#1
How do you do this? For example, what key would these commonly used chords be in:

E Major
F# Major
Ab Minor
B Major

I'm trying to learn songwriting and this is one of the most difficult things for me.
Gear:

2004 PRS Swamp Ash Special
Peavey Valveking 212
Dunlop Crybaby 535Q
Line 6 UX2
#3
Okay, makes sense, but why would the chord be F# in the key of B instead of just F or G? How do you know when to integrate flats and sharps into a key?
Gear:

2004 PRS Swamp Ash Special
Peavey Valveking 212
Dunlop Crybaby 535Q
Line 6 UX2
#4
And for figuring out the key... Look at the notes that are used and what chord the song resolves to. Sometimes a song can go through more than one key however so be aware.

Quote by aeliustehman
Okay, makes sense, but why would the chord be F# in the key of B instead of just F or G? How do you know when to integrate flats and sharps into a key?

The key of B has F# C# G# D# A#.

Sharps are added in this order: FCGDAEB
For sharp keys, go to the last sharp and raise it a half step and you have your key. If it has two sharps (F# C#) then the last one is C# so if we raise it a half step we get D, which is the key with two sharps.

Flats are added in reverse: BEADGCF
For flat keys, go to the second to last flat and that's the key. If it has one flat it's the key of F.

Also a key only has flats or sharps, not both.

Let me look for a link to a lesson. I'll edit it in the post.

Actually, just go here, the usual site we recommended
http://www.musictheory.net/lessons
Quote by DiminishedFifth
Who's going to stop you? The music police?
Last edited by FacetOfChaos at Jul 4, 2010,
#5
Quote by aeliustehman
Okay, makes sense, but why would the chord be F# in the key of B instead of just F or G? How do you know when to integrate flats and sharps into a key?


Each key has a set number of sharps or flats (not both). For instance, C Major has no sharps or flats; A Major has 3 (F, C, and G).

There are a billion resources out there that can help you learn the key signatures, but I'm sure there are useful lessons right here on UG to start you off.

EDIT: The reason there are sharps or flats is because of the interval pattern that makes up the Major scale:

Tone, Tone, Semi-Tone, Tone, Tone, Tone, Semi-Tone

If you follow that pattern from any note, you'll find you land on all of the sharps or flats that are in that note's major key.
Last edited by Suburvia at Jul 4, 2010,
#6
If you have trouble remember the order the sharps and flats appear remember this

For sharps FCGDAEB
Father Charlie Goes Down And Ends Battle

For Flats BEADGCF
Battle Ends and Down Goes Charles Father.

Edit:
It helps if your reading sheet music.
ESP Eclipse (in snow white)
Orange Tiny Terror
Last edited by Jarrad100 at Jul 4, 2010,
#7
That chord progression could also be in the key of E major, that was my first thought when I looked at it. So you also have to factor in which note it seeks to resolve to in addition to the chords. In cases like this it could be a number of keys based on chords alone.
And no, Guitar Hero will not help. Even on expert. Really.
Soundcloud
#8
Knowing when to use flats or sharps in a key all comes back to how that scale is constructed. The major scale is made of half steps (one fret) and whole steps (two frets): WWHWWWH

So if you take that and start on E (for simplicity's sake), you'll get E, F#, G#, A, B, C#, D#, E.
You can also look at the steps like this: 2,2,1,2,2,2,1.

Then, to construct chords from that scale, you stack thirds (skipping every other note) like this:
Emajor - E, G#, B
F#minor - F#, A, C#
G#minor - G#, B, D#
Amajor - A, C#, E

and so on...

(all other scales will simply alter the formula) (natural minor scale - WHWWHWW)
Oh yeah.

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

EDIT: D minor is the saddest of all keys.
#9
I find Classical music helps you identify key changes and keys in general. I started learning piano a few months ago and it has helped me with key changes and what not.
#10
Hello all, first post


IV-V-vi-I = B Major?

I thought E Major myself at first but the F# would have to be F#m (ii) I think.
#11
Quote by warrencon
Hello all, first post


IV-V-vi-I = B Major?

