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#1
Can someone explain to me in a simple way what the defintion of a 'key' is?

I've read the lesson on here about basic music theory and I just can't get my head round what a key is. A song is in a key but, songs are played over scales?

Is a key just the lowest note played in a song?
#2
the key it is in is usually the chord that it starts and possible ends with. if, say, a song started with a G-chord, that song is probably in the key of G. usually what a key is on a sheet of music for is for the vocals.
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#3
The most basic way to put it is, the key of a song determines how many sharps or flats it has.Key of C no sharps or flats, Key of G 1 Sharp, Key of F 1 flat ect.
Look up Cycle of fifths for sharps and cycle of fourths for flats.
Last edited by Zimwibwe at Nov 6, 2009,
#5
The key is pretty much another way of saying which scale the song is based on. If you have sheet music, you can look at the key signature, which is the series of sharps or flats (# or b) at the beginning of the piece, written on the staff before any of the notes.

0 # or b = Key of C Major or A minor
1 # = G Major or E minor
2 #s = D Major or B minor
3 #s = A Major or F# minor
4 #s = E Major or C# minor
5 #s = B Major or G# minor
6 #s = F# Major or D# minor
7 #s = C# Major or A# minor

1 b = F Major or D minor
2 bs = Bb Major or G minor
3 bs = Eb Major or C minor
4 bs = Ab Major or F minor
5 bs = Db Major or B minor
6 bs = Gb Major Eb minor
7 bs = Cb Major or Ab minor

The major keys here are definitely correct, but I might've screwed up some of the relative minor keys. I'm at work, halfway asleep.
#6
The other thing I don't understand is how do people know what chords are in a key?

In the guitar mag I buy they always list chords and say those chords are in the Key of something.
Like this month it says F#maj13 and B are in the Key of B Maj. How do they work that out?
#8
Quote by tenfold
It's what the song resolves to.


This. Everything else is wrong.
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#9
Quote by LutRes
The other thing I don't understand is how do people know what chords are in a key?

In the guitar mag I buy they always list chords and say those chords are in the Key of something.
Like this month it says F#maj13 and B are in the Key of B Maj. How do they work that out?

To understand this, you must understand how chords are constructed. Let's take a simple example.
Let's suppose we're working with the key of C major.

The C major scale includes 7 notes:
C D E F G A B

Now, when constructing basic triads, you are picking notes from this scale.

C major chord:
C D E F G A B

D minor chord:
C D E F G A B

E minor chord:
C D E F G A B

F major chord:
C D E F G A B

G major chord:
C D E F G A B

A minor chord:
C D E F G A B

B diminished chord:
C D E F G A B


Finally, F#maj13 in B major doesn't seem to fit. Extended chords are very complicated. The maj13 chord is made up of 1-3-5-7-9-(11)-13. The 11 is optional.
F# A# C# F G# (B) D#

B major scale:
B C# D# E F# G# A#

F#maj13:
B C# D# E F# G# A# | B C# D# D F F# G# A# | (B) C# D# E F# G# A#

Now, I'm not sure if there was a typo, but the F, which is F#maj13's 7th, is not in the B major key.

If any theory experts are here, let me know if I've missed anything please.
Oh yeah.

Quote by hildesaw
A minor is the saddest of all keys.

EDIT: D minor is the saddest of all keys.
#10
Quote by fretboard12
i agree with what ever it resolve's to.

I don't. I'd say that was the tonic note.
Call me Batman.
#11
Quote by J.A.M
I don't. I'd say that was the tonic note.


Quote by Wikipedia
Although the concept of musical key can be a complicated subject when examined closely, broadly speaking the phrase in key of C means that C is music's harmonic center or tonic.


If not, what the hell else would it be?
i don't know why i feel so dry
#12
Quote by J.A.M
I don't. I'd say that was the tonic note.


I don't think that explains whether the key is minor or major.

I support the "resolving" definition. Although a lot of songs start/end on the root chord of the key, there are some instances where they don't.

