#1
Hi All,

I recently started looking into Music Theory and while I'm beginning to understand it and it's helped my playing a lot so far, I still have a ways to go.

I was learning the song Limelight by Rush and I noticed that the chords used in the song actually belong in two keys - Emaj and Bmaj.

This got me thinking about improvisation in a song where there are multiple keys. So I wrote down a simple chord arrangement Emin - Cmaj - Amin to see if those chords were again in 2 or more keys, which of course they are Cmaj and Gmaj.

My question is, in this kind of simple arrangement, which key would it be better to improvise in? If I was to guess I'd probably improvise with the Gmaj / Emin because if the arrangement went back to Emin after the Amin the Gmaj / Emin key would resolve better than Cmaj / Amin would.

Does this sound ok or am I totally just making stuff up?

Thanks!
Chris
#2
You can only be in one key at a time, and the tonic has to be present or very strongly implied at some point. With Em - C, there is no G present or implied, so it can't be the tonic. Based on the order of the chords alone, your ear would likely hear the key of E minor.

In "Limelight", the progression starts on B and ends with F# and E. Since F#-E is a typical dominant pattern for the key B, that's the obvious choice for the verse. It borrows an A chord from a different key, but that doesn't change the key in itself.

Traditionally, key is defined by a tonic-dominant relationship. In this example, the continuous presence of F# in a progression starting on B establishes that relationship. Such a clear, diatonic relationship doesn't show up for E, so that can't be the key of the song.
#3
^Literal perfect answer.

Whatever key you are in, that's the key you want to play in. In general, anyway.
"There are two styles of music. Good music and bad music." -Duke Ellington

"If you really think about it, the guitar is a pointless instrument." - Robert Fripp
#4
Thanks cgraves, this does help me although I'm not so well versed on the tonic - dominant relationship of a key.

However, to clarify in the example above for the Emin-C-Amin, you mean that if Emin is E-G-B, C is C-E-G and Amin is A-C-E, a more correct way to determine my key would be to select Emin because the E is found in all the chords and would more strongly suggest that as the tonic as opposed to say Gmaj where the G tonic isn't found in all those chords (not in Amin).

Same goes for the other keys i mentioned (in Amin, the A tonic isn't in Emin or C, in Cmaj the C tonic isn't in Emin) so an Emin key would "fit best" per the recurring E.
#5
Quote by cmcnab.regenersis
Hi All,

I recently started looking into Music Theory and while I'm beginning to understand it and it's helped my playing a lot so far, I still have a ways to go.

I was learning the song Limelight by Rush and I noticed that the chords used in the song actually belong in two keys - Emaj and Bmaj.
Yes, but that's not how key is determined. The key is an aural thing - the note and chord that "sounds like home" - and that's normally established as cdgraves says, by a tonic dominant (I-V) relationship. (It can also be established by just banging away on one chord for long enough. )
So you find the chord that sounds most like "home" (usually the first chord of a song, even more often the last chord), and then interpret the other chords accordingly.
(In this case, the final chord is G#m, relative minor of B, but B sounds most like the key chord in the rest of the song.)
The A major chord is a standard rock borrowed chord (from B minor). bVIIs are a rock convention .
Quote by cmcnab.regenersis

This got me thinking about improvisation in a song where there are multiple keys. So I wrote down a simple chord arrangement Emin - Cmaj - Amin to see if those chords were again in 2 or more keys, which of course they are Cmaj and Gmaj.
Yes, but you are using "key" in the sense of "scale". It's an important distinction.
A "scale" is just group of notes.
A "key" is a sense of tonal centre, one note that rules the others.
So you're asking about scales (primarily), not keys .
Quote by cmcnab.regenersis

My question is, in this kind of simple arrangement, which key would it be better to improvise in? If I was to guess I'd probably improvise with the Gmaj / Emin because if the arrangement went back to Emin after the Amin the Gmaj / Emin key would resolve better than Cmaj / Amin would.
You're thinking along the right lines here: the "key" is a matter of what sounds most "resolved"; the chord that sounds like the most suitable final chord.
I'd agree in this case that's probably going to be Em, although a lot depends on how long each chord lasts, because there are no clear cadences in that sequence.
(No B-Em to confirm Em, no E-Am to confirm Am - and obviously no D-G or G-C to confirm either of those.)

