#1
Im mostly learning this song by ear, I'm not sure how to call it, but I'm learning to play the singing part of the song on guitar (if it makes any sense), how can I figure out what key/scale I'm playing in?

And for music in general, how do I find out what key the song is in?

Thanks
Gear:
- ESP LTD MH-50
- Strandberg OS 7
- A cheap fender strat knock-off not worth naming
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#2
Key has to do with harmonic tendencies, how the notes throughout each section/the entire piece interact with each other and create some sort of hierarchy.

"singing part of the song" is usually called the melody and usually serves as (relatively) the main voice within the harmony (though there will likely be notes that aren't related to the chords).

Questions:
- guitar - are you playing lead or do you play acoustic and chord strumming too?
- notes - how familiar are you with the 12 notes in mainstream Western music?
- chords - how familiar are you with the four main triads and any inversions? Major, minor, diminished, augmented (the main ones are major and minor, so you'd be good at the beginning with just those)
- phrases - how good are you at identifying them?

If you're playing lead as melody, I'd suggest paying attention to notes that appear more frequently than others and notes within the melody that sound more final, settled, want-to-stay-there, etc. Write them down and compare with the entire musical context (which will give you chords, which will help with determining major/minor)

If you need more help, please post a link to whatever song you're learning
#3
Quote by NeoMvsEu
Questions:
- guitar - are you playing lead or do you play acoustic and chord strumming too?
- notes - how familiar are you with the 12 notes in mainstream Western music?
- chords - how familiar are you with the four main triads and any inversions? Major, minor, diminished, augmented (the main ones are major and minor, so you'd be good at the beginning with just those)
- phrases - how good are you at identifying them?


- guitar - On an electric guitar, playing what I believe is the melody/lead, no chords
- notes - I'm not sure what 12 notes in mainstream Western music means
- chords - (excuse my noob-ness) I'm in the process or learning chords, but I don't really know them. A friend of mine told me they're like shapes, but as far as that goes, I've no idea what that means
- phrases - If by phrases you mean parts that repeat here and there, I'd say I'm good with that
Gear:
- ESP LTD MH-50
- Strandberg OS 7
- A cheap fender strat knock-off not worth naming
- Garageband
- Boss GT-1
- Potato
#4
Quote by Parac
- guitar - On an electric guitar, playing what I believe is the melody/lead, no chords


Playing only lead makes identifying the key a bit more difficult, but I'll talk more about that after I've addressed your other points.

Quote by Parac

- notes - I'm not sure what 12 notes in mainstream Western music means


Maybe you just misunderstood the question, but I'm going to give you the beginner-friendly answer just in case.

You know, when you press down different frets on the guitar they all make a different sound, the closer to the bridge you move on the fretboard, the higher the notes get? You might also notice that the 12th fret sounds similar to the open string, but higher? This is because in western music we use 12 different notes (that you can produce by playing on different frets on the guitar) that repeat in different octaves (an octave is a note that sounds the same and has the same harmonic qualities as the root note, but has a higher pitch). The 12 different notes are:

C - C#/Db - D - D#/Eb - E - F - F#/Gb - G - G#/Ab - A - A#/Bb - B

You might notice that a lot of the notes have two different names, but don't get bothered by that yet. Just use either one for now.

So when you play all of the frets up the E string, the 1st fret is F, the second is F#/Gb, the third is G etc... until you hit fret 12 which is E again, and the notes repeat afterwards.

Quote by Parac

- chords - (excuse my noob-ness) I'm in the process or learning chords, but I don't really know them. A friend of mine told me they're like shapes, but as far as that goes, I've no idea what that means


When you play a bunch of notes at the same time, you get a chord. A C major chord would be C-E-G at the same time, and a D minor chord would be D-F-A. The easiest way to learn them is by shapes, so I guess that is what your friend meant. Thanks to the way the guitar is tuned you can play a major chord for example, let's say F major, and move the shape up two frets and get G major, or four frets to get A major etc.

But you should look into open chords first. Search for some fingering charts for E, A, D, G and C chords for a start, both major and minor. You can play those using a lot of open strings.

Quote by Parac

- phrases - If by phrases you mean parts that repeat here and there, I'd say I'm good with that


I hope the language barrier isn't getting in the way here, but I don't think that Neo means parts that necessarily repeat. As I understand it, a phrase is a short part in a melody or a solo that sounds coherent on it's own (I have a really good word in mind to explain this but it has escaped me ), you might be familiar with the word "lick", well, licks are a type of phrase. You can think of all guitar solos, and to some extent melodies, as collections of phrases that sound good together. I still think this explanation is wonky but maybe someone can expand on this.

