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Old June 17th, 2013, 02:55 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Question about relative keys

So I'm routing through some old stacks of papers and find some scribblings from a guitar teacher I had about 3 lessons with!

'All Your Love' was the piece we were breaking down - his scribblings were to the effect that C major = Am etc etc.

That's not really important, what I was wondering is...

How do you know whether a song is Am or C, Bb or C# (everyday I have the blues) and so on and so on...

... Simple question for many of you more educated chaps I have no doubt!

Cheers

J

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Old June 17th, 2013, 03:14 AM   #2 (permalink)
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Simple rule of thumb: The note the song ends with (in some cases what you would expect to end with) is its key harmony.

Cheers

Gerrit
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Old June 17th, 2013, 03:14 AM   #3 (permalink)
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If you have the score then the key signature tells you. Anny basic music theory book will tell you about key signatures. The relative minor key for each major is 3 frets back on your E string ie for C relative minor is Am. for D relative minor is Bm. You can improvise in C using the Am pentatonic scale.
If you have not got the score then you have to go by ear. One of the simplest ways is to improvise using different minor scales until you find the one where all the notes fit. You can then go to it's relative Major.
The Roadmap series of books by Fred Sokolow will help you get started on relative scales and how they work.
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Old June 17th, 2013, 03:16 AM   #4 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by Gerrit View Post
Simple rule of thumb: The note the song ends with (in some cases what you would expect to end with) is its key harmony.

Cheers

Gerrit
also if the song sounds sad its typically minor and if its cheerful its typically in the major.
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Old June 17th, 2013, 04:08 AM   #5 (permalink)
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How do you know whether a song is Am or C, Bb or C# (everyday I have the blues) and so on and so on...
This confuses many people because the scales Am and Cmaj both use exactly the same notes. It is simply a matter of what note is stressed in a musical passage that gives them a different sound.

If, for instance, you have a piece of music that seems to focus on or center around an A note and the notes used in the piece are:
A, B, C, D, E, F, G then the piece is in A minor.

You could also have a piece of music where C is the note everything seems to focus on (start, finish etc) and it also contains the notes:
A, B, C, D, E, F, G. This piece would be in C major.

Exactly the same notes with a different tonality. This is a result of the different chords that you get from the different root notes.

In the first example, the chord you get from A, B, C, D, E, F, G with A as the root is A-C-E... A to C is an interval of minor 3rd (same string, up 3 frets) so your song is built around a minor chord - A minor

In the second example, the chord you get from A, B, C, D, E, F, G with C as the root is C-E-G... C to E is an interval of a major 3rd (same string, up 4 frets) so your song is built around a major chord - C Major


Sorry, it may still sound a bit convoluted... its much easier to explain with a guitar in hand
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Old June 17th, 2013, 04:54 AM   #6 (permalink)
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If a piece is in B flat it won't be in C# - B flat is relative minor to D flat major and C# is relative major to A# (although you'd be far less likely to see that key signature).

As has been said above, the general rule is how the piece starts - or more commonly, how it ends. Also how it sounds is a big indicator.

It's also worth noting that many pieces (songs in particular) will have maybe the verses in the minor key and choruses in the relative major, or vice versa. Not only that, but some typesetters/composers will use the key signature of the parent major scale for modal pieces. For example, something like 'Dust Bowl' by Joe Bonamassa is based around A Dorian virtually all the way through and so some people would write the key signature as G major to avoid having to use accidentals on the stave.
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Old June 17th, 2013, 05:04 AM   #7 (permalink)
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A simple way to tell what key the piece is in is to listen out for the chord that sounds like "home". In most cases that will be the tonic chord (= the key chord), and you'll be able to feel the music's gravity towards it.
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Old June 17th, 2013, 05:26 AM   #8 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by czgibson View Post
A simple way to tell what key the piece is in is to listen out for the chord that sounds like "home". In most cases that will be the tonic chord (= the key chord), and you'll be able to feel the music's gravity towards it.
I think this is the best answer.

I take it the OP means the Bluesbreakers All Your Love. Listen to what chord/bass note is most often heard in it, and where it seems to "settle" - in this case an A minor. It also ends on that chord, so meets Gerrit's "final chord" test.
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Old June 17th, 2013, 06:10 AM   #9 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Gerrit View Post
Simple rule of thumb: The note the song ends with (in some cases what you would expect to end with) is its key harmony.