That still doesn't mean, necessarily, that you need to use the E natural minor scale (= G major). Your chords give you 5 notes in all: A B C E G. No D/D# or F/F#.
Use F#, with an E key centre, you have E aeolian mode, or natural minor.
Use F natural, and you have an E phrygian sequence (if you sure Em is the central key chord).
However, because Em has a fairly weak claim to key chord in your sequence (and phrygian is a weak mode), it may be that using the C major scale would persuade the ear that Am (or C) is the key. Finishing on Em in that case might not sound finished.
The third scale option is to use both F# and D#, which makes E harmonic minor. But that might sound odd without a B or B7 chord to justify it.

Your ear is the only real judge here. Try all the scale options (including E blues, why not?). Try changing the order of the chords, or how long each one lasts. Try adding other chords.
Of course, when it comes to improvising on existing songs you don't have those choices! But chord tones are always your guide to scales. (Identifying the key will help, but you may need to adjust that scale when out-of-key chords turn up.)
#6
Quote by cmcnab.regenersis
Thanks cgraves, this does help me although I'm not so well versed on the tonic - dominant relationship of a key.

However, to clarify in the example above for the Emin-C-Amin, you mean that if Emin is E-G-B, C is C-E-G and Amin is A-C-E, a more correct way to determine my key would be to select Emin because the E is found in all the chords and would more strongly suggest that as the tonic as opposed to say Gmaj where the G tonic isn't found in all those chords (not in Amin).

Same goes for the other keys i mentioned (in Amin, the A tonic isn't in Emin or C, in Cmaj the C tonic isn't in Emin) so an Emin key would "fit best" per the recurring E.
Yes, the recurring E is another pointer, but the recurrence of one note doesn't necessarily indicate a keynote.
Eg, if you had a sequence that ran C - Am7 - Fadd9 - G7 - C, then the note G would occur in all the chords. But the key is C (which doesn't occur in the G7 chord). And that's because C is the note (and chord) which will sound most "final", a stable resolution, largely due to the preceding G7 (dominant). Even if G7 was in a different place in the sequence - say C-G7-Am7-Fadd9-C - the key is still C, because it wouldn't sound finished on any other chord.
#8
as cdgraves said..the key has to be present or implied very strongly..in your question: "..This got me thinking about improvisation in a song where there are multiple keys. So I wrote down a simple chord arrangement Emin - Cmaj - Amin to see if those chords were again in 2 or more keys, which of course they are Cmaj and Gmaj."


now here is where defining a key can be tricky...note that in the Key of C the Emin and Amin are the iii and vi chords and in some cases they may be substitutions or even inversions of of C major as they have notes in them that relate to C major..so using E minor as a new key must have some very strong indications of what key your really in..one determining factor is usually the V chord of the key..in the case of C major this would be a G chord-G7 would be a super clue- now to establish E min as a NEW key you will need to arrange your chords in such a way as it becomes very strong..a vamp of some kind with Emi being the strong chord or the use of a B chord..again preferably some sort of B7 to really define it--I you want the key to be G major..a D7 or some variation will help you establish it..

In your study of theory..check out some diatonic harmony..it shows how chords are built from scales .. the major scale in particular..if you spend some time with this study you will begin to see the relationship between the chords..how they are interweaved... as you do this in different keys you start to see a "road map" so to speak of how to get from one key to another smoothly..its called modulation in some examples..there are many songs that demonstrate this..do some research on the net for these techniques

hope this helps
play well

wolf
#9
Actually, this helps a lot, thanks for everyone who's answered.

It's interesting, the Rush example makes sense to me now the tonic - dominant relationship has been mentioned.

In the example I made up, I think you summed it up really well jongtr. I guess really in a simple sequence like that, it's really up to the player to make an "informed" decision because there's no chords in there that really gives a definitive "this is the key" - like a V7. It seems to me that a sequence like this is more about options, yes it's likely going to be Emin but as you say jongtr, given the notes in those chords, they can be adapted to a whole bunch of other scales, some of which will sound more "right" than others. So really it's just about experimenting with those options.
#10
Quote by cmcnab.regenersis
Actually, this helps a lot, thanks for everyone who's answered.

