#1
I understand that you need to stay in key when making music but how exactly do I do that? What exactly does being in key mean?
#3
Quote by MapOfYourHead
To resolve to the tonic of said key signature

Judging from OP's post, I don't think he knows what a key signature is, so I'll expand.

A key signature is basically, you define which scale you'll use when making the piece (you'll be using mostly the notes from the scale) so if you say a song will be in D minor, you'll be using the notes D E F G A Bb C in it.
This doesn't mean you can't use C#, D#, F#, G# and B in the piece though, you can add them for flavour and/or to get a certain emotional effect (notes outside the scale or key are also called accidentals), and it's best to experiment with them a little - there's no set recipe for when or where to add an accidental, of course many songs and compositions don't even use them at all. You shouldn't use them too much because then it stops being flavour and becomes disturbing, since it doesn't really fit in.

At the end of the piece, it tends to sound the best when it resolves (finishes) on the root - the root note (or tonic) of the scale you used, so D minor in the example above. It gives a sense that the song has come to an end, feels like a finished whole, whatever you wanna put it. If a piece resolves on a note that isn't the root, it may leave listeners with a weird feeling, or it may just sound bad. Depending on the composition, you can try fumbling with that final note to get a different vibe (same as with accidentals).
#5
Quote by bigblockelectra
Whoever told you to stay "in key" may have meant that your guitar or bass is not tuned properly.

Um...what? Yes, you should tune your instrument, but that's not what "in key" is. To be "in key" means to resolve to the tonic.

What is the tonic? That's simply the note that is "home". So, in Dminor, the tonic note is D. In E major, the tonic is E. And so on and so forth.
#6
Quote by crazysam23_Atax
Um...what? Yes, you should tune your instrument, but that's not what "in key" is. To be "in key" means to resolve to the tonic.

What is the tonic? That's simply the note that is "home". So, in Dminor, the tonic note is D. In E major, the tonic is E. And so on and so forth.


I have heard people say "it's not in key" when referring to someone else playing with a poorly tuned instrument; it doesn't matter if it is wrong if you still understand what they mean....then at that point you can use it as a teaching moment.
#7
Quote by bigblockelectra
I have heard people say "it's not in key" when referring to someone else playing with a poorly tuned instrument; it doesn't matter if it is wrong if you still understand what they mean....then at that point you can use it as a teaching moment.

Ok, that's great. But keeping your instrument in tune should be something that always happens. It takes 2 minutes to use an electric tuner; your guitar should NOT be out of tune.
#8
Being "in key"/"out of key" refers essentially to good or bad note choice.

It's more or less what Navi_96 said, technically it means you'll playing the notes from the key signature, but in a broader sense it might just mean that you're making consistently "bad" note choices, regardless of whether they're in the key signature (which doesn't even actually matter a lot of the time).

I'm pretty sure I've also heard it referring to being in tune, especially when talking about vocals.

Also Sam, because your instrument shouldn't be out of tune, there shouldn't be a word for it? u wot m8
Last edited by sickman411 at Aug 28, 2014,
#9
I find whenever I hear somebody sayign something like this it is usually about voice, and it is usually saying they are singing off key, or out of key.

The key of a tune is a little bit complex to explain quickly. I'll pretend there only exists the major key to explain more easily.

So, a major key, is a framework, based on the major scale. The tonic is the sort of "lowest" note of the scale, it is what it is said the piece is centered around, or resolves to. It settles well there, and songs tend to end on it for that reason.

Every note of the C major scale, is in the Key of C. But, you can play the other notes as well and it will sound great. Some progressions will let you play multiple patterns, multiple different scales, and they will all sound good as that scale. The whole scale. It will just sound right any note you play, without any trouble. Some of these will include notes that are not part of the key scale. Not every tune will let you do that. You can always play any note you want, and any sound you want, but some progressions suit some scales particularly well, and sometimes, that's only really the key scale, and in jazz sometimes that's only ever one scale, and that scale switches from chord to chord, which I don't like, personally.


If you play like this, nobody will ever say you are playing out of key or off key. If you play a scale that does not belong, then that will sound off, and people might say that.

Generally, in singing, where you hear comments like this most I find, it simply means that you are not hitting the pitches that are in key correctly. Like, say your guitar was tuned 50 cents out, it would always sound out of key, and someone might say that.

