Question for music experts about musical keys

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Cheyenne
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Re: Question for music experts about musical keys

Post by Cheyenne » Thu Feb 15, 2018 6:37 pm

It was not uncommon for some rock or other popular music to be recorded at a slightly slower tempo than desired for the final product...
There is a reason for that. Recording is much more demanding than playing on a stage with a noisy audience. In fact some bands didn't even play on their records at all. They hired professional studio musicians. Virtually all of the Beach Boys albums were recorded by studio musicians (except for the vocals of course), Also, The Byrds, The Mamas and the Papas, The Monkees (who weren't even musicians at all - just actors), Sonny & Cher, and the list goes on and on. See the movie "The Wrecking Crew".

Cheyenne
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Re: Question for music experts about musical keys

Post by Cheyenne » Thu Feb 15, 2018 6:49 pm

I can’t read music. I can only play by reading TAB.
You're part of a long tradition. Tab (or Tablature) goes back at least 450 years. At that time they used letters for the frets instead of numbers:

http://www.cam.ac.uk/sites/www.cam.ac.u ... k=YSxa0D7N

azurekep
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Re: Question for music experts about musical keys

Post by azurekep » Thu Feb 15, 2018 10:52 pm

Cheyenne wrote:
Thu Feb 15, 2018 6:37 pm
It was not uncommon for some rock or other popular music to be recorded at a slightly slower tempo than desired for the final product...
There is a reason for that. Recording is much more demanding than playing on a stage with a noisy audience. In fact some bands didn't even play on their records at all. They hired professional studio musicians. Virtually all of the Beach Boys albums were recorded by studio musicians (except for the vocals of course), Also, The Byrds, The Mamas and the Papas, The Monkees (who weren't even musicians at all - just actors), Sonny & Cher, and the list goes on and on. See the movie "The Wrecking Crew".
In my DJ software (the open-source program Mixxx), one can change the track playback speed, which "affects both tempo and pitch. If keylock is enabled, only the tempo is changed." I interpret tempo and pitch to mean BPM and Key respectively. I played around with it a bit, but it doesn't show any real-time key change. As far as I can tell, key analysis can only be done against the original song. So, I can't tell how much the tempo needs to be increased/decreased before the key changes.

EDIT: It does in fact show real-time key changes. I missed it the first time around. I'm not well-versed enough in music to really evaluate changes in tempo vs changes in key. I.e., how much unit of tempo change is needed per unit of key change. But the software is available for others who might want to try. Mixxx Website

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Re: Question for music experts about musical keys

Post by Cheyenne » Fri Feb 16, 2018 8:01 am

I interpret tempo and pitch to mean BPM and Key respectively.
BPM (beats per minute) does relate to speed (tempo). Metronomes have numbers indicating BPM.

The terms "pitch" and "key" refer two different things, though related. Pitch is the highness or lowness of a note or tone. Pitch can be measured in hertz. For example middle C is 256 Hz. On a string instrument when a C string is plucked it vibrates 256 times per second (C=256). So when pitch is changed as in the app you mentioned, it might only change the pitch a little. That does not change the key. (Pitch is also measured in "cents" - more appropriate for this forum perhaps :-). A semitone equals 100 cents.)

A "Key" is a group of notes (or tones) called a scale that a composition is based upon. There is a main note called the tonic that one could say the others revolve around, and upon arrival at the tonic the listener senses a feeling of rest or resolution. The tonic is the key note.

The actual pitch or frequency of a given note can vary a little. Modern orchestras use A=440 (concert pitch). Some early music (18th cen.) groups use A=415 to 435, and some modern orchestras use a pitch slightly higher then A=440. The name for each of these slight variations is still A. So it's possible to change the pitch without changing the key.

MP173
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Re: Question for music experts about musical keys

Post by MP173 » Fri Feb 16, 2018 8:13 am

Regarding session musicians....

Last year I read the book - Good Vibrations by Mike Love. I was never a big fan of the Beach Boys but that book turned me on in a big way. There are a number of videos on You Tube showing the recording of various Beach Boy songs in the studio, using the Wrecking Crew. Fascinating musicians.

Glen Campbell, prior to his breaking out as an individual was a legendary session musician.

As mentioned earlier in this thread, I am reading a book on Steely Dan (FAK) and their use of session musicians for recording was sometimes over the top. The book goes into great detail of the recording of each song and the session musicians used. The author will often give explanations of the songs and the techniques and musicians used to create the final product.

I have tried a number of times to learn to read music. I am ok on single notes, but once the notes are stacked to create chords, I slow to a crawl.

That is why learning to play the bass last year was enjoyable...reading the music rather than tablature was somewhat an achievable goal.

Ed

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Re: Question for music experts about musical keys

Post by bondsr4me » Fri Feb 16, 2018 9:13 am

MP173 wrote:
Fri Feb 16, 2018 8:13 am
Regarding session musicians....

I have tried a number of times to learn to read music. I am ok on single notes, but once the notes are stacked to create chords, I slow to a crawl.

That is why learning to play the bass last year was enjoyable...reading the music rather than tablature was somewhat an achievable goal.

Ed
These are gonna seem like really foolish questions, but here goes:

is it "easier" to learn to play bass than an acoustic guitar?

is it "easier" to learn to play electric guitar than an acoustic guitar?

I really like/feel the bass in songs and would like to be able to play bass.

OK...go ahead...let me have it!

Thanks,

Don

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Re: Question for music experts about musical keys

Post by Cheyenne » Fri Feb 16, 2018 10:02 am

These are gonna seem like really foolish questions, but here goes:

is it "easier" to learn to play bass than an acoustic guitar?

is it "easier" to learn to play electric guitar than an acoustic guitar?

I really like/feel the bass in songs and would like to be able to play bass.

OK...go ahead...let me have it!

Thanks,

Don
I hope I can answer your questions. I've been teaching people to play the guitar for 50 years (I'm really old:-)).

is it "easier" to learn to play bass than an acoustic guitar?