I thought E Major myself at first but the F# would have to be F#m (ii) I think.

Yeah, that's what I'd say it is. It all fits diatonically in B major and resolves to B. Of course there can be substitutions which is what it would be if it were in E.
E has an F#m but it doesn't HAVE to in order to be in E still. Often times you'll see a chord substitution like a iv instead of IV and it can still be in the key. For example, play E, Am, B, E. That's a I iv V I. The A is substituted for Am which isn't in the key of E, but it's still in E because it resolves there the most strongly. The accidentals and chord qualities can be a great clue to the key of a piece but music doesn't always stay 100% diatonic to one key.

Oh, and welcome to MT
Quote by DiminishedFifth
Who's going to stop you? The music police?
Last edited by FacetOfChaos at Jul 5, 2010,
#12
E has an F#m but it doesn't HAVE to in order to be in E still. Often times you'll see a chord substitution like a iv instead of IV and it can still be in the key.


I agree with you, borrowing chords and chord substitution adds a whole new level to it, one that sometimes make my head hurt when it comes to identifying keys.

In this case since everything fit with B major- the simplest answer to me was B major.

But ---- my thinking is this. In chord substitution there are some (loose, poorly defined) rules. The chord that is being used to substitute should share a similar harmonic function as the chord being substituted.

In the example you give a /I iv V I/ -I think that works because the iv is a borrowed chord from the parallel key of E minor, and while hitting that chord you would not actually be plying in E major, you slipped into E minor for a second.

Is F#major a chord that can be substituted for F#m (ii) in E? It would give you that A# note which, if I found it wandering around in a chord in E major I would shoot it on sight without remorse for trespassing. There is a difference between the note hanging around in a chord and simply being used as a passing tone/blue note.

Maybe it works somehow, I don't know.

But I must stick with door number one and say....B major. Although I am probably in error somewhere. It would not surprise me.
Last edited by warrencon at Jul 5, 2010,
#13
To the original poster this is how I do it.

I determine what chords are in the song and write them down. I look at the spacing of the chords and which are major-which are minor. A pattern will emerge that determines key. For example if I have two major chords one whole step apart that is almost certainly the IV V.

Some shortcuts are looking at the first chord of the progression if major, it could be in that key. If the first chord is minor it could be the vi and the relative minor. But only sometimes and it is just something I quickly look at.

The thing that threw me for a long while was resolution- wanting and expecting the chord progression to resolve into a chord spelled the same as the key. Ex: a chord progression in C major must resolve to C major right? Not really. Whatever chord is the -I- that's your key signature wherever it may fall within the progression.

'Cause you can have a V IV I V (D - C- G- D) progression that resolves to the V chord (ex: Can't You See, Marshall Tucker) It is also my understanding that by having the V as the tonal center it could be considered a mixolydian progression in nature. But um kind of scared to speak of modes 'round here.

This -three major chord- progression really had me for a while as to what to solo with over it. It is in the key of G but resolves to the D. G pentatonic minor doesn't sound good (duh it's major) G major pentatonic---nope not to my ear. I end up using mostly D minor pentatonic which sounds good to me...but I use too much pentatonic and should punish myself for over-indulgence in it.

Similarly you can have a: ii --- iii - IV - I - ii--- (Dm Em F C Dm) ....in D minor right? Not in my mind. That is in C having no sharps or flats. It resolves and has it's tonal center in the ii so that's dorian in the gooey center of it's being. it shares all the notes of Am so it is also in Am the relative minor of C.

Okay, I'm done. Someone (theory gurus) please straighten me out if I'm wrong 'cause I don't wanna lead nobody astray. I do that enough with myself.
#14
Quote by warrencon

'Cause you can have a V IV I V (D - C- G- D) progression that resolves to the V chord (ex: Can't You See, Marshall Tucker) It is also my understanding that by having the V as the tonal center it could be considered a mixolydian progression in nature. But um kind of scared to speak of modes 'round here.

I'm pretty sure that that's D major with a lowered 7th degree to 'soften it up'. I remember I made a thread a while ago where I wrote a chord progression and the same thing happened where the key didn't fit the resolution (it had a b7 too like that) and that's the answer I got.