So, essentially, the basic gist of it, is that if someone is telling you this, then you are not hitting the right pitches with your instrument. Either it is out of tune, or the intonation is off, or you are playing with weird bends that are putting it out, or something like that.

If you are uncertain about what the key of a song is, then I recommend you learn that, because I find it the most important thing you could learn in music.

However, when people say that, I think they mean less anything about any key, and more that the pitch choices sound clashy and off, and are not sort of in a nice pocket of harmony that sounds pleasing to the ear, which can be achieved playing notes within the key and also out of key, depending on how you phrase your passages.
#10
Quote by crazysam23_Atax
Ok, that's great. But keeping your instrument in tune should be something that always happens. It takes 2 minutes to use an electric tuner; your guitar should NOT be out of tune.


The intonation of guitars can be out. Even changing the string thickness can affect that. Humidity can, your bridge or nut wearing can. Lots of factors that can contribute to that.

I personally find tuners can be responsible for that as well. I can't stand tuners, and have never really found them useful. I always prefer to tune with a piano, or, if I have a tuner, then I use that only for reference to get my low E.

But it definitely goes without saying, your guitar should always be in tune. That's priority one. But you should also always play so it sounds good. In other words, if someone is telling you "you're playing out of key" you are necessarily doing something wrong. Unless they are simply mistaken.
#11
It really is context dependent.

It can mean playing outside notes (eg, notes that are not part of the scale that shares the name of the key). But these notes can be made to work, if you know how to use them.

More often it means being, essentially, out of tune. You're playing notes that clash with the rest of the song.
#12
Quote by fingrpikingood
The intonation of guitars can be out. Even changing the string thickness can affect that. Humidity can, your bridge or nut wearing can. Lots of factors that can contribute to that.

I personally find tuners can be responsible for that as well. I can't stand tuners, and have never really found them useful. I always prefer to tune with a piano, or, if I have a tuner, then I use that only for reference to get my low E.

But it definitely goes without saying, your guitar should always be in tune. That's priority one. But you should also always play so it sounds good. In other words, if someone is telling you "you're playing out of key" you are necessarily doing something wrong. Unless they are simply mistaken.

Yes...why would I disagree with any of this?...
#14
The idea of keys isn't absolutely necessary to making music just like string bends aren't necessary for making music- they're just powerful tools for getting stuff done.

You can go atonal, or just make weird waveforms with a synthesizer that sound good to you for example. I tried my hand at making dubstepy sounds a few days ago; it is a totally different approach than assembling chord progressions. You have to think about the physics behind the waveforms you're making, and harmonies/melodies are more of an afterthought with that. Might as well tool around and see what you can come up with IMO.

More knowledge will always give you more options and different approaches.
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#15
Playing "out of key" usually refers to playing non-diatonic notes and using accidentals.

Playing "in key" usually refers to playing only diatonic notes and not using accidentals.
And no, Guitar Hero will not help. Even on expert. Really.
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#16
Quote by AlanHB
Playing "out of key" usually refers to playing non-diatonic notes and using accidentals.

Playing "in key" usually refers to playing only diatonic notes and not using accidentals.

This is true but I would say playing out of key is more of a negative term. As somebody said, usually it refers to a bad note choice and not listening to the other instruments at all. But playing out of key can also mean just playing accidentals - notes that don't belong to the key signature.
Quote by AlanHB
Just remember that there are no boring scales, just boring players.

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#18
Quote by MaggaraMarine
This is true but I would say playing out of key is more of a negative term. As somebody said, usually it refers to a bad note choice and not listening to the other instruments at all. But playing out of key can also mean just playing accidentals - notes that don't belong to the key signature.


Ya, I think it can be a little ambiguous, and you'd really need more context to be more precise. People often refer to inside notes and outside notes as within the key, and outside it. But it's pretty rare that any significant percentage of notes played in a given sequence, can be outside notes, and still sound great. I could still see people saying that though, to reference the fact that they are not strictly playing diatonically.
#19
Quote by jazz_rock_feel
Says who?


I think this is part of the ambiguity. I would say that "you're playing off key" in reference to someone playing notes that I find clash, and don't sound right. I would consider "playing in key" to be the opposite, whereas that doesn't mean all notes played must be diatonic to the key.