ANS: Except for the fact that a bass guitar has 4 strings vs 6 for a regular guitar, no. The 4 strings on a bass guitar are tuned the same as the 4 bottom strings on a regular guitar (albeit an octave lower in pitch). I would recommend learning the regular guitar, then the transition to bass would be easy (although you would need to learn to read bass clef after learning treble clef on regular guitar, but if you can learn one, you can learn the other). Playing the guitar is more enjoyable than playing bass (in the beginning anyway) because you really need to play bass with other musicians to appreciate it. Bass is primarily intended to lay down (the bass) and compliment the rest of the ensemble, while with solo guitar you can play an entire composition yourself.

is it "easier" to learn to play electric guitar than an acoustic guitar?

ANS: No. Basically they're both the same. In the larger scheme of things they serve slightly different missions, but for beginners there is no significant difference. The main decision one needs to make is whether to learn plectrum technique (with a pick) or classical technique (fingerstyle). There's a lot of overlap. While electric guitars are usually played with a pick, electric bass is usually played fingerstyle without a pick.

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Re: Question for music experts about musical keys

Post by Hyperborea » Fri Feb 16, 2018 11:37 am

bondsr4me wrote:
Fri Feb 16, 2018 9:13 am
I really like/feel the bass in songs and would like to be able to play bass.

OK...go ahead...let me have it!

Thanks,

Don
If you learn to play the bass then you will more likely get more playing time when you play with others. Everybody and his brother plays guitar. A lot fewer people play bass. If you go to a jam or meet up of some kind you will be in demand.
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Re: Question for music experts about musical keys

Post by azurekep » Fri Feb 16, 2018 11:55 am

Cheyenne wrote:
Fri Feb 16, 2018 8:01 am
So when pitch is changed as in the app you mentioned, it might only change the pitch a little. That does not change the key.
It does indeed sound complicated. All I can say is that when I increased the BPM a lot for a given song, I got Donald Duck sounds. When the change was smaller, it didn't sound appreciably different, though depending on the magnitude of the change, there were perceived changes in the warmth/coolness.

The important thing, though, is that the key does change with changes in tempo. If I can find some way to change the software interface and make it less dark and the real-time key changes more noticeable and/or in a larger font, it may make the job easier of exploring this.

My going-in hypothesis is that only the key notes will change, like E to A or E to B, and not the major vs minor. I'm not basing it on anything other than it seems like common sense to me, but that often is not a good judge. ;)

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Re: Question for music experts about musical keys

Post by bondsr4me » Fri Feb 16, 2018 12:05 pm

Many thanks for the replies to my questions.

I do appreciate it very much.

Have a great weekend,

Don

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Re: Question for music experts about musical keys

Post by azurekep » Fri Feb 16, 2018 12:06 pm

MP173 wrote:
Fri Feb 16, 2018 8:13 am
As mentioned earlier in this thread, I am reading a book on Steely Dan (FAK) and their use of session musicians for recording was sometimes over the top. The book goes into great detail of the recording of each song and the session musicians used.
I've been following some of the history re: session musicians myself. Actually, relating more to the vocalists. Some of the popular anthems of the 90s, like those identified by the key vocal phrases: "Everybody Dance Now" or "I've Got the Power", were recorded (or sampled) by female divas who were, shall I say, of a large size. Apparently the producers didn't want that image, so when the musicians made a video or appeared on dance shows, they'd hire models to become the face of these musical groups.

As can be expected, there was litigation after the fact in some of these cases.

I made the effort of searching out these vocalists for their own work and where they were actually creditied; they did amazing work.
Last edited by azurekep on Fri Feb 16, 2018 12:30 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Question for music experts about musical keys

Post by Cheyenne » Fri Feb 16, 2018 12:23 pm

My going-in hypothesis is that only the key notes will change, like E to A or E to B, and not the major vs minor.
That's correct. Software capable of changing audio from a major to a minor key and vice versa might exist, but I'm not familiar with any. It would need to be very sophisticated and would require identification of the notes that needed to be changed, then raising or lowering the pitches of just those notes 100 cents by modifying the fabric of the soundfile. Based upon my experience with digital audio editing I believe that even if it could be done I suspect it would not sound good.
Last edited by Cheyenne on Fri Feb 16, 2018 12:27 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Question for music experts about musical keys

Post by azurekep » Fri Feb 16, 2018 12:25 pm

Re: the questions on bass, it's helpful when you can find the instrumental version of a piece.

A recommended one is:
Everything She Wants Instrumental (Wham)

This appears to be the same one I have on my player that says "original" instrumental version. IOW, it isn't the actual song with the vocals stripped out.

The first thing you'll notice, or rather the only thing you'll notice starting at about .40, is the bass! I mean, it will knock you over. It overtakes the entire song. When listening to the vocal version of the song, one tends to focus more on George Michael's vocals and not the bass, but the bass really underpins the song in a deep synchopated way.

You can then compare this version with one of the live video versions where Andrew Ridgely is seen playing the bass.

It may not help you learn anything, but it's the most bass-centric piece I've ever come across, where you can feel and hear every single note.

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Re: Question for music experts about musical keys

Post by Hyperborea » Fri Feb 16, 2018 1:07 pm

azurekep wrote:
Fri Feb 16, 2018 11:55 am
Cheyenne wrote:
Fri Feb 16, 2018 8:01 am
So when pitch is changed as in the app you mentioned, it might only change the pitch a little. That does not change the key.
It does indeed sound complicated. All I can say is that when I increased the BPM a lot for a given song, I got Donald Duck sounds. When the change was smaller, it didn't sound appreciably different, though depending on the magnitude of the change, there were perceived changes in the warmth/coolness.

The important thing, though, is that the key does change with changes in tempo. If I can find some way to change the software interface and make it less dark and the real-time key changes more noticeable and/or in a larger font, it may make the job easier of exploring this.