Edit: At least that's the case if it's not modal. It sounds like you could also use Mixolydian over it.

Quote by warrencon

Similarly you can have a: ii --- iii - IV - I - ii--- (Dm Em F C Dm) ....in D minor right? Not in my mind. That is in C having no sharps or flats. It resolves and has it's tonal center in the ii so that's dorian in the gooey center of it's being. it shares all the notes of Am so it is also in Am the relative minor of C.


When I play that it wants to resolve more to the C than on the Dm. Like a C major progression that just ends on the ii and leaves the tension unresolved.
I'm not really sure what to say about that one though since it's something I'm in the process of tackling too
Quote by DiminishedFifth
Who's going to stop you? The music police?
Last edited by FacetOfChaos at Jul 5, 2010,
#15
Ab/G# Minor, no question.

warrencon: Actually resolution is kind of the point. It always defines the key. The key signature on the other hand, not necessarily, but usually.
i don't know why i feel so dry
Last edited by Eastwinn at Jul 5, 2010,
#16
I'm pretty sure that that's D major with a lowered 7th degree to 'soften it up'. I remember I made a thread a while ago where I wrote a chord progression and the same thing happened where the key didn't fit the resolution (it had a b7 too like that) and that's the answer I got.


The way I understand that is when you are resolving to the V, being mixo it now becomes a:

I bVII IV (D C G) which is a classic rock progression used in numerous songs. It is still in G as far as key (one #) the roman numerals are changed to represent the change in the tonic.

To eastwinn, I can't wrap my brain around a song being in a different key than the key signature. If I am looking at sheet music and it has one # (F#), it is in G major or Em. If it starts and stops on the D chord in the progression (V) it still is in G. At least that is how I learned it. This is important because if I solo I need to know the only sharp the other instruments will ever hit is an F# (except for possibly chromatic passing tones or blue notes thumped out briefly by the bass). If there is an alteration as in a borrowed chord, that is different but it doesn't change the key as the borrowed chord is brought in from outside the key and only borrowed for a moment.

I don't know. Maybe I'm looking at it backwards or something.
#17
Key denotes the tonic, where it resolves and revolves, so to speak. Key signatures are simply there for convenience, since most of the time they end up making pieces far easier on the eyes. When you're thinking smaller with simple, mostly diatonic progressions, it's all good. But what if I gave you a progression that used every single one of the 12 notes? How would you determine the key?
i don't know why i feel so dry
#18
That would most likely be chromatic in nature right? and one would have to assign key by the starting point and on sheet music would have to adjust/notate each out of key note individually. Not very many songs are structurally chromatic. When chromatic notes/scales are played they are usually in passing or a fast change borrowed chord.

Anyway, looking at modal progressions and such there is so much confusion and even seasoned teachers contradicting each other out there...differing definitions, I must protect my fragile understanding.

You could say a D C G D is in D major. It's not really. One could say that it resolves to the G somehow but it doesn't really and with "Can't you see" for example it even ends on the D.
Everything theory-wise is based off the major scale. The parent major scale is G major. That is in G major. It resolves to the D. You could say it is a D mixolydian based progression and I would understand it that way.

Don't you realize sir that I have a B.S. degree in wikipedia? I am seldom wrong, if ever....

Regarding the original progression that is clearly a simple progression moving from the IV to the I - in B major.

I think I shall go talk about tube amps or something on the gear thread. Theory overload makes me have to take tylenol.
Last edited by warrencon at Jul 6, 2010,
#19
Now, if you asked me what key "Hey Joe" is in, you would probably say E. I would probably have a mental breakdown because I can't answer it. It cycles through fifths. It ends on E.
E? sigh.
#20
I could see it was B major and I pride myself on being able to quickly decipher keys and my method is different then what has been explained above. Well, not different but just a simpler approach which can easily be explained.

You need to fit the chords into a puzzle system following the following rules:

1) W-W-H-W-W-W-H Each letter represents a "degree" numbered 1-7
Where W= whole step, whole tone, 2 frets, whatever you wanna call it
H=Half step, half tone, 1 fret of movement
2) Major-Minor-Minor-Major-Major-Minor-Minor
W W H W W W H (half step takes you up one octave back to the first degree and the root note of the key).

