I understand the concept of playing in a key, for soloing and such, but obviously a song has more than 1 note going on in it, so how do you decide which is the key to play in? Suppose a song went in chords... A, C, D, C repeatively while you were supposed to solo, which one of those is the key? And how do you determine it?
Personally I think it sounds better if you play only notes in the A chord while the A is going, notes in the C chord while the C is going, etc. But to find the key, figure out which notes are in each of those chords and figure out what key has all of those notes in it.
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well I mean, suppose its metal, and its power chords going in order A,C,D,C but quickly, suppose one strum of each. What key is it?
if the chord progression ends in cadence the key would be the same as the last chord
its hard to explain and understand, but it is when the last chord sounds like it finishes the phrase
long time since did music theory, but think it goes like this.

Do ray me fah so lah ti do. One octave.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Notes.

For a song to be in a key, it has to include the notes.

In key of C

do ray me fah so lah ti do
c d e f g a b c

so you are playing ACDC key of C

Like I say, loooong time since I did this.


looks better in the editor, before posting. Needs a fixed spaced font.
Last edited by toadoftoadhall at Jun 27, 2006,
the cadence is the relationship between the last two chords. a perfect cadence is from the 5th to the 1st (e.g. G - C, A - D, whatever) and there are some others i supposedly learnt in music last term.
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perhaps somebody would like to add something about cadence, minor chords sounding like they are the finishing chord.
in most songs, doesnt the first chord or note determine the key?
- tommy
^ No, 99% of the time it's the last chord that determines the key.
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^ No, 99% of the time it's the last chord that determines the key.

What about finding the key of a solo (no chords)?

I was wondering about the key of ahavo rabo taco salad, and i took the first part of the solo, worked out the notes, and found they were in the key of A harmonic minor.

Is that how you do it?
(P.S - Im useless with the Co5, if that comes into it).
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^ That's one way to do it, but maybe not the best way... then again, all of the others pretty much stem from the same idea.

This explaination works a lot better if I know that you know all of the basic theory the way I'd like you to know it, but I don't... regardless, I'll assume and just say that you can look at melody & harmony differently:

A melody is a harmony over time (often with extra notes). A harmony (chord) is (the key tones of) a melody stacked.

It's also a lot easier to see the key on paper than with tabs (even when the key signature doesn't indicate the actual key, which is probably right around half the time). Anyway, after a while you start to see how the "harmony" part of a solo line works, and you can pretty much pick it out from that.

Also, I'm not really familiar with the piece, if it's a single line melody then yeah, working out the notes and just figuring it out works. If it's something that's sort of classical/moving across a lot of strings, then usually there's an actual harmony being threaded in, and you can pick that out (often through reduction). With reduction, you're still, for the most part, figuring out all the notes/most of the notes, you're just seeing it a lot quicker and seeing how they relate better.

The reason the note-by-note method doesn't work is because modulation is fairly common, and modulation doesn't strictly change the overall key, even though you're working in a new key. Chromaticism also throws it off, I've got a melody right now that's in G major, but ever B that's in the melody is a Bb (if just so happens that I never play the third over G, but I keep playing Bb over A as part of a melodic them). Something like that you'd look at and go "Oh, it's in some strange G minor," but it's not really working that way even though it looks like it if the harmonic content (even implied) isn't taken into account.

Reduction is the more accurate way, and only a little slower. Most music follows an I-V-I pattern, with various elaborations thrown in to keep it from sounding completely boring (I-IV-V is, for instance, an elaboration; ii-V-I is the same idea, with ii substituted for IV.. etc), and you can usually pick that out better, and understand what's going on better, if you look at the melody harmonically.
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Thanks corwinoid
Theres a few phrases in there ive heard off in my music gcse book i have for notes... harmony, melody, modulation etc. Ill start to take a better look into them and the theory surrounding them

This is a part of the tab i used to find it out:


It was only later did I find out Ahavo Rabo (part of the song name) is the key and mode Mark Tremonti uses

Thanks corwinoid
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alright here's my deal here... im not totally sure which message is replying to what and this is confusing. This is something ive been trying to figure out for awhile now. It would be really really helpful if someone could just put this somewhat simply and make it a lesson on ultimate guitar. cause im lost. thanks people!
To answer the original posters question :

You're playing A5, C5, D5, C5. You'll end on A5 as a resolution to end the song. This means that you'd be better off using the relative minor of the C Major scale ( you could still use the major scale if you wanted, it's just your chord progression is minor ). So you could use A minor/harmonic minor/blues/pentatonic minor etc. You could also use the C major scale for variance when the rhythm is playing C5, D5, C5. Or you could go the jazz way and use the respective scale ( any you want - it's just power chords - not major/minor ) for the specific chords.

Like if it were A minor, then C major then you would use. the A minor scale then the C Major scale. BUT you could still play any scale that used the notes of the chords ( A C E and C E G ) and it would still sound good. There is a lot of choice for soloing - just experiment with a couple of scales.

As for what key a song is in. Take all the notes used in it. Then find all the scales and modes that have those notes in them. They are all the options for the key. What implies the key is usually the first note to start on ( as this tends to be the note you finish on ) and the cadence at the end. Most music tends to resolve to the tonic ( the note of the key you're in ). In the example of the power chord progression - A5, C5, D5, C5 you would resolve to the A5 as it sounds finished. This identifies the key as one with A C and D in it. You could then use any A scale with those notes in it and it would sound good.

Again other scales could be used - it's just about the notes used and then what harmony/melody you want to create.
look at sheet music. determine the major key by looking at the key signature. if the key signature and the notes dont go together usually the key is the relative minor which is 3 half steps down