Take for example the Brokeback Mountain theme;

Dm C G

Dm Am G

The key of it is C, but it neither starts or ends on C.
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#14
ill try to simplify it

the 'key' of C is c d e f g a b. if you play a note other than these, they are accidentals and are dissonant. the key is the major or minor scale that dictates the piece.

in the key of c, the note it resolves to is C (the 'root'). so everybody is correct ^^

look at the key signature. if theres nothing, its C major. the number of sharps and flats determine what 'key' the piece is in. if you see 1 sharp, its G major (f#.)
#15
Quote by motoko
ill try to simplify it

the 'key' of C is c d e f g a b. if you play a note other than these, they are accidentals and are dissonant. the key is the major or minor scale that dictates the piece.

in the key of c, the note it resolves to is C (the 'root'). so everybody is correct ^^


However, as A minor is a relative key, it shares the same notes.

Therefore, if it resolved to A it would then be in the key of A minor. So the "resolving" factor is the thing which determined the key, not the notes within it.
And no, Guitar Hero will not help. Even on expert. Really.
Soundcloud
#16
if it resolves on an a note, it could be a major or minor.

what im saying is, its important to know the rest of the key.

if it resolves to an a minor chord, well yes key of am
#17
Quote by hockeyplayer168
Finally, F#maj13 in B major doesn't seem to fit. Extended chords are very complicated. The maj13 chord is made up of 1-3-5-7-9-(11)-13. The 11 is optional.
F# A# C# F G# (B) D#

B major scale:
B C# D# E F# G# A#

F#maj13:
B C# D# E F# G# A# | B C# D# D F F# G# A# | (B) C# D# E F# G# A#

Now, I'm not sure if there was a typo, but the F, which is F#maj13's 7th, is not in the B major key.

If any theory experts are here, let me know if I've missed anything please.


F is not the 7th of F♯maj13. E♯ is. And no, it is not in the key of B. Typically the V is a dominant chord, not a major seventh chord. The key was probably F♯ where F⒭maj13 would be the I, and B would be the IV. Also, in a maj13, only the 1, 3, 7, and 13 are necessary. You don't need the 9th, 11th, or 5th.
#18
i assume this is in equal temperament so for all intents and purposes f works fine as well
#19
Quote by motoko
i assume this is in equal temperament so for all intents and purposes f works fine as well


No it doesn't work fine. F♯ A♯ C♯ F♮ forms an Fmaj(♭8) chord.

In diatonic music, regardless of tuning method, E♯ and F♮ are different notes. You have to use each letter once for your scale degrees. It might seem simpler at first to just use the enharmonic, because it seems counterintuitive to hit the note that you think is F♮ when the note is some form of E, but it makes a whole lot more sense in context. If we were going to just name things based on whatever enharmonic we wanted, then we should just do away with any sort of musical standards (AKA theory) and throw away all our notation. Then the only way to express things would be through actual sound, and I can assume that you use more than just sound to convey musical ideas.

How do you like my scale using your enharmonic spelling idea?

E♭♭♭♭ BX♯ AXXX♯ G♭♭ GXXXXXX G♭♭♭♭♭♭♭♭♭♭ F♭♭♭♭♭♭
#20
wow you're clutching at straws

the fact is E# and F on a guitar (this is a guitar forum broseph) equates to exactly the same note.
#21
Quote by motoko
wow you're clutching at straws

the fact is E# and F on a guitar (this is a guitar forum broseph) equates to exactly the same note.

no broseph, E# and F are enharmonic but are not the same note. this is a music theory forum specifically. E# functions differently than F, the only thing they do is sound the same tonal frequency.
#22
Quote by motoko
wow you're clutching at straws

the fact is E# and F on a guitar (this is a guitar forum broseph) equates to exactly the same note.


How am I clutching at straws?

Explain to me how F♯ and F♮ are a seventh (or any quality apart). Actually no, I'll count for you. F, G, A, B, C, D, E, F. That's eight. Count them yourself if you don't believe me. Any notes eight letters apart are some sort of octave. In this case F♯ and F♮ are a diminished octave. Now, what were those intervals of a major seventh chord? Root. Third. Fifth. Seventh. No diminished octave. But this can't be because my substantiated proofs constitute 'clutching at straws' while you're word is high and holy.

