasted, and as I've stated I appreciate those who have answered and the input given!

Much thanks!!


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