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Music Theory Question

Discussion in 'Studio Lounge' started by Brother Junk, Sep 12, 2016.

  1. Brother Junk

    Brother Junk Active Member

    First I apologize if this is in the wrong place. I searched a couple times...because I thought I remembered a "music theory" section of this place...but I can't find it now. If there isn't one, it would be cool to have one...for me lol.

    I know very little about theory. I know many of the popular chords, some of them would take me a second to tell you what the 3-5-7's are etc.

    But I was in the studio the other day and the RE asked me what key the song was in. I grabbed the guitar off the wall, played a few things and said it was C.

    He wanted to be sure, so he called the owner, who is a musical genius. He's been nominated for a $%^& grammy! Anyway, he said it was Am.

    I don't know many keys, and I certainly wasn't doubting Brady. But for my own edification, I grabbed the guitar again, and fiddled around (I didn't know the key of Am) and said, "I'm positive Brady is correct, but it seems to work in C too?"

    In learning/studying the COF, I now realize, that C and Am, have the same notes in the key (I told you I was a theory idiot). So, now I see why I thought it was C. I also see now, that because I know the key of Bbm, I also know the key of G major (iirc). Neat-o.

    But my question is, if someone can explain it to a simpleton, how do I know the difference? When I pulled the guitar off the wall, I just played all the notes I know are in C, and listening to the song, I said, "yep that's in key, yep, yep, yep...etc." I then played some things that I know are NOT in C, and they didn't fit...so, I thought it was C.

    Should I have been paying more attention to, what appeared to be the root, and then compare common chord progressions? Or what? I don't know many chord progressions on paper. I'm sure that I play a lot of them, but I'm not aware that I'm doing it. I'm reading/learning all I can, but that is where I'm at right now. Never had a music lesson, just had a guitar and some drums in the basement growing up.

    Here is the instrumental if this helps (iirc this was it, there were quite a few beats played that night). So, what part of this is supposed to tip me off that this is not C, but rather Am?

  2. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    Your producer friend is correct. The song clip you posted is in A/min, because it never resolves to a C/maj as the dominant tonic key. The reason that some parts of a C maj chord will work over an A/minor progression, is that A/minor and C /major share some notes. The A/min triad is A/C/E, while a C/Maj triad is C/E/G. You could actually play all these notes A/C/E/G and your resultant chord would be an A/Min7.

    The simplest answer is that A/min is the "relative" minor to C/maj. If the song resolves to a C/maj in the song, then it's in the key of C. If the song stays in A/min without resolving to the relative major (C) then it's in the key of A/min.

    To find the relative minor of a major chord, move down from the major chord by 1 1/2 steps. Reverse that process to find the relative major to a minor chord.
    JohnTodd, Sean G and Brien Holcombe like this.
  3. Brien Holcombe

    Brien Holcombe Well-Known Member

    And from the simpleton gallery...typically the very first chord you play to a song will dictate the key. Typically.
  4. Brother Junk

    Brother Junk Active Member

    I never doubted that for a second. I specifically told the RE to listen to whatever Brady said. But I was confused as to why, it seemed to perfectly fit with C? I wasn't aware of the relative minor concept at the time.
    You had me until "dominant tonic key" but I will look it up.
    I truly "get" this part...
    and I even get this part.
    and that...
    Meaning the C isn't the major sound? Or just that the melody dances don't end on C? Or do you mean there is no CEG chord played?
    That is interesting. Like I said, (and I feel kind of stupid) this is the first I've heard of this. Once I can get my keyboard working with bloody PT I will play around with it. But if you hit the couple q's I had I think I'll understand it.
  5. pcrecord

    pcrecord Don't you want the best recording like I do ? Well-Known Member

    Have this in your Pocket :
  6. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    The tonic chord is the final resolution chord, which dictates the key signature of the song.

    For example, The Eagles' I Can't Tell You Why starts out with a B/min chord progression; B/A ...(or B 11 chord) but resolves to D/Maj... and this is the actual key sig of this song.

    The resolution to the tonic ( D/Maj) happens at :23

    Hmmm... I wouldn't necessarily refer to it as being "typical", Brien .... I would agree that it does often work out that way... but, just as often it doesn't.
    For every example given where this is the case, a song where this isn't the case could be presented.

    For example:

    I Wanna Hold Your Hand starts with a C/D progression, but resolves to G/maj, which is technically the key sig.

    She Loves You starts out with the chorus, which is E/min - A7 - C, but resolves to G/Maj for the verse, and this is technically the key sig of the song.

    Joe Walsh's Turn To Stone has often been erroneously identified as being in the key of D/min, as it starts out with the famous D/min - C - Bb intro riff, but it resolves to an F/Maj for the verse, and this is the actual key sig of the song.
    The resolve to the tonic, which is F/maj, happens at :34

    OTOH, supporting Brien's statement:

    Stairway To Heaven
    starts in A/min, and that remains the dominant tonic without ever resolving to another chord, therefore, it is in A/min.

    Journey's Lovin' Touchin' Squeezin' starts out in A/maj, and that remains the dominant key, never resolving to another dominant tonic, so it's in the key of A/maj.