So, the reason you might have trouble with identifying the key is that you don't have a proper grasp on notes and chords. A good place to start is to identify the starting and the closing note of a melody, a lot of melodies start and end with the root note that tells you the key right away. The closing chord of a composition is also often the tonic chord (a chord built on the root note of the key), that would also show you the key. But maybe you should first get a good grasp on notes, chords and melodies, since they are vital in recognizing the key.
Quote by Jet Penguin
Theory: Not rules, just tools.

Quote by Hail
*note that by fan i mean that guy who wants his friends to know he knows this totally obscure hip band that only he knows about with 236 views on youtube. lookin' at Kev here
#5
You will find the key by finding the note/the chord that sounds like home. This is called the tonic. You will usually find the tonic by listening to the chords/the melody and singing the note that would make the melody sound complete in the end. If you don't end the melody with the tonic, it will leave the ending open - it makes you expect that there's more to come. But ending with the tonic will make the melody sound complete. So find that note. Most songs end with the tonic for this reason.

Let's take a simple tune like "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star".



Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder what you are.
Up above the world so high,
Like a diamond in the sky.
Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder what you are.

This is actually also a good example of what "phrases" in music are. Each line could be thought as a phrase. Phrases are "building blocks" of a melody. They are comparable with sentences in speech.

Now, let's listen to the first phrase, "Twinkle, twinkle, little star". If you ended the tune here, would it make sense? Would ending with the last note of this phrase make the melody sound complete or does it make you expect for the song to continue?

What about the second phrase, "How I wonder what you are"? Actually, this is pretty obvious because the same phrase is also repeated in the end and the tune ends here, so you would expect that this phrase ends with the tonic. Then again, some songs leave the ending open on purpose. But the question is, does it sound complete if you end with this note? Is there tension or does it feel like all of the tension released when you played/sung the last note of this phrase? (You could also try playing/singing the second last note and listening to the tension. Then play/sing the last note. Does the tension release?)

The next two phrases, "Up above the world so high" and "Like a diamond in the sky", have the same melody. Now, what about these phrases? What if you ended the song here, would it sound complete or would you expect the song to continue? (I know that the song continues, but what if it didn't? Would it make sense to end the song here?) You could also try to sing the note that you would like to end the song with. Where does it want to resolve?

And as I said, the last two phrases are the same as the first two phrases.


After you have found the tonic, you need to listen to whether it sounds like major or minor. Does "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" sound more like major or minor? You could listen to chord qualities (does it end with a major or a minor chord) or you could sing/play the major and the minor scale starting from the tonic and listen if the melody uses notes in the major or the minor scale. (The third note of the scale is the most important one - this is what gives the song a major or a minor "flavor".)

So let's say the tonic is A and the scale that fits the song is minor. This means that the song is in A minor. If the tonic is Eb and the scale is major, this means that the song is in Eb major.
Quote by AlanHB
Just remember that there are no boring scales, just boring players.

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Last edited by MaggaraMarine at Jan 21, 2017,
#6
Quote by Parac
- guitar - On an electric guitar, playing what I believe is the melody/lead, no chords
- notes - I'm not sure what 12 notes in mainstream Western music means
- chords - (excuse my noob-ness) I'm in the process or learning chords, but I don't really know them. A friend of mine told me they're like shapes, but as far as that goes, I've no idea what that means
- phrases - If by phrases you mean parts that repeat here and there, I'd say I'm good with that
Sounds like you need to learn a little more about the guitar (and music itself) in order to make sense of any answers we can provide.

To begin with, I think it's good you're trying to play melody lines on guitar by ear: it's excellent training, not only for your ear, but for how melodies work. It's unusual for a guitarist to begin with melody before you know many (or any) chords, but IMO it's the right way.

However, it will obviously help if you have some way of remembering what you're finding! A method of writing down what you find obviously helps, and tab will do, but note names (and basic notation knowledge) will help more. (The note names, at least, will help you start to make sense of the bigger picture, once you do know some scale theory.)

But for working out melodies by ear, you really don't need any theory knowledge (about scales or keys). You just need to find each note in turn - its position on string and fret, and then tab it out - remembering that most notes are playable in different places, so you should find a place where as many notes as possible are reachable from one position.