If you want to come on here with minimal theory knowledge, and are willing to learn, that's fine, but there's no point in coming in here and telling us that standard music theory (as used for the past several hundred years) is wrong.

Just so you might actually realize I'm not bullshitting this, here are some links:

Diminished Octave
Naming Intervals
Diatonic Function
F♯maj7

Now who'll be clutching at straws?

Quote by z4twenny
no broseph, E# and F are enharmonic but are not the same note. this is a music theory forum specifically. E# functions differently than F, the only thing they do is sound the same tonal frequency.


Thank you
#23
Quote by motoko
wow you're clutching at straws

the fact is E# and F on a guitar (this is a guitar forum broseph) equates to exactly the same note.
No, you're missing the larger point. Enharmonic equivalents are one thing. But when we start talking about scales, this part is important:

Quote by isaac_bandits
You have to use each letter once for your scale degrees.
This ^ is part of a standard convention.
Conventions help us speak the same language with less ambiguity.
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#24
I saw many false facts in this thread, so I couldn't resist sharing my knowledge.

First of all, a key cannot be defined by a single note or a chord(which includes three or more notes.)

That funny looking enharmonic scale is also wrong because triple flats or triple sharps do not exist in approved music theory. (FYI, a triple flat can be found in theory only in one special situation, where a diminished third interval is created above Gb, in an inversion of an Augmented sixth chord. But, the whole key is converted into F# Major, which is enharmonic to Gb to get rid of that triple flat and make the music look clean. This might be a special clue for you to choose which key you should use when you have possible enharmonic roots. So, in general, musicians do every possible thing to avoid writing a triple flat or a triple sharp, so, finally, they do not exist.)

And another thing is, that I noticed a little up above a bug with the definition of scale. A scale can have the same note names, ie; C, C#, D, D#. Because, a scale can be chromatic or diatonic. If it's chromatic scale then having the same note name with different values is true. Otherwise, it has to diatonic.

A key -

A key is a bunch of chosen notes from the twelve-note system we have in western music. If I mention the word, 'mode' is the same thing as the 'key' it might not feel good. But it's true. We rarely say Major mode or minor mode. But we know Major key is the Ionian mode and minor key is the Aeolian mode. So, a key of the song is the notes that we choose to write the song in. But we might use other notes that would add weird colors but might not be used that much as the other notes; these are chromatic notes. So, when determining the key we have to reject the chromatic notes. Another important thing comes when we are using minor keys. Well, you know there's no, Mozart's Piano Concerto in e harmonic minor or Beethoven's Sonata in a flat melodic minor. That's because you can use all the possible three versions of minors with no rules when you're inside the minor key. And why don't we say, Bach's prelude in B aeolian mode. Cause, that's a time period thing. There's nothing wrong with referring the minor key as the aeolian mode, but we don't say that because, at that time period they avoided all modes and concentrated and approved only on Major and minor keys. So, when we see a piece from the classical/baroque era we don't dare to mention the word, 'mode'.

So, we can't only think of one note and define the key because how are we going to talk about the quality of the key; major/minor/modes?

And of course, there're tons of pieces you can't determine a key because, they have accomplished a key center with a complex combination of many notes. Like artists from the Experimental/impressionistic period; Debussy.

Hope this helped.
#25
Quote by YA89
I saw many false facts in this thread, so I couldn't resist sharing my knowledge.

First of all, a key cannot be defined by a single note or a chord(which includes three or more notes.)

That funny looking enharmonic scale is also wrong because triple flats or triple sharps do not exist in approved music theory. (FYI, a triple flat can be found in theory only in one special situation, where a diminished third interval is created above Gb, in an inversion of an Augmented sixth chord. But, the whole key is converted into F# Major, which is enharmonic to Gb to get rid of that triple flat and make the music look clean. This might be a special clue for you to choose which key you should use when you have possible enharmonic roots. So, in general, musicians do every possible thing to avoid writing a triple flat or a triple sharp, so, finally, they do not exist.)

