#1
OK, I know I'm probably going to sound like a complete muppet here but here goes anyway.

I'm watching a series of free music theory lessons on-line to try and get the basics down and I am a little confused by how the guy described finding what key a piece is written in.
He said that first you look at the key signature which will give you 2 options (which I believe I understand) then you should look at the last note on the bass cleff to decide which of the 2 options it is, I understand that, but all the music I have seen written for guitar (admittedly very little up to now) only uses the treble cleff. In which case does that mean I should just check the last note in the piece? If not then how?

TIA and feel free to tell me i'm being a muppet if that is the case.
#2
The lowest note at the end of a piece is usually the tonic, to give it a sense of completion.

You can also listen to the piece and see which note it generally gravitates towards - for example, Stairway to Heaven gravitates towards A - and whether the key is major or minor. Songs can change key up to several times, so look out for that. Key changes are usually fairly clear, though.
#3
Thanks for that blue_strat, it's very helpful.

You say that songs can change keys several times, would you have a new key signature part way through a piece or would you just see the accidentals? (I hope I've said that right, I mean sharps, flats and naturals symbols (I only started watching the series this week))
#4
Quote by Henry Wilt
Thanks for that blue_strat, it's very helpful.

You say that songs can change keys several times, would you have a new key signature part way through a piece or would you just see the accidentals? (I hope I've said that right, I mean sharps, flats and naturals symbols (I only started watching the series this week))

That depends upon the composer, and how long the key change lasts. In large-scale works, such as long symphonies or Operas, a key change can occupy 4 or 5 minutes of music before returning to the home key (if it even does this, which in the case of Opera, it usually does not, as the harmonic structure of Opera isn't as important as the dramatic structure). It would be unfeasable for them to stay in the same key and just write in accidentals for 5 minutes worth of music, so they often change keys.

However, this remains completely up to the personal preference of the composer as to how much music in a new key is required before a new key signature is required.
#5
Thanks for that nmitchell, what you say makes perfect sense. Someone would be mad to write out all those accidentals in a piece.

You've made another question pop into my mind. Presumably in something like an Opera the time signature could change during the overall piece because, as you say it is more about the dramatic structure, but is it possible in other type of musical pieces?
#6
The key signature will usually change when the key changes. Except when changing to the relative major/minor which uses the same key signature but a different tonic.
Si
#7
Quote by Henry Wilt
Thanks for that nmitchell, what you say makes perfect sense. Someone would be mad to write out all those accidentals in a piece.

You've made another question pop into my mind. Presumably in something like an Opera the time signature could change during the overall piece because, as you say it is more about the dramatic structure, but is it possible in other type of musical pieces?

Oh yes, time signature changes are just as common as key changes, really, if not more so. Again, however, it would depend upon the type of music. A piece that is intended to be used in dancing or relaxation probably won't have too many striking time signature changes (cuz that'd **** up the dancing or draw attention to the change, thus ruining the relaxation), however, in the 20th century, any piece going beyond that usually changes time signatures multiple times. (speaking of "classical" music at least)

It wasn't unheard of for this to happen in older styles, of course, but it was much more rare and if it did happen, it was usually done at points to distinguish between different sections of a piece (since a different rhythmic character helps create a different feel to the piece), much in the same way a change in time signature signals a temporary shift to a new key area (which was also done at changing sections within a piece).

Now, however, both tonality and rhythm are pretty much able to be molded to the composers whim. Now, it is fairly common to have a page of music where the time signature does not remain the same for more then a few bars, and for keys to be changing constantly as well (if functional tonality is even being used, that is).

I think what is important to remember from all of this is that musical notation serves a function of translating sound into a communicable form. Key signatures, time signatures, even the notes themselves are all just ways that the composer tells us "this is what I want here." Presumably, it is also done in such a way as to make things as easy as possible on the interpreter of the piece.

So, when you consider a piece like Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, the whole piece could coneivably have been written with a key signature of one flat and in consistent 3/4 time. The grouping of the rhythmic patterns and the mess of accidentals would be hopelessly confusing on the performer were this the case. So he chose to alternate time signatures and key signatures simply because he felt that doing so was the most efficient way of translating his aural idea into a written form that other people could play.

Hell, I've seen some scores that are lines drawn on paper, because they felt this form of notation better expressed the musical idea then the current standard musical notation does.

tl:dr, if you ask "can it be done" with regards to musical notation, the answer is pretty much always yes.
Last edited by nmitchell076 at Apr 29, 2011,
#8
Quote by 20Tigers
The key signature will usually change when the key changes. Except when changing to the relative major/minor which uses the same key signature but a different tonic.

OK, 1st part I get thanks to a the previous replies (but thanks for confirming it) but the 2nd part about changing to the relative major/minor has really got me thinking (or more to the point, going round in circles confusing myself ).
If you change to the relative major/minor key (which has the same notes (I do hope I've got that right, the circle of fifths I drew out last night is at home)), I am assuming that therefore you would be resolving the phrases (for want of a better description) to the root of that key. Is that correct? If so, does that then become a mode of some description? (I'm only by going on what I've read on-line) BIG DISCLAIMER: as yet I know or understand nothing about modes and do not feel that it is the right time yet to start trying to learn them or I'll just get more confused.


@nmitchell: Thanks for the detailed explanation, which you have managed to word so eloquently as to not make me feel a total muppet.
#10
Quote by Henry Wilt
OK, 1st part I get thanks to a the previous replies (but thanks for confirming it) but the 2nd part about changing to the relative major/minor has really got me thinking (or more to the point, going round in circles confusing myself ).
If you change to the relative major/minor key (which has the same notes (I do hope I've got that right, the circle of fifths I drew out last night is at home)), I am assuming that therefore you would be resolving the phrases (for want of a better description) to the root of that key. Is that correct? If so, does that then become a mode of some description? (I'm only by going on what I've read on-line)


Songs don't always resolve. I would say that it's about 50/50 as to whether a song resolves to the root at the end. Part of it is taking notice of the key signature, and the other part is listening to the song, and determining whether the song would resolve to if it were to resolve. You'll need your ears for that second part. The chord structure itself can be very helpful in that respect too.

Quote by Henry Wilt
BIG DISCLAIMER: as yet I know or understand nothing about modes and do not feel that it is the right time yet to start trying to learn them or I'll just get more confused.


Modes aren't helpful or relevant either, so that's a good thing.
And no, Guitar Hero will not help. Even on expert. Really.
Soundcloud