My going-in hypothesis is that only the key notes will change, like E to A or E to B, and not the major vs minor. I'm not basing it on anything other than it seems like common sense to me, but that often is not a good judge. ;)
Actually, when you change the pitch with one of the software tools it does change the key but as you point out it currently won't change from major to minor. I use them all the time to change the key of backing tracks to work with the song I'm working on. If I've got a rhumba backing track in A and the song I'm working on is in G then I can change the key of the backing track to match the song I'm learning. However, the larger the change in the key then the more distortion the transformation introduces. More than 2-3 semi-tones and it is noticeable and more than 4-6 semi-tones and it can become quite really annoying and possibly unusable (A to G is 2 semi-tones).

I also can slow down a song I'm learning so that I can play along with the artist until I get good enough to play it at full speed. Sometimes I need to make both changes because the song I'm learning isn't in key. Good software tools can make the key change and the tempo change independently. The quality of the pitch shifting varies between the different software tools available.

Here is something to get you started on the technical how of it - https://www.seventhstring.com/resources/slowdown.html

In the "old" days musician would use record players with different speed settings to slow down music but that would affect the pitch. If you could slow it down to 50% then you would drop the pitch by an octave (so same key). There were turntables that had 16 2/3 RPM (half of the LP 33 1/3 speed) sold in the 60's and into the 70s as well as some variable speed ones.
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Re: Question for music experts about musical keys

Post by jalbert » Fri Feb 16, 2018 2:54 pm

Cheyenne wrote:
Thu Feb 15, 2018 6:37 pm
It was not uncommon for some rock or other popular music to be recorded at a slightly slower tempo than desired for the final product...
There is a reason for that. Recording is much more demanding than playing on a stage with a noisy audience.
On the other hand, in a studio you get more than one chance to get it right.

My point was just that you cannot rely on a recording to establish intended key for pop music particularly in the analog recording era where playback speed and pitch are tightly coupled.

But this method of recording also precludes the musical articulation and shaping of melodies that is possible when recording a live performance in the studio, as is done with classical music, which is no easier to play live because the same standards are used for a live performance as for a recording.

Producing music by mixing a large number of tracks recorded independently, and manipulating the tempo of the recording encourages or necessitates metronomic playing that usurps all the life out of the music.
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Re: Question for music experts about musical keys

Post by Hyperborea » Fri Feb 16, 2018 3:04 pm

jalbert wrote:
Fri Feb 16, 2018 2:54 pm
My point was just that you canmot rely on a recording to establish intended key for pop music particularly in the analog recording era where playback speed and pitch are tightly coupled.
Yes, very true. The original recording when done in the studio might have been 3:06 and the execs wanted all songs to be less than 3:00 for better airplay reasons. So, they sped it up to fit and the minor change that made to the key (and more so the voices) was minimal.

It's really useful to use the slowdown software to undo this when learning a song. The key is just off and you need to tweak it some.
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Re: Question for music experts about musical keys

Post by MP173 » Fri Feb 16, 2018 5:38 pm

Cheyene really addressed the questions regarding bass vs guitar and electric vs acoustic, but I will throw in my 2 cents.

Knowing the guitar makes the bass a lot easier. I would also recommend learning an acoustic guitar first and then move on to electric and then to a bass. Or perhaps not even go electric guitar.

The big difference for me with guitar vs bass is the chords (guitar) vs notes (bass). For reading of notes, obviously reading one note (bass) vs stacked notes (chords) is much easier. What I really liked about the bass was the underlying rhythm which is established with the drums....I played with an instructional book/cd which began very simple - one string at a time and progressed. I found the rhythm, unless on each beat (4 per bar) really caused me to comprehend and understand what was required. I didnt even get into the really complex stuff. When they talk about "playing in the pocket" it is a joy to listen and understand what the rhythm section is doing.

Cheyenne...I think we need you for Boglehead on line guitar lessons.

Hope I didnt confuse the answer, but for me the bass was not that difficult to play after learning guitar....but mastering it will obviously take a lot of work or talent.

Check out John McVie of Fleetwood Mac and listen to what he does with Mick Fleetwood. I could sound good playing guitar with those two holding up the fort.

Ed

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Re: Question for music experts about musical keys

Post by PaddyMac » Sat Feb 17, 2018 12:33 am

jalbert wrote:
Wed Feb 14, 2018 8:22 pm
Piano players are more comfortable playing in flat keys than sharp keys, so you get a lot of jazz and classical in F, Bb, Eb, Ab, and all of their relative minors.
There is a massive amount of classical piano music in key signatures with 1-4 sharps.
It's not a case of flat keys being easier or vice versa. As someone mentioned earlier, it's because of the Circle of Fifths (see image above). It's much easier to play in B-flat with 2 flats than A# with god-knows-how-many sharps!

FWIW, I've been entering all my piano solo sheet music books into a spreadsheet so I can keep track of which books have which pieces in them; I can't keep checking the Table of Contents for dozens of books. (And when you are learning, the same pieces appear in multiple books, some with better layout or better fingering. I was tired of learning a piece from one book only to find a better version in another book.)

Also, since I find it easier to learn a few pieces in the same key (if I learn one waltz in B minor, it's easier to then learn a second one), I also added a column for the number of Sharps or Flats, and the key.

Statistics from 2070 mostly classical music entered so far (I'm starting a separate spreadsheet for the jazz & blues books):
(note: totals are not exact as some 20th Century pieces have no flats or sharps - but also no discernible key. Also, some longer pieces have 2 or 3 keys!)

1,469 are in Major keys
625 are in Minor keys

690 have 1–6 flats
784 have 1–7 sharps
393 in C Major
160 in A minor

Not sure how this is actionable, except that I'm trying to talk myself into spending a ton of money on a new hybrid piano...or not.

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Re: Question for music experts about musical keys

Post by jalbert » Sat Feb 17, 2018 6:36 pm

It's not a case of flat keys being easier or vice versa. As someone mentioned earlier, it's because of the Circle of Fifths (see image above). It's much easier to play in B-flat with 2 flats than A# with god-knows-how-many sharps! 
It is just as easy to play in A# as Bb in equal temperment because they are identical. It is easier to read Bb. By the same token, it is easier to read E major in 4 sharps than it is to read Fb major.