So, for me, if it sounds good, they are playing in key, and if it sounds bad, they are playing off key, which is not specifically to say whether or not they are strictly playing notes from the key scale.

So, I would say playing in key, is extremely important, in a fundamental way, but that is not to say that you must stick to the notes of the key scale when you play.

You don't have to play only key scale notes, in order to sound like you are playing coherently around the tonal center of a given key.
#20
Quote by bigblockelectra
Whoever told you to stay "in key" may have meant that your guitar or bass is not tuned properly.

Lol i understand that, keeping your guitar tuned is common sense
#21
Quote by fingrpikingood
I think this is part of the ambiguity. I would say that "you're playing off key" in reference to someone playing notes that I find clash, and don't sound right. I would consider "playing in key" to be the opposite, whereas that doesn't mean all notes played must be diatonic to the key.

So, for me, if it sounds good, they are playing in key, and if it sounds bad, they are playing off key, which is not specifically to say whether or not they are strictly playing notes from the key scale.

So, I would say playing in key, is extremely important, in a fundamental way, but that is not to say that you must stick to the notes of the key scale when you play.

You don't have to play only key scale notes, in order to sound like you are playing coherently around the tonal center of a given key.

There is no good, there is no bad. Too many mind.

Also the idea that there's ambiguity and argument surrounding the meaning of "playing in key" is so fucking troubling.
#22
Quote by jazz_rock_feel
There is no good, there is no bad. Too many mind.

Also the idea that there's ambiguity and argument surrounding the meaning of "playing in key" is so fucking troubling.


Ok, then please explain it to me in absolute terms, once and for all, so that I may understand properly.
#23
Quote by MaggaraMarine
This is true but I would say playing out of key is more of a negative term. As somebody said, usually it refers to a bad note choice and not listening to the other instruments at all. But playing out of key can also mean just playing accidentals - notes that don't belong to the key signature.


I've heard it used with both positive and negative connotations. To me it makes sense if playing "out of key" is simply that, playing notes not from the key.
And no, Guitar Hero will not help. Even on expert. Really.
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#25
Quote by jazz_rock_feel
Explain what?


Quote by jazz_rock_feel


Also the idea that there's ambiguity and argument surrounding the meaning of "playing in key" is so fucking troubling.


Show me how there is no ambiguity there. Explain to me exactly what "playing in key is" without any ambiguity.

It seems to me, and others here that it can refer a couple different things, depending on context how it can be used. Playing out of key, can be used in both a positive and negative way. That it can be used to say you are playing outside notes, or are just playing off.

That is ambiguity. You said "who says?" in reference to somebody saying that you should play in key, which makes me think that you were referring to playing diatonically, which of course is not at all necessary for making good music. That's why it highlighted ambiguity to me.

But, maybe you think that there is nothing wrong with playing music that sounds off, and doesn't sound right, and clashes and makes people cringe, in which case I don't know what to say, except good luck with that.
Last edited by fingrpikingood at Aug 29, 2014,
#26
Quote by fingrpikingood
Show me how there is no ambiguity there. Explain to me exactly what "playing in key is" without any ambiguity.

It seems to me, and others here that it can refer a couple different things, depending on context how it can be used. Playing out of key, can be used in both a positive and negative way. That it can be used to say you are playing outside notes, or are just playing off.

My point wasn't so much that there isn't ambiguity it was that it reeeeeeaaaalllly doesn't matter. Of course it has different meanings in different contexts. I'm sure it could mean everything that people have claimed it to mean in this thread. From the perspective of the TS it just means playing tonal music. The other thing is it's not positive or negative, it just is. Saying something is in a key isn't good or bad, it's just a fact about that thing.
Quote by fingrpikingood
That is ambiguity. You said "who says?" in reference to somebody saying that you should play in key, which makes me think that you were referring to playing diatonically, which of course is not at all necessary for making good music. That's why it highlighted ambiguity to me.

I was saying who says in reference to the idea that you need to write music that's in a key when you absolutely don't have to. There is no law. Diatonicism has nothing to do with it.
Quote by fingrpikingood
But, maybe you think that there is nothing wrong with playing music that sounds off, and doesn't sound right, and clashes and makes people cringe, in which case I don't know what to say, except good luck with that.