    FWIW ;)
  7. paulears

    paulears Well-Known Member

    Simplify this - Major key songs tend to be happy and bright, minor key songs tend to be sad or mellow. Am and C Major have exactly the same white notes on the keyboard, just starting in a different place. Start on the piano A notes and then go up the white notes, you get the scale of Am. Start on C and you get C Major. Once you get the idea that the same notes can be more than one key, bit by bit, things make sense.
    dvdhawk, pcrecord and Kurt Foster like this.
  8. dvdhawk

    dvdhawk Well-Known Member

    One of the few things I can tell you about chord theory is, it's much easier to visualize / conceptualize on a keyboard than it is on guitar. The relationship between the notes of the chords (major / minor / diminished / augmented / etc.) becomes crystal clear given the much more structured layout of the keys. Chord Inversions, like Paul is referring to, will become very apparent as well. Even if you're strictly a guitar player, getting your hands on a keyboard of some kind might help you develop some fundamental theory transferable to guitar.
    audiokid likes this.
  9. paulears

    paulears Well-Known Member

    Yep - somehow a keyboard seems to make understanding happen quicker. I think it's because on a guitar, there are so many places you can put your fingers to get the same note that it confuses rather than helps.

    dvdhawk's comment on inversions is also far more obvious on keys. When I was teaching in college, students were often surprised that different chords were created from the movement of just one note. Beginners often lock their hand in a position, and then move the entire thing to get a new chord. Applies to piano and barre chords if you think about it. On the guitar, playing Am as a barre chord at the 5th fret, then moving up to a barre chord C Major hide the fact that all that has changed is one note moving from the A down to the G! All that movement when you slide your hand up 3 frets is the same as moving the A notes.

    For me, I always visualise chords on a piano keyboard. Then you start to uncover all sorts of other things - like the fact that C6 is also Am, and that there are only 3 diminished chords as they duplicate the notes - as in C diminished being the same as Eb diminished, in letter name terms (and also of course Fsharp diminished, and A diminished). Playing chords on a keyboard, and then shifting the bottom note up to the top often surprises!

    I work frequently with a concert pianist, and he always corrects me on the correct key signatures, based on things I've never even heard of, so I don;t worry about the rules in general, and just use my own. House of the rising sun - it's Am. I don't care why it's not C Major, it just isn't!
  10. Brother Junk

    Brother Junk Active Member

    I've realized that since getting a midi keyboard. I have an acoustic guitar which I have played for a few years, but like you said, the theory part of it is hard to "see." I don't know whether it's right or wrong, but I've just learned by memorizing chords fingerings. I didn't start learning anything about theory until I got a keyboard, bc, like you said, it's just easier to see it.

    Inversions are just when you switch the bass note (or any notes?) For example if you play a C (C-E-G iirc) but play an E as the bass note?

    I dunno, I start taking music lessons October 11 with a girl who is a genius. I've known her a long time...she is just one of those people that you can hand an instrument, and she can just play. It took her 30 years to get that far. I'm hoping I can do it in 25 ;)

    So, I may still have questions for you guys as I learn more. The questions just may be more specific I guess. I just want to take a second to thank you all for the judgement free help! This can be hard to understand for a self taught person.

    Given that I can play guitar (not great, but ok), and a little drums, any suggestions on where I should start with the lessons? I was thinking of scales on the guitar I guess. Or any theory books you recommend? Scales are the best thing I can think of.

    Yeah, that's what I noticed. I know how to play a C,D,E,F,G,A,B and minors of most of 'em. But most of the time, I don't truly know what string is playing what note (therefore I'm not learning what notes make up a chord like with a keyboard). I know how to play a Dsus, but I don't know what notes it is.
    Thx! See, stuff like that, I've noticed, but never truly understood what was happening. I don't play a ton of barre chords though. But on a piano layout, I'm starting to see what is happening. My lessons will be with guitar, because I can't keep up with the girl on any other instrument, but the main thing we will be concentrating on, will be theory. Then I'll do my "homework" and practice on piano.
    Hopefully I'll start to pick up that ability. I can see the chords easier on the piano like you said, but I can't transfer it to the guitar neck yet.
  11. paulears

    paulears Well-Known Member

    I showed this to my concert pianist friend, and twenty minutes later after he had explained exactly how to accurately determine the key of a song from the contents I was worn out! However, for practical use, it will be the Major or its relative minor key that fits, and once you know the chords in the song and the style of the song, it usually is easy. I pointed out to my friend there are those songs that seem to defy the common sense rules. He just said yes! His practical solution was simple. Find the simplest key signature that works for the people involved. If Am works, use it!
  12. Brother Junk

    Brother Junk Active Member

    Yes! That's what caused the confusion in the first place. I posted the youtube vid above...but I played the key of C on the guitar, and it fit. And the notes that weren't in C, didn't fit....so when the owner said it was Am....I knew he was correct, but I didn't get how. I get it now. It feels great to understand things lol.

    Thanks, I will do that. My first step is being able to identify all the keys. I only know C (and now Am lol) and Bbm and whatever the relative major is of that (Gb maybe?)

    I'll get there. The math part of all this is extremely interesting to me.
  13. paulears

    paulears Well-Known Member

    You went the wrong way! Bb Major - Gm. Three semitones down.

    Is now the moment to mention that it gets worse when you add in trumpets and saxophones, because when you play a C Major scale on these instrument, you get a totally different note, that isn't even C!!!! That's for another time.
  14. Brother Junk

    Brother Junk Active Member

    No, lol, now is not that moment.

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