I think what you are noticing is that as you work upward from C on the circle of fifths you get key signatures in 1-5 sharps whose major mode is rooted on a piano white key so it would be unnatural even to consider a flatted note as the root. But when you work downward you get F major rooted on a white key, but signatures with 2-5 flats have major mode rooted on black keys.

Then there is Gb major (6 flats) and F# major (6 sharps) which are symmetric in number of accidentals, and there is not much difference in readability.

Playing the scales and cadences of a key signature regularly fosters familiarity and relieves the awkwardness of remembering which notes are flatted or sharped in a key.
690 have 1–6 flats
784 have 1–7 sharps
So more in sharp key signatures
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Re: Question for music experts about musical keys

Post by patrick013 » Sat Feb 17, 2018 7:53 pm

MP173 wrote:
Tue Feb 13, 2018 5:09 pm

Regarding your question of the bass octaves...
Many songs play chords on the guitar and then play the solo
at a higher octave position. The bass would play his line at
a lower octave then play a few notes at a higher octave to
reinforce the beat or melody or as part of a crescendo. Or
just to show off a few notes or a measure. Basically...

I think most piano players would like the key of C, guitar players
may like the key of E or A for flexibility, and vocalists any key
where the notes of the song aren't too high to sing. I often
wonder why any song would need a flat or sharp key.
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Re: Question for music experts about musical keys

Post by Epsilon Delta » Sat Feb 17, 2018 8:21 pm

bondsr4me wrote:
Fri Feb 16, 2018 9:13 am
is it "easier" to learn to play electric guitar than an acoustic guitar?
It is easier to learn to play electric because you can use earphones. Fewer things will be thrown at you.
If only electric violins where more common. Bagpipes too, although I'm of the opinion bagpipes should be electrified rather than electric.

Okay that needs a :twisted: . But practicalities do affect which instrument to choose.
Last edited by Epsilon Delta on Sat Feb 17, 2018 8:33 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Question for music experts about musical keys

Post by Epsilon Delta » Sat Feb 17, 2018 8:27 pm

Cheyenne wrote:
Fri Feb 16, 2018 8:01 am
I interpret tempo and pitch to mean BPM and Key respectively.
The terms "pitch" and "key" refer two different things, though related. Pitch is the highness or lowness of a note or tone. Pitch can be measured in hertz. For example middle C is 256 Hz. On a string instrument when a C string is plucked it vibrates 256 times per second (C=256). So when pitch is changed as in the app you mentioned, it might only change the pitch a little. That does not change the key. (Pitch is also measured in "cents" - more appropriate for this forum perhaps :-). A semitone equals 100 cents.)

A "Key" is a group of notes (or tones) called a scale that a composition is based upon. There is a main note called the tonic that one could say the others revolve around, and upon arrival at the tonic the listener senses a feeling of rest or resolution. The tonic is the key note.
Notice that for a 12 tone scale each semi-tone is 6% (the 12th root of 2 is 1.0594) higher than the one below it. If you play a recording 6% fast each note will play as the next one up. If I am not in error this will convert something in the key of C-major into the key of F#-major. The reason you get distortion if you speed things up too much is details of the equipment rather than musical theory.

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Re: Question for music experts about musical keys

Post by Cheyenne » Sun Feb 18, 2018 7:13 am

Notice that for a 12 tone scale each semi-tone is 6% (the 12th root of 2 is 1.0594) higher than the one below it. If you play a recording 6% fast each note will play as the next one up. If I am not in error this will convert something in the key of C-major into the key of F#-major.
Why F#? If you raise the key of C one semi-tone you would get Db, right? Then D, then Eb, then E, then F, etc. Correct?

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Re: Question for music experts about musical keys

Post by pondering » Sun Feb 18, 2018 7:22 am

I assume this discussion is actionable because it will inform what you purchase in the future.

I'd like to suggest using a service like LibraryThing.com to filter through the works that you have collected. You can catalog your music, book and film collections on the site. The site makes tagging and comparing your collections easy.
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Re: Question for music experts about musical keys

Post by Sandtrap » Sun Feb 18, 2018 10:25 am

PM "jazztonight" for some tips.
A pro.

mahalo,
j :D

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Re: Question for music experts about musical keys

Post by Sandtrap » Sun Feb 18, 2018 10:32 am

bondsr4me wrote:
Fri Feb 16, 2018 9:13 am
MP173 wrote:
Fri Feb 16, 2018 8:13 am
Regarding session musicians....

I have tried a number of times to learn to read music. I am ok on single notes, but once the notes are stacked to create chords, I slow to a crawl.

That is why learning to play the bass last year was enjoyable...reading the music rather than tablature was somewhat an achievable goal.

Ed
These are gonna seem like really foolish questions, but here goes:

is it "easier" to learn to play bass than an acoustic guitar?

is it "easier" to learn to play electric guitar than an acoustic guitar?

I really like/feel the bass in songs and would like to be able to play bass.

OK...go ahead...let me have it!

Thanks,

Don
As a bass player, electric, you will be invited to play with others a lot. Take lessons, or private lessons. It is it's own skill.

An acoustic guitar is the simplest to start. No electric needed. No Amp.

It is not easier to play the guitar than a bass or vs vs. They have similarities but are different. The fingerboard is transferrable. Bass runs happen on a guitar. And so forth.

Get an acoustic guitar and an electric bass. Take lessons for each. Listen to a lot of good bass and play along, etc, etc.

A good guitar player is not always a good bass player, and vs vs.

Have fun.
j :D

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Re: Question for music experts about musical keys

Post by Jazztonight » Sun Feb 18, 2018 12:01 pm

Professional musician here (just a BA degree in composition)

Not sure how to make this "actionable" other than to agree with one poster and say to the OP that you should organize your music either by composer (Mozart), by the name of the band (Rolling Stones), by the genre (Swing), or any other categorization system you want--hey, it's your collection; you can organize it by the color of the album cover if you want.