You with me?
1 coincides with 2, that is, the 1st degree must be a major chord and is also a WHOLE STEP (W) away from the 2nd degree which is a minor chord. Fit the chords into the above puzzle using these rules for the seven degrees of the major scale. The only possibility is B major but again as another poster said it could be E major or something else depending on what chords are emphasized and what notes/chords the song resolves in. B major is just the theoretical answer.

Just thought I would add my reply in case you are still confused and looking for another perspective.

edit to add: we know it's B major because whatever chord goes into the 1st degree position is the major key, the relative minor is on the 6th degree.

so we get:

B major, whole step to; C# minor whole step to; D# minor, HALF step E MAJOR, whole step to F# MAJOR, Whole step to G# minor, Whole step to A# minor (which does not fit with the chords you gave but it's the closest fit I see, no big deal that's why we have songs out of harmony that still sound good), finally a half step resolves back at B major which is what we want. B major is in the 1st degree so it's the major key.

peace and good luck
Last edited by super_mike at Jul 6, 2010,
#21
It wouldn't necessarily be "chromatic in nature" so to speak. In fact I have a progression hidden away that actual does use all 12 notes and is very much in one key because of the way it resolves. I keep it to show how the "what notes does it use" method can be tricky, but that's not really the point here.

Calling a D-C-G-D progression G Major really defeats a lot of the benefits of knowing the key. For example, the melody will often begin or end (within the phrase) on the tonic. If you tried to do that with a G on the progression it wouldn't sound as you'd expect. Landing on the tonic in a melody has a distinct sound, and if you seek to achieve that sound at any point you need to know the correct tonic. This, and many more similar reasons, are why we even specify a key in the first place. Calling it D Major or D Dorian is correct. Which one you'd choose would depend on a lot of things, but I typically just leave modes out of it.. a personal preference of mine.
i don't know why i feel so dry
#22
Calling a D-C-G-D progression G Major really defeats a lot of the benefits of knowing the key.


I see it as the opposite. The tonal center is usually obvious by ear whatever "key" we call it.
I want to know the parent major scale or key signature to benefit from knowing the "key". For example: Most guitar players would consider Sweet Home Alabama in D. It's in G. V IV I

The solos in that song as recorded are G based. They work in G. Surpise. Why? The song is in G.

But not everyone means the same thing when they say "key" so I guess a definition of key is the starting point of key discussion.

This is based on personal experience. I looked at key as you do for years and years. I find the way I shifted perspective has helped me, and it was based on instruction. Doesn't mean it is best for everyone. Even theory isn't cold hard science.

But I would agree to calling V IV I V (a) D major mode
Last edited by warrencon at Jul 6, 2010,
#23
It can't be cold hard science because it isn't a science at all. What I mean by that is that it doesn't change. A long time ago everyone agreed on what key meant, so that's what it means. I don't mean to be rude, but it's not open for interpretation. We have one definition for key so that everyone knows what everyone else is talking about.

And if for some reason you challenge that definition, then you'd also be challenging Harmony and Voice Leading...
We'll begin by considering the opening of Mozart's familiar Sonata in C major [...]. The piece obviously contains many tones besides C. Why, then, do we call it a "Sonata in C major," or say that "it's written in the key of C"? Most people would answer that music is "in a key" when its tones relate to one central tone [...]

This explanation of key is certainly correct as far as it goes [...]
i don't know why i feel so dry
#24
I don't know man, I disagree with you. I mean, you meet with a bunch of musicians and they all have the sheet music showing G in the key signature and you tell them no, it isn't actually in G at all it's in some other key because my ear says so.

And I mean by not a cold hard science is, when you dig deeper into theory you begin to see the large cracks. The V IV I V can be considered in G or D I bVII IV. It is both.
#25
If I meant with a bunch of musicians who demonstrated that they did not understand the different between key and key signature in such a way, I'd do my best to educate them.
i don't know why i feel so dry