There is no need (in the beginning anyway) to identify them all as belonging to a specific scale or key. Once you start thinking the song might be in a specific key, then you can be prejudiced about what other notes ought to be (or not to be) there. Listening without prejudice is the aim!

Theory is not about rules (what can and can't be done). When a song is in the key of (say) C major, it doesn't mean it only uses notes from the C major scale: most of the C major scale notes will probably be used, but perhaps not all of them, and other notes can be used too. To be "in C" just means that C sounds like the "home note", the tonal centre, the note (and chord) where the song sounds most stable, most finished. IOW, it's something you can hear, although it's a little ambiguous in some songs: you might wait a while before you hear a note of chord that sounds stable in that way, and some other part of the song might change to a different key. But key always feels like a point the song is aiming for, to come home to. Songs don't always start there (although usually they do), but they almost always come back there.

My question would be: why do you want to be able to identify a key or scale? Why do you think it will help? The music is what it is; it consists of the notes it contains, the notes you can hear. Work all those out, and you've worked out the song. Work out the melody, and you will probably have all the notes that will occur in all the chords in the song; most of them anyway.
#7
Quote by Kevätuhri
Playing only lead makes identifying the key a bit more difficult, but I'll talk more about that after I've addressed your other points.


Maybe you just misunderstood the question, but I'm going to give you the beginner-friendly answer just in case.

You know, when you press down different frets on the guitar they all make a different sound, the closer to the bridge you move on the fretboard, the higher the notes get? You might also notice that the 12th fret sounds similar to the open string, but higher? This is because in western music we use 12 different notes (that you can produce by playing on different frets on the guitar) that repeat in different octaves (an octave is a note that sounds the same and has the same harmonic qualities as the root note, but has a higher pitch). The 12 different notes are:

C - C#/Db - D - D#/Eb - E - F - F#/Gb - G - G#/Ab - A - A#/Bb - B

You might notice that a lot of the notes have two different names, but don't get bothered by that yet. Just use either one for now.

So when you play all of the frets up the E string, the 1st fret is F, the second is F#/Gb, the third is G etc... until you hit fret 12 which is E again, and the notes repeat afterwards.


When you play a bunch of notes at the same time, you get a chord. A C major chord would be C-E-G at the same time, and a D minor chord would be D-F-A. The easiest way to learn them is by shapes, so I guess that is what your friend meant. Thanks to the way the guitar is tuned you can play a major chord for example, let's say F major, and move the shape up two frets and get G major, or four frets to get A major etc.

But you should look into open chords first. Search for some fingering charts for E, A, D, G and C chords for a start, both major and minor. You can play those using a lot of open strings.


I hope the language barrier isn't getting in the way here, but I don't think that Neo means parts that necessarily repeat. As I understand it, a phrase is a short part in a melody or a solo that sounds coherent on it's own (I have a really good word in mind to explain this but it has escaped me ), you might be familiar with the word "lick", well, licks are a type of phrase. You can think of all guitar solos, and to some extent melodies, as collections of phrases that sound good together. I still think this explanation is wonky but maybe someone can expand on this.

So, the reason you might have trouble with identifying the key is that you don't have a proper grasp on notes and chords. A good place to start is to identify the starting and the closing note of a melody, a lot of melodies start and end with the root note that tells you the key right away. The closing chord of a composition is also often the tonic chord (a chord built on the root note of the key), that would also show you the key. But maybe you should first get a good grasp on notes, chords and melodies, since they are vital in recognizing the key.


When you explain it, I get the idea you're talking about.
English isn't my first language,
I learned some (not much) theory in the past,
my violin teacher taught me in my native language

The part where you're talking about the 12 notes thing, is it similar to how harmonics and octaves work? As in the 12th fret is 1 octave higher, the 24th fret is 2 octaves higher (least I think it is), and the 5th and 7th frets are also octaves

The part about chords, I notice that the distance between the C chord (CEG) is 1 whole step apart from each note C (D) E, E (F) G
So then would that mean all chords are set up that way, where the next note for a chord is 1 whole step apart
How do you tell between major and minor chords? Besides actually playing them, how do you know that the CEG chord is a major, whereas the DFA chord is a minor?

On another note, if I were to tab out that song's melody then arrange the notes in increasing order, would that help me figure out the key that it's in?

Btw, thanks all that are helping me understand
your help is appreciated
Gear:
- ESP LTD MH-50
- Strandberg OS 7
- A cheap fender strat knock-off not worth naming
- Garageband
- Boss GT-1
- Potato
#8
Quote by Parac
The part about chords, I notice that the distance between the C chord (CEG) is 1 whole step apart from each note C (D) E, E (F) G
So then would that mean all chords are set up that way, where the next note for a chord is 1 whole step apart
How do you tell between major and minor chords? Besides actually playing them, how do you know that the CEG chord is a major, whereas the DFA chord is a minor?