However, I will add that this thread contains much information, some of which is excellent and some that I would have to take exception to.

First: Gb and F# are NOT the same. Neither is B and Cb. I saw one of my favorite theory professors near tears when a student suggested this. Whether it's the name of the key or the name of a note (yes, there are many times when you will write Cb instead of B-natural, and this is not the time or place to get into that), a person who has a knowledge about music theory will choose the most correct note spelling.

Second: Choice of keys, over the centuries, has had to do with the desire or need of the composer/songwriter, the instrument(s) on which the music is played (as mentioned above, strings often play in sharp keys and brass in flat keys, but the explanation is complicated), the ensemble that will be performing a piece (the instruments that make it up), and the needs (or whims) of the publisher of the music, especially when it comes to sheet music.

I remember once wanting to play "Light My Fire" by The Doors and looking at the "sheet music" of the collection of The Doors Greatest Hits. Later, while playing along with the recording, I found that the "published" key was in a totally different key than the performance key. The performance key is Ab minor, a key that's quite obscure for a rock band; it has 7 flats! "Why?" I asked myself. The answer has to do, I believe, in the well-known and critical keyboard solo by Ray Manzarek, which is played mostly on the black keys and accessible to a decent keyboard player, unlike the "published" version, which is easier to "read," but ridiculously difficult to play.

If you're talking about a Mozart or Beethoven or Chopin, etc., the keys they composed in were a crucial component of the process, never an accident, and had to do with factors obvious and subtle to them.

Finally: Many of us are or started out as amateur musicians, playing the guitar or piano "for fun." Music is a field on which you can skim along the surface or delve deeply into, the choice is yours. On the guitar you learn basic/rudimentary chords. Chords are made up of real notes, and even though it says "C" or "Am" or "D7" on the lead sheet, those chords are made up of notes and based on scales, etc. The deeper one delves into music theory, the more "Aha!" moments you tend to have. After spending most of my life as a performer and composer I still have them.

Music and art topics are not unlike physical fitness topics, or home & car-related topics--an opportunity to expand our knowledge base and improve our understanding of parts of our lives where others may know more than we do. I for one really enjoy many of the threads that show up here. My fellow Bogleheads have so much to share!
"What does not destroy me, makes me stronger." Nietzsche

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Re: Question for music experts about musical keys

Post by Epsilon Delta » Sun Feb 18, 2018 3:06 pm

Cheyenne wrote:
Sun Feb 18, 2018 7:13 am
Notice that for a 12 tone scale each semi-tone is 6% (the 12th root of 2 is 1.0594) higher than the one below it. If you play a recording 6% fast each note will play as the next one up. If I am not in error this will convert something in the key of C-major into the key of F#-major.
Why F#? If you raise the key of C one semi-tone you would get Db, right? Then D, then Eb, then E, then F, etc. Correct?
Because I was in error. I was mis-remembering fingering instead of doing the theory. It is of course C#-major (with 7 sharps) or Db-major with (with five flats) as you suggest.

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Re: Question for music experts about musical keys

Post by bondsr4me » Sun Feb 18, 2018 3:23 pm

Epsilon Delta wrote:
Sat Feb 17, 2018 8:21 pm
bondsr4me wrote:
Fri Feb 16, 2018 9:13 am
is it "easier" to learn to play electric guitar than an acoustic guitar?
It is easier to learn to play electric because you can use earphones. Fewer things will be thrown at you.
Yea, I use earphones for my pedal steel....when I “try” to make some noise.

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Re: Question for music experts about musical keys

Post by azurekep » Sun Feb 18, 2018 4:02 pm

Jazztonight wrote:
Sun Feb 18, 2018 12:01 pm

Not sure how to make this "actionable" other than to agree with one poster and say to the OP that you should organize your music either by composer (Mozart), by the name of the band (Rolling Stones), by the genre (Swing), or any other categorization system you want--hey, it's your collection; you can organize it by the color of the album cover if you want.
I actually had another thread going on organizing music collections by genre. I mentally call it my "tilting at windmills thread" since getting the "right" genre or subgenre seemed to be a difficult task, an idea amplified by the posters who responded.

But I've made significant progress and have gone off on mini side projects to learn some of the history of the music as well as the specific musical qualities that make a song a certain genre. When I brought software into the mix, it brought up the question of musical keys. That's really the origin of my questions, and for me, certainly the more I learn about music -- which would include keys -- the better I can characterize certain songs. So far, the Key angle hasn't really panned out in that regard, but the discussion is informative and is proving actionable to others in different ways.
Music and art topics are not unlike physical fitness topics, or home & car-related topics--an opportunity to expand our knowledge base and improve our understanding of parts of our lives where others may know more than we do. I for one really enjoy many of the threads that show up here. My fellow Bogleheads have so much to share!
+1

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Re: Question for music experts about musical keys

Post by jalbert » Sun Feb 18, 2018 4:35 pm

First: Gb and F# are NOT the same. Neither is B and Cb. I saw one of my favorite theory professors near tears when a student suggested this. Whether it's the name of the key or the name of a note (yes, there are many times when you will write Cb instead of B-natural, and this is not the time or place to get into that), a person who has a knowledge about music theory will choose the most correct note spelling.
Gb and F# aren't even the same tone in just/pure intonation, but I think you would agree that in equal temperment, whether you would view them as the same depends on the context. If you are choosing the note or chord to use when writing a score, you would use the notation for the note(s) that fit with the progression of scale, harmony, or key signature in the composition so that theoretical relationships are maintained and suggested by the notation.

But if you ask whether a piano piece fits the hands better and thus is easier to play notated in the key of Gb major or F# major, then in that context, they are identical in equal temperment. In this context, it is purely a notational difference.
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Re: Question for music experts about musical keys

Post by Cheyenne » Sun Feb 18, 2018 5:15 pm

Speaking of enharmonic notes, I have a question that I hope one of the jazz musicians participating in this thread can answer. I am a classically trained musician but I play both classical and jazz. Why is it common practice amongst jazz musicians and arrangers to write enharmonic equivalents instead of the "correct" notes, e.g. C for B# or F for E#, etc.? This is particularly curious to me because considering that jazz musicians are so intimately involved with chords and harmony, one would think they above all others would spell chords correctly and opt for harmonic correctness rather than convenience.