And another thing is, that I noticed a little up above a bug with the definition of scale. A scale can have the same note names, ie; C, C#, D, D#. Because, a scale can be chromatic or diatonic. If it's chromatic scale then having the same note name with different values is true. Otherwise, it has to diatonic.

A key -

A key is a bunch of chosen notes from the twelve-note system we have in western music. If I mention the word, 'mode' is the same thing as the 'key' it might not feel good. But it's true. We rarely say Major mode or minor mode. But we know Major key is the Ionian mode and minor key is the Aeolian mode. So, a key of the song is the notes that we choose to write the song in. But we might use other notes that would add weird colors but might not be used that much as the other notes; these are chromatic notes. So, when determining the key we have to reject the chromatic notes. Another important thing comes when we are using minor keys. Well, you know there's no, Mozart's Piano Concerto in e harmonic minor or Beethoven's Sonata in a flat melodic minor. That's because you can use all the possible three versions of minors with no rules when you're inside the minor key. And why don't we say, Bach's prelude in B aeolian mode. Cause, that's a time period thing. There's nothing wrong with referring the minor key as the aeolian mode, but we don't say that because, at that time period they avoided all modes and concentrated and approved only on Major and minor keys. So, when we see a piece from the classical/baroque era we don't dare to mention the word, 'mode'.

So, we can't only think of one note and define the key because how are we going to talk about the quality of the key; major/minor/modes?

And of course, there're tons of pieces you can't determine a key because, they have accomplished a key center with a complex combination of many notes. Like artists from the Experimental/impressionistic period; Debussy.

Hope this helped.


Any number of flats and sharps can exist before a note, however, for the most part it doesn't make sense to use them, as the entire song could be respelled enharmonically to avoid them. A triple flat could come up as the diminished third in the key of G♭ or C♭ as you already pointed out, and if playing in E♭ or A♭ with some alto saxes, their parts will need to use these keys, as the enharmonic spellings would require us to be in G♯ or D♯ which use double sharps in the key signature, and thus are avoided. I'll give you that there almost is a better way to write the entire song enharmonically to avoid multiple accidentals, but they aren't wrong per se.

When talking about a scale we did use the word 'diatonic' several times, and in diatonic scales you need one and only one of each letter. We know that octatonic and chromatic scales require multiple notes with the same letter.

Also, about modes. The aeolian mode and the minor key are different. They share the same notes, however, modal music requires that you don't play any accidentals. Since minor music almost always uses the ♮7 and often other accidentals, it shouldn't be called the aeolian mode, as the song is not modal. The difference between Ionian and major is often very difficult to detect, and sometimes a song can be correctly analyzed as either. However, unless there is modality in the song, the terms Ionian and Aeolian should be avoided in tonal music, so as to not confuse people, or have people try and play Dorian Lydian or whatever, which won't work at all.
#26
To put it simply, it is whatever it resolves to. There are many variations on this and that is what makes music theory such a long course if you study it. You can make the fourth of a scale sharp, the seventh flat and use a chramatic from the third to the fifth or sixth to the root (going up) etc...

Try not to bother with this sutff if youre not into music theory, the song will normally end on the root, unless its a really weird band or it modulates half way through.
#27
My advice to you: don't trust this thread. A couple people have given you correct answers but a ton threw complete bullshit at you. I feel it's better for you to check somewhere else on this subject (like with a local music teacher) because if I told you which ones are correct I'd just be another "maybe" to you in the thread.

Also, to people that replied, please don't reply to threads in MT unless you actually know what you're talking about, and by that I mean you have put some serious study into music theory. You're not helping anyone by giving them wrong answers.
His death, which happen'd in his berth,
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#28
Quote by isaac_bandits

When talking about a scale we did use the word 'diatonic' several times, and in diatonic scales you need one and only one of each letter. We know that octatonic and chromatic scales require multiple notes with the same letter.