It's interesting, the Rush example makes sense to me now the tonic - dominant relationship has been mentioned.

In the example I made up, I think you summed it up really well jongtr. I guess really in a simple sequence like that, it's really up to the player to make an "informed" decision because there's no chords in there that really gives a definitive "this is the key" - like a V7. It seems to me that a sequence like this is more about options, yes it's likely going to be Emin but as you say jongtr, given the notes in those chords, they can be adapted to a whole bunch of other scales, some of which will sound more "right" than others. So really it's just about experimenting with those options.
Yes. I'm reminded (once again) of that resonant quote of Miles Davis: "I'll play it first and tell you what it is later."
Composing and improvising are always better done by ear and experiment than by trying to apply some ready digested theory or prepared lick.
Music first, theory later.

Of course, you always work from some kind of knowledge to begin with, but ideally it's internalised, subconscious.
When you play that Em chord, I'm sure you don't have to think where to put your fingers or look up the shape in a book! It's automatic. Your fingers probably go to it before you're even aware of it.
The same happens with knowledge about concepts like key, chord changes, etc. The more you work with them, the more it all becomes intuitive.
Miles could "tell you what it is later" because really he knew all along; he just didn't want or need to think about it.
#11
i wonder when polytonality will become a buzzword here again
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#12
Quote by Hail
i wonder when polytonality will become a buzzword here again
Funny, I don't.
#13
As soon as everyone gets of their high horse and admits how sweet Stravinksy is.
"There are two styles of music. Good music and bad music." -Duke Ellington

"If you really think about it, the guitar is a pointless instrument." - Robert Fripp
#14
Quote by Jet Penguin
As soon as everyone gets of their high horse and admits how sweet Stravinksy is.


sweet may be a stretch...how bout an acquired taste..
play well

wolf
#15
When I saw the title of this topic, I was thinking more along the lines of out-there Jazz Standards like "Giant Steps" and modern classical like Stravinsky (he's rather polarizing but was good enough for Walt Disney's 'Fantasia'). Jet, you really need to do a lesson on stuff like that (improve with pieces in multiple keys). I'm also curious about this kinda stuff.

A good ear is better than fast fingers but that's another story. I find polytonality an interesting topic but I know you guys don't care for my type (although I'm trying to be more stable and consonant). Sorry to burst in but this interests me.
"I don't know what you're trying to suggest. There's no shame in taking what you need to hold your position!"

Super Buu (DBZ) on assimilation (it could also apply to blues guitar and guitar soloing in general).
#16
it begins
Quote by Kevätuhri
Hail isn't too edgy for posts, posts are not edgy enough for Hail.


Quote by UseYourThumb
You win. I'm done here.
#17
Quote by Jet Penguin
As soon as everyone gets of their high horse and admits how sweet Stravinksy is.
Stravinsky's music impressed me when I was a teenager. I kind of knew it was cool without really understanding it. I liked that it was edgy, direct and uncompromising, even though I didn't know what it might have been avoiding compromising with...
Then I got into blues and rock'n'roll.... 50 years later I'm still there
Last edited by jongtr at Sep 5, 2015,
#18
Hey, you can still have both, right?
"There are two styles of music. Good music and bad music." -Duke Ellington

"If you really think about it, the guitar is a pointless instrument." - Robert Fripp
#19
Quote by Jet Penguin
Hey, you can still have both, right?
Sure.
I guess I'm having too much fun "slumming". Stravinsky is kind of too intellectually "expensive" for me to spend much time that side of the tracks.
YMMV, naturally
When I was younger, I used to think I'd start to appreciate classical music as I got older. I'm 66 and there's little sign of it yet....
I do have a lot of time for a select few - although it tends to be their aphorisms rather than their music I find especially enlightening.

Given the above, my favourite Satie quote is:
"When I was young, people told me: you'll see when you're 50. I'm 50. I've seen nothing."
Way to go, Erik!