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Re: Question for music experts about musical keys

Post by Jazztonight » Sun Feb 18, 2018 7:46 pm

jalbert wrote:
Sun Feb 18, 2018 4:35 pm
First: Gb and F# are NOT the same. Neither is B and Cb. I saw one of my favorite theory professors near tears when a student suggested this. Whether it's the name of the key or the name of a note (yes, there are many times when you will write Cb instead of B-natural, and this is not the time or place to get into that), a person who has a knowledge about music theory will choose the most correct note spelling.
Gb and F# aren't even the same tone in just/pure intonation, but I think you would agree that in equal temperment, whether you would view them as the same depends on the context. If you are choosing the note or chord to use when writing a score, you would use the notation for the note(s) that fit with the progression of scale, harmony, or key signature in the composition so that theoretical relationships are maintained and suggested by the notation.

But if you ask whether a piano piece fits the hands better and thus is easier to play notated in the key of Gb major or F# major, then in that context, they are identical in equal temperment. In this context, it is purely a notational difference.
I think we're mostly on the same page 8-)
Professional musicians, of course, need to be comfortable in all the keys; that's what sets them apart. When playing the piano and accompanying my vocalist, etc., I'll always prefer to play in my "comfortable" keys. The problem is that certain songs (e.g. All the Things You Are) will take you to a variety of tonal centers, so you wind up playing in F# or E or B or whatever.

In composing songs or concert pieces, the business of "note spelling" often rears it's head, and you have to deal with it. The people I play with, fortunately, never say "boo" if I write a Cb--they know it's there for a reason.
"What does not destroy me, makes me stronger." Nietzsche

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Re: Question for music experts about musical keys

Post by Jazztonight » Sun Feb 18, 2018 8:04 pm

Cheyenne wrote:
Sun Feb 18, 2018 5:15 pm
Speaking of enharmonic notes, I have a question that I hope one of the jazz musicians participating in this thread can answer. I am a classically trained musician but I play both classical and jazz. Why is it common practice amongst jazz musicians and arrangers to write enharmonic equivalents instead of the "correct" notes, e.g. C for B# or F for E#, etc.? This is particularly curious to me because considering that jazz musicians are so intimately involved with chords and harmony, one would think they above all others would spell chords correctly and opt for harmonic correctness rather than convenience.
My answer would be the simple explanation that many musicians/performers are not comfortable seeing a B# or E# even though it may be part of the scale or chord, so the songwriter (or even the publisher) will, frankly, "dumb it down."

Growing up with a mother who played the popular piano music of the time (mainly show tunes like My Fair Lady, South Pacific, etc.), I can't ever recall seeing unusual note spellings in the published music--it's a rare thing in any case. She was a good pianist, but had I asked her the difference between a B and a Cb, my guess is that she would say something like, "They sound the same, but they usually don't use 'Cb' because it makes it hard to read," or something like that.

That said, I do recall having a long conversation with a respected local composer about this very topic regarding a song I was writing. His attitude was that you use your best judgement in note spelling considering your performers and your need to be "correct." I believe at the time I used the Cb.
"What does not destroy me, makes me stronger." Nietzsche

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Re: Question for music experts about musical keys

Post by telemark » Sun Feb 18, 2018 9:43 pm

On indexing music, my own collection is too small for it to be much of a problem, but I subscribe to several straming services. One of them, Classical Archives, has an option to browse by record label, and that's been a lot more useful than I would have expected. Especially for smaller specialty labels, if you like one of a label's albums there's a good chance you'll be interested in some of their others.

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Re: Question for music experts about musical keys

Post by MandyT » Tue Feb 20, 2018 11:11 am

investingdad wrote:
Wed Feb 14, 2018 11:06 am
I'm a novice for sure, but I've documented my experience on here about taking up violin as an adult.

What I've discovered in the little over a year I've been playing is...

- sympathetic string vibrations are my friend. It's how I check that I'm playing in tune. The associated ringing from the notes one octave apart on open strings are rewarding to play.
- keys of C major, G major, and D major are the easiest to play when first starting the violin
I had a violin-player friend who had a dog who would howl when she would practice, but only when she played in G major or D major. I got to witness this once when we played flute-violin duets.

My impression is that keys are chosen for pop songs mainly for convenience--the same could be said of musical theatre songs, when keys are frequently chosen for one singer's range and sometimes adjusted up or down for a different singer. Classical composers frequently have a specific reason to write a piece in a particular key.

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Re: Question for music experts about musical keys

Post by GoatRider » Tue Feb 20, 2018 6:23 pm

I got a new piano about 10 years ago, and since I play a lot of Beethoven, I asked my tuner to try a historical temperament, and he picked "Valetti-Young", a slight modification of the one Beethoven would have used. My thinking was that Beethoven worked his music around the idiosyncracies of the imperfect temperaments of the day, since equal-tempered hadn't been figured out yet. I liked it a lot, my piano seemed "sweeter", which I would have expected around the keys on the top of the circle. And it also made Beethoven somehow a little more dramatic, which is what I was hoping for. To prove that it wasn't just me being happy with a freshly tuned piano, I had him tune it in an equal temperament next time, and the time after that "Werkmeister". Werkmeister was a student of Beethoven who had a falling out with him because Beethoven didn't like the way he tuned his piano. And I could hear the difference- Equal temperament was a little dull, and Werkmeister was downright crappy, I almost had my tuner come back and fix it rather than wait until the next time.

That reminds me, I'm way overdue for a piano tuning.