Cheers

Gerrit
good tip!
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Old June 17th, 2013, 11:28 AM   #10 (permalink)
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Chord would be a better answer than note.
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Old June 17th, 2013, 11:31 AM   #11 (permalink)
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"How do you know whether a song is Am or C, Bb or C# (everyday I have the blues) and so on and so on..." If you can feel the V chord then you can figure out what the key is.
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Old June 17th, 2013, 12:18 PM   #12 (permalink)
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The simplest way to tell whether you are in C Major or C minor is to listen to the third. If it is a major third (two whole steps up from the root), then it is a major key, if it is a minor third (one and a half steps up from the root), then it is a minor key. It is possible that either of these could be another mode where you would have to recognize another variable, but most of the time knowing where the third is will tell you what you need to know.

Edit: I am not awake this morning. The description above will help to distinguish C Maj or C Min, not A Min.

Last edited by Jack S; June 17th, 2013 at 01:20 PM.
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Old June 17th, 2013, 01:10 PM   #13 (permalink)
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This is a harder question than it might seem, sometimes. In general, I, too, would advise you to look at the last chord. However, there are some big exceptions. The first exception is the Picardy Third. This occurs when a piece of music in a minor key ends on a major tonic. Ostensibly, this is because the major triad is considered more consonant and stable than a minor triad. It is really easy to hear this effect. Just play a song in a minor key, then, at the end, playing the tonic major chord. This will give you the sound and emotional character of the Picardy Third.

The second exception is really, really difficult to explain, satisfactorily. In blues, you often find a tonic chord of the major-minor-seventh type. This term is used a lot in classical music theory, but not so much by musicians playing blues, jazz, rock, country, etc. Let's look at some notes for a C7 chord:

C E G Bb

A classical theorist would call this a major-minor-seventh chord because the interval of C to E is a major third, and the interval of G to Bb is a minor third. Alternatively, the interval of C to Bb is a minor seventh. A non-classical musician would call this a C dom. 7th chord. This, however, can create some confusion if you have a tonic chord of the major-minor-seventh type. If you call this a dominant 7th chord, the result will be a tonic dominant 7th chord.

Now, in either case, look at the root to major third, or C to E. In the blues, when this chord is sounding, the melody is highly likely to use a minor third in the melody. What a mess this can be, so I'll leave you to it, as I have to be somewhere. Good luck, you'll need it, because this is a tricky concept.
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Old June 17th, 2013, 01:43 PM   #14 (permalink)
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Some songs end on the relative minor, Mercy, Mercy, Mercy comes to mind.
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Old June 17th, 2013, 02:54 PM   #15 (permalink)
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Some songs don't end, but just fade out -- the lazy buggers!
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Old June 19th, 2013, 01:22 PM   #16 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by czgibson View Post
A simple way to tell what key the piece is in is to listen out for the chord that sounds like "home". In most cases that will be the tonic chord (= the key chord), and you'll be able to feel the music's gravity towards it.
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Chord would be a better answer than note.
Thatís what I meant.
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Old June 19th, 2013, 08:16 PM   #17 (permalink)
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As Larry says, this is not always entirely straightforward but I always think of it as being "home", i.e. where the melody/chords want to resolve to.

But it can move, e.g. "One" by U2 (I prefer the Johnny Cash version, though) starts in A minor but then switches to C major for the chorus, before switching back again. From a standard notation point of view there has been no change as both have no sharps or flats (A natural minor, that is) but the tonal centre definitely moves from A to C.
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Old June 20th, 2013, 12:56 PM   #18 (permalink)
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Looks like I'm just gonna have to guess
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Old June 20th, 2013, 01:42 PM   #19 (permalink)
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I always figure out all the chords in the song and then decide which key they all fit best in depending on each chords "quality," IOW determining whether each chord is major, minor, dominant, etc... As others have pointed out there are always exceptions to these rules.
Major keys usually are: IM7 iim7 iiim7 IVM7 V7 vim7 viim7b5
Minor are a bit more debatable but they often go:
i iim7b5 IIIM7 ivm7 V7 (V could also be minor but more often than not it will be dominant) VIM7 #viidim7 (#viidim7 could also be a VII7)
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Old June 20th, 2013, 02:10 PM   #20 (permalink)
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I always figure out all the chords in the song and then decide which key they all fit best in depending on each chords "quality," IOW determining whether each chord is major, minor, dominant, etc... As others have pointed out there are always exceptions to these rules.
Major keys usually are: IM7 iim7 iiim7 IVM7 V7 vim7 viim7b5
Minor are a bit more debatable but they often go:
i iim7b5 IIIM7 ivm7 V7 (V could also be minor but more often than not it will be dominant) VIM7 #viidim7 (#viidim7 could also be a VII7)
Pop/rock music makes this harder because they'll be fewer chord and the chords may just be triads (no sevenths). Example:

A G A G A G A ...

What key?
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