Yes, I'm really glad you noticed this! The major and minor chord are indeed built in that way, a G major would be GBD, so G (A) B (C) D, and an E minor chord would be EGB, so E (F) G (A) B. But what you didn't notice is that not all of those are a whole step apart. The distance between E and F for example is only half step - so the distance between E and G is one and a half steps, not two whole steps. This is what makes the difference between major and minor, in D minor I previously used as an example, the distance between D and F is also 1,5 step (again, because there is only a half step between E and F).

So, in order to turn a major chord into a minor chord, you need to move the middle note a half step lower. So if we take a C major, CEG, and turn it into C minor, we get C-Eb-G. The same thing works in reverse for minor chords, a D major would be D-F#-A.

To really understand this, you need to study intervals. An interval is the distance in pitch between two notes, and if you learn your intervals well you can use their proper names instead of "whole step" or "two and a half steps" etc. which will make understanding chords and keys a lot easier. You've already seen one interval mentioned in this thread, the root. The root is simply the note itself, a distance of zero. If we take the C major chord again, C would be the root, E would be known as a major third (distance of two whole steps or 5 frets) and the G would be known as a perfect fifth (distance of 3 and a half steps or 7 frets). If we get back to major and minor chords, the easiest way in my opinion to explain their relationship is by intervals, the major chord has a major third, while the minor chord has a minor third. A minor third would be the distance of 1,5 steps or three frets, as you might have figured out.

Learning intervals is useful and necessary in order to understand the rest of music theory well, as intervals are used in almost everything that has anything to do with melody or harmony.

Quote by Parac


On another note, if I were to tab out that song's melody then arrange the notes in increasing order, would that help me figure out the key that it's in?


But what exactly is increasing order? The sequence of notes does not have a starting or an ending point, it's an infinite loop. So how do you know which note in the composition would be the "lowest"?

I think you should study some general theory behind keys, and follow advice already given in this thread. And we're here to answer all of your questions if you get stuck.
Quote by Jet Penguin
Theory: Not rules, just tools.

Quote by Hail
*note that by fan i mean that guy who wants his friends to know he knows this totally obscure hip band that only he knows about with 236 views on youtube. lookin' at Kev here
#9
Quote by Parac

The part where you're talking about the 12 notes thing, is it similar to how harmonics and octaves work? As in the 12th fret is 1 octave higher, the 24th fret is 2 octaves higher (least I think it is), and the 5th and 7th frets are also octaves

Yes, the 12th fret harmonic is an octave above the open string. This has to do with physics and how sound works. When you halve the length of the string, you get a note an octave higher. The 12th fret is placed so that the distance from the nut to the 12th fret and from the bridge to the 12th fret is the same. It's exactly in the middle of the scale, and this is why both the 12th fret note and the 12th fret harmonic are the same pitch - an octave higher than the open string.

If you are interested in why certain harmonics are found on certain frets, look up the harmonic series. It's a bit more advanced stuff so I would recommend first getting a good grasp of the basics (intervals, note names, chord construction, scale construction, major and minor keys). BTW, the harmonic on the 7th fret is not an octave, it's a fifth + an octave above the open string.

But why there are 12 notes in an octave isn't exactly because of the harmonic series (though the harmonic series is where it all started from and it is the reason why we find certain intervals more pleasant sounding than others). Again, it's more advanced stuff and it has a lot to do with history. Some cultures use more than 12 notes in an octave. But in western music we use 12 different notes and the distance between any two consecutive notes in the chromatic scale is always the same - a half step (one fret on the guitar). This is not how it has always been and as I said, it has a lot to do with history. Our tuning system is called 12 tone equal temperament which means that there are 12 notes in an octave and that all half steps are equal.


But if you want to understand what key you are in, read my previous post and answer the questions in it. Did you find what key "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" (the version in my post) is in?
Quote by AlanHB
Just remember that there are no boring scales, just boring players.

Gear

Bach Stradivarius 37G
Charvel So Cal
Fender Dimension Bass
Hartke HyDrive 210c
Ibanez BL70
Laney VC30
Tokai TB48
Yamaha FG720S-12
Yamaha P115
Last edited by MaggaraMarine at Jan 22, 2017,