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Re: Question for music experts about musical keys

Post by Jags4186 » Tue Feb 20, 2018 6:39 pm

GoatRider wrote:
Tue Feb 20, 2018 6:23 pm
I got a new piano about 10 years ago, and since I play a lot of Beethoven, I asked my tuner to try a historical temperament, and he picked "Valetti-Young", a slight modification of the one Beethoven would have used. My thinking was that Beethoven worked his music around the idiosyncracies of the imperfect temperaments of the day, since equal-tempered hadn't been figured out yet. I liked it a lot, my piano seemed "sweeter", which I would have expected around the keys on the top of the circle. And it also made Beethoven somehow a little more dramatic, which is what I was hoping for. To prove that it wasn't just me being happy with a freshly tuned piano, I had him tune it in an equal temperament next time, and the time after that "Werkmeister". Werkmeister was a student of Beethoven who had a falling out with him because Beethoven didn't like the way he tuned his piano. And I could hear the difference- Equal temperament was a little dull, and Werkmeister was downright crappy, I almost had my tuner come back and fix it rather than wait until the next time.

That reminds me, I'm way overdue for a piano tuning.
I’m not a piano historian, but equal temperment of the keyboard was pretty much figured out by the late 17th century and was pretty standard by the mid 18th century. Bach wrote the “well tempered clavier”, a set of pieces in all 24 keys to be played on the keyboard without having to meantone tune, in the 17th century. I would have your tuner set your pianos up with modern tuning as opposed to some esoteric late classical/early romantic tuning.

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Re: Question for music experts about musical keys

Post by obgraham » Tue Feb 20, 2018 6:51 pm

equal temperment of the keyboard was pretty much figured out by the late 17th century
Equal temperament and "Well-tempered" are not the same thing. Bach's cycle was written to show that a "well-tempered" tuning would allow all 24 keys to be used. See our friends in Wiki for this:
J. S. Bach wrote The Well-Tempered Clavier to demonstrate the musical possibilities of well temperament, where in some keys the consonances are even more degraded than in equal temperament. It is possible that when composers and theoreticians of earlier times wrote of the moods and "colors" of the keys, they each described the subtly different dissonances made available within a particular tuning method.
Since Bach never indicated just what temperaments he used, a great deal of discussion has gone on for centuries about it. It is indeed a fascinating topic.

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Re: Question for music experts about musical keys

Post by jalbert » Tue Feb 20, 2018 6:53 pm

GoatRider wrote:
Tue Feb 20, 2018 6:23 pm
I got a new piano about 10 years ago, and since I play a lot of Beethoven, I asked my tuner to try a historical temperament, and he picked "Valetti-Young", a slight modification of the one Beethoven would have used. My thinking was that Beethoven worked his music around the idiosyncracies of the imperfect temperaments of the day, since equal-tempered hadn't been figured out yet. I liked it a lot, my piano seemed "sweeter", which I would have expected around the keys on the top of the circle. And it also made Beethoven somehow a little more dramatic, which is what I was hoping for. To prove that it wasn't just me being happy with a freshly tuned piano, I had him tune it in an equal temperament next time, and the time after that "Werkmeister". Werkmeister was a student of Beethoven who had a falling out with him because Beethoven didn't like the way he tuned his piano. And I could hear the difference- Equal temperament was a little dull, and Werkmeister was downright crappy...
Key modulations in Beethoven's music are too varied for either Werckmeister temperament to be usable.

I assume you mean Valotti above? That is fairly close to equal temperament, but if you also play Chopin and later composers, or even Schubert you will need to play in some keys that are a bit harsh in that temperament.

Equal temperament has been known since the renaissance. It was used as a practical scale design for placing frets on a lute (and subsequently on a guitar). It is thus hard to know what temperaments were actually set on Bach's harpsichords or pianos of Mozart and Beethoven, but Beethoven's Sonata #24 "a Therese" is in F# major, composed in 1809, almost surely for an equal-tempered piano.
Last edited by jalbert on Tue Feb 20, 2018 11:07 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Question for music experts about musical keys

Post by Cheyenne » Tue Feb 20, 2018 7:27 pm

It was used as a practical scale design for placing frets on a lute (and subsequently on a guitar).
Also, early lutes and guitars had frets made of gut tied around the neck so they could be slid up or down and adjusted to "tune" specific keys.

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Re: Question for music experts about musical keys

Post by telemark » Wed Feb 21, 2018 1:16 pm

I was trying to understand Windows service permissions this morning when this link caught my eye:

https://music.stackexchange.com/questio ... -and-flats

Another resource for people interested in questions like these.

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Re: Question for music experts about musical keys

Post by MP173 » Thu Feb 22, 2018 9:19 am

telemark:

Thanks for the link to stack exchange. I spent some time on that site reading questions and replies.

Here is a question regarding modes. I somewhat understand what a mode is. It is the scale of a note (lets say C because it is easier to notate) in which the scale "shifts" to another tone within that scale. Here is the C major scale:
C
D
E
F
G
A
B
back to C.

A mode shifts the tonal center from C to another note....lets say G. Then the mode is G,A,B,C,D,E,F and return to G.

What is the point of modes? I have tried to understand the usage for years...no success. I understand how to build the modes, but have not taken the time to memorize the patterns of each.

Is a mode used when one shifts from a chord (C) to another (lets say G)? Does one then shift to playing notes based on the G mixoloydian mode? Then when the progression takes one to F then shift to the F Lydian?

I dont get it...never have. Why not stay in the C major scale and play over those notes?

Ed

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Re: Question for music experts about musical keys

Post by Cheyenne » Thu Feb 22, 2018 10:49 am

What is the point of modes?
It changes the whole and half step (or whole tone and semi-tone) patterns of scales thereby creating different moods (or modes), like the difference between major and minor scales.

Basically there are 12 notes in music (in the Western European musical tradition) but only 8 notes in a scale (there are other kinds of scales but that's for another day) with the 8th being called the octave and having the same name as the 1st. The 8th is an octave higher than the 1st. It's vibrating twice as fast as the 1st. So, because there are 12 notes in music and only 8 in a scale, the notes in the scale are not all the same distance (interval) apart. Some are closer together than others. By shifting the whole tone and semi-tone arrangement around, different sounding scales are created that elicit different feelings from the listener, or different modes.