I plan to make my living off of it.


I was merely stirring the pot in the absence of Will, but I don't have anywhere near his level of conviction to carry on.
#27
Quote by fingrpikingood

But, maybe you think that there is nothing wrong with playing music that sounds off, and doesn't sound right, and clashes and makes people cringe, in which case I don't know what to say, except good luck with that.

Just check his SoundCloud. It's mostly atonal dissonant stuff. Utilizing Schoenberg influenced 12-tone techniques I'd guess. Can't you already tell from his posts that he's kind of biased towards atonality?

I'm not a fan of total clusterf**k atonality. Keeping some kind of a balance between tonality and atonality, however, can be interesting. I have to admit I'm not very experienced in atonal music, but I know the basic concepts and have listened to quite a bit. It can be okay in small doses, but in my opinion it's capability of emotional expression is quite limited, at least in the most extreme forms. It's all just horror music. lol.

But for THAT it is amazing. There's nothing more horrifying in music than some atonal music.
Last edited by Elintasokas at Aug 29, 2014,
#29
Most people don't like complex pieces because it sounds as if the players are playing off key. They kinda are but they aren't at the same time. People are used to the simplicity of 4 chord pop songs, no off-key notes except for a blue note every now and again. So with a complex piece, it's not following the normal 4 chord songs that are popular today. But it's not really playing out of key. The presupposition of a complex piece is that there is that there is going to be more than 4 chords and there is going to be a lot of deviation from the norm.

So I guess "key" might not always mean what is written in the key signature. I guess "key" might be a presupposition of what the music will sound like. If the "key" of a song is to never deviate from 4 chords and the notes of the scale, then you have to stay within the musical key. If the "key" of a song is to have utter chaos, then there is no normal musical key to follow, but a complex one that allows infinite deviation.

"I need to know the key of this song, because you can't get into a house if you don't have the right key."
#30
Quote by Will Lane
Most people don't like complex pieces because it sounds as if the players are playing off key. They kinda are but they aren't at the same time. People are used to the simplicity of 4 chord pop songs, no off-key notes except for a blue note every now and again.

Well, at least there will be a sea of music for them when they eventually get bored of those 4 chord pop songs and get used to the music that is actually worth listening.
#31
Quote by Elintasokas
Well, at least there will be a sea of music for them when they eventually get bored of those 4 chord pop songs and get used to the music that is actually worth listening.


i don't know why i feel so dry
#33
Quote by Will Lane
Most people don't like complex pieces because it sounds as if the players are playing off key. They kinda are but they aren't at the same time. People are used to the simplicity of 4 chord pop songs, no off-key notes except for a blue note every now and again. So with a complex piece, it's not following the normal 4 chord songs that are popular today. But it's not really playing out of key. The presupposition of a complex piece is that there is that there is going to be more than 4 chords and there is going to be a lot of deviation from the norm.

So I guess "key" might not always mean what is written in the key signature. I guess "key" might be a presupposition of what the music will sound like. If the "key" of a song is to never deviate from 4 chords and the notes of the scale, then you have to stay within the musical key. If the "key" of a song is to have utter chaos, then there is no normal musical key to follow, but a complex one that allows infinite deviation.

"I need to know the key of this song, because you can't get into a house if you don't have the right key."


It is not the complexity of a song that determines whether or not most people like it. Nor the number of chords. Nor how common they are, nor whether or not the tune switches key, or uses secondary dominants, accidentals, or anything like that.

That's why writing a great song is difficult. Because what makes it good is hard to pinpoint. It is just how the whole thing works together.

People will not necessarily find that a complex song is off, nor a song that uses many accidentals is off.
#34
Quote by Will Lane
Most people don't like complex pieces because it sounds as if the players are playing off key. They kinda are but they aren't at the same time. People are used to the simplicity of 4 chord pop songs, no off-key notes except for a blue note every now and again. So with a complex piece, it's not following the normal 4 chord songs that are popular today. But it's not really playing out of key. The presupposition of a complex piece is that there is that there is going to be more than 4 chords and there is going to be a lot of deviation from the norm.
All of this stuff is completely subjective. Bach is considered to be one of the best composers of all time by many, and his music has been enjoyed by millions. My point is, complexity is NOT what causes people to dislike a piece.