Also, about modes. The aeolian mode and the minor key are different. They share the same notes, however, modal music requires that you don't play any accidentals. Since minor music almost always uses the ♮7 and often other accidentals, it shouldn't be called the aeolian mode, as the song is not modal. The difference between Ionian and major is often very difficult to detect, and sometimes a song can be correctly analyzed as either. However, unless there is modality in the song, the terms Ionian and Aeolian should be avoided in tonal music, so as to not confuse people, or have people try and play Dorian Lydian or whatever, which won't work at all.

The convention of only using each letter once in a scale is more for beginners to learn what is going on. Look at the altered scales.

Modal music does not mean you can't use accidentals, again this is simply not true.

I think the only info to be trusted is that of YA89.

Referring to the actual question, the key of a song is the definition of the notes and chords that can are used (hence the amount of b/#'s). The tonic (or root) of the key is where the song resolves. This is the 'home chord' usually, but by no means is it the chord that the song starts or ends with!!!!!
99.999% of the stuff you hear on the radio will either be major or minor, you should earn the differences between the 2 using online theory lessons.
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#29
The key is whatever the note resolves to + whether it sounds major or minor.

The point I'm trying to make here is that the key is all about the sound. It's not about the notes in the piece because in a complex piece there can be lots of accidentals, there can be small phrases in different keys etc.

Knowing that certain notes are diatonic to certain keys is obviously very useful but if you somehow use the notes C D Eb F G Ab B and it sounded major and resolved to C then it would be called C major (regardless of whether the notes look like C minor or whatever). This is an extreme (and implausible) example but it's just to make a point.
Last edited by 12345abcd3 at Nov 7, 2009,
#30
Key has much less to do with key signature, and much more to do with tonic. A piece in C Ionian is in the key of C, but a piece in D Dorian, despite being the same exact key signature and notes, is in the key of D.

Pretty simple in my opinion.
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#31
Quote by 12345abcd3
The key is whatever the note resolves to + whether it sounds major or minor.


Hmm, maybe we should revise it to "the major or minor interval that the piece resolves to."

To people who think the notes are more important.. I could easily write something that uses all 12 notes. How would you find the key of that?
i don't know why i feel so dry
#34
Quote by jenguind
that would be a chramatic scale :P
Chramatic?
Is that like a chromatic scale, only more dramatic?

Maybe that would be the key of E mo.
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Quote by Jackal58
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Quote by SK8RDUDE411
I wont be like those jerks who dedicate their beliefs to logic and reaosn.
#35
Quote by branny1982
The convention of only using each letter once in a scale is more for beginners to learn what is going on. Look at the altered scales.


I said that was a convention for diatonic scales (if you don't know, a diatonic scale is a heptatonic scale in which only major and minor seconds are used, and the minor seconds are maximally spaced). Altered scales are certainly not diatonic, and thus don't abide by the conventions on diatonic scales.
#37
Quote by Eastwinn
Hmm, maybe we should revise it to "the major or minor interval that the piece resolves to."

I don't quite understand what you mean by that. The piece will resolve to the tonic, but that's just one note, how can it resolve to an interval? I can sort of imagine what your thinking but I don't quite get it.
#38
Quote by isaac_bandits
F is not the 7th of F♯maj13. E♯ is. And no, it is not in the key of B. Typically the V is a dominant chord, not a major seventh chord. The key was probably F♯ where F⒭maj13 would be the I, and B would be the IV. Also, in a maj13, only the 1, 3, 7, and 13 are necessary. You don't need the 9th, 11th, or 5th.

Okay, I didn't know the 7th was optional as well. Also, I said F so as to be less confusing.
Oh yeah.

Quote by hildesaw
A minor is the saddest of all keys.

EDIT: D minor is the saddest of all keys.
#39
Quote by isaac_bandits
How do you like my scale using your enharmonic spelling idea?

E♭♭♭♭ BX♯ AXXX♯ G♭♭ GXXXXXX G♭♭♭♭♭♭♭♭♭♭ F♭♭♭♭♭♭

Ow, my brain...
Oh yeah.

Quote by hildesaw
A minor is the saddest of all keys.

EDIT: D minor is the saddest of all keys.
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