See: http://www.musictheoryfundamentals.com/ ... _part1.php

See also Greek Modes in music.

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Re: Question for music experts about musical keys

Post by MP173 » Thu Feb 22, 2018 11:38 am

Cheyene:

Thanks for the explanation. I understand the mechanics of modes and how they relate to different notes in the scale. I can also construct the modes by starting on the note and following the pattern of Whole and Half steps based on the major scale.

What I do not understand is the practical aspect of modes. Are these used over the chord arrangements (key of C, using F, G and possibly Am and Em) or are these used to develop completely new sounds (chord progrerssions)?

Not sure if I can "get this" it is a little over my head.

Ed

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Re: Question for music experts about musical keys

Post by Cheyenne » Thu Feb 22, 2018 12:20 pm

What I do not understand is the practical aspect of modes. Are these used over the chord arrangements (key of C, using F, G and possibly Am and Em) or are these used to develop completely new sounds (chord progressions)?
You would use a mode when playing a composition centered around the chords of C, F, G, Am, and Em as you suggested. That would be the key of C Major and for soloing or writing a melody over those chords you could use the Ionian mode which is another name for the Major scale.

Many other modes are played over chords in jazz improv. That gives the jazz soloist a pallet of notes from which to choose when inventing solos. For example the Dorian mode is frequently played over a m7 chord, and the Locrian mode works with a m7b5 chord, etc.

Also, a composer might choose a particular mode to write a composition in order to create a certain sound or feeling. I'm sure you're familiar with the pentatonic scale or mode that is used all the time in rock and blues music. That's an application of a mode. And Spanish and Flamenco music is frequently written in the Phrygian mode.

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Re: Question for music experts about musical keys

Post by telemark » Thu Feb 22, 2018 1:41 pm

MP173 wrote:
Thu Feb 22, 2018 11:38 am
Cheyene:

Thanks for the explanation. I understand the mechanics of modes and how they relate to different notes in the scale. I can also construct the modes by starting on the note and following the pattern of Whole and Half steps based on the major scale.

What I do not understand is the practical aspect of modes. Are these used over the chord arrangements (key of C, using F, G and possibly Am and Em) or are these used to develop completely new sounds (chord progrerssions)?

Not sure if I can "get this" it is a little over my head.

Ed
I'm not sure I understand your question, so I'll pretend you're asking about chord progressions and go from there :)

The notion of modes dates from the medieval and Renaissance periods, which are also the periods before harmony was based on triads. There were elaborate rules for counterpoint but the only acceptable intervals were fourth, fifths, and octaves. After people started mixing in thirds and sixths, most of the modes fell out of use, leaving only major and minor (although Cheyenne very helpfully provides some modern examples of other modes). See also the Bernstein lecture referenced previously.

I assume you understand triads? Major and minor triads have a very different sound that's easy to recognise, and changing the mode
changes what kind of triad is built on each note of the scale. In C Major you have

Code: Select all

C  major triad
D  minor triad
E  minor triad
F  major triad
G  major triad
A  minor triad
B  diminished triad
In particular the most common chords, I IV and V are all major, giving the characteristic sound of a major key. Switch to minor and the I is minor, the IV is minor, and the V would be minor unless you artificially sharp the 7th note making it major again. Oversimplifying again, minor keys sound different because the chords are different.

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Re: Question for music experts about musical keys

Post by MP173 » Thu Feb 22, 2018 2:22 pm

Thanks for replies.

I understand the building of chords based on triads and how those are either maj or min.

I also understand the concept of 4th and 5th being majors and 2nd, 3rd, 6th being minors and the 7th being a dominant (i thing).

I just do not understand Modes. To me it is a version of the major scale with different starting points. This might be one of those concepts which is beyond my basic training. It also might be that I havent broken out of the major/minor scale rule.

Anyway, again thanks for explanations.

Ed

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Re: Question for music experts about musical keys

Post by madsinger » Thu Feb 22, 2018 3:01 pm

MP173 wrote:
Thu Feb 22, 2018 2:22 pm
I just do not understand Modes. To me it is a version of the major scale with different starting points. This might be one of those concepts which is beyond my basic training. It also might be that I havent broken out of the major/minor scale rule.
Most "western music" falls into "major" or "minor" keys. But not all. Trying to describe these modes in terms of "major" and "minor" just doesn't quite "fit the rules". While you can say "D Dorian" is the same is "C major starting on D", (which, if I'm being honest, is how I think), but that misses the point of a piece written in that mode.

An example of this is Simon and Garfunkel's "Scarborough Fair". This is a piece in Dorian mode. (I'll use D as the key, to keep it on the white keys). While it sounds quite "minor" (DDAAEFED) at the beginning, the next phrase uses C naturals, and not C#s that you would "expect" in a "minor" mode piece. Finally, at the end, the last four notes ("true love of mine") are EDCD. The tonal center is clearly "D" (the piece sounds "done" and "settled" on the last note). You wouldn't say the piece is in "C major", just starting on D, because it doesn't "sound" like that.

In this case, our vocabulary of "major" and "minor" just doesn't capture this piece. Because so much of the music we listen to can be described pretty well this way (major/minor), the pieces that fall outside of this mode are "hard" to understand in those terms.

-Brad.

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Re: Question for music experts about musical keys

Post by MP173 » Thu Feb 22, 2018 3:47 pm

I understand (sorta). My big hangup was the use of either major or minor scales. My closed mindedness, no doubt due to lack of formal or informal training didnt allow me to understand that there are many other "sounds".

In the case of Scarborough Fair, the music would show no sharps or flats, which would communicate to me it is in the key of C, until I realized the song kept resolving back to D. Then I would really be confused.

Now I get it....sort of.

Without looking at Scarbourgh Fair music, I would guess the key chords would be D, G, Aminor, and B minor (maybe Bminor 7th).

Ed

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