Scales and Key question. Newbie.

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Joined: 01/02/21
Posts: 17

Okay this is brand new to me, just kind of figured some of this stuff out by accident, but here goes. [br][br]So I recently played through a song twisted Sister - Captain Howdy. [br][br]And I noticed the chords were C5, D5, E5, F5, G5, B5, and A5. And I thought I wonder what Key that's in, but the normal websites that generally show BPM and the key a song is in [many times these websites will actually disagree amongst themselves what key a song is in] but anyway I was unable to find out what key the song was in, as it wasn't pulling up. [br][br]So I typed all the chords in google, and it pulled up the following [br]"The power chords that can be used when soloing with the C Major scale are D5, E5, F5, G5, B5, and A5. You can mix and match any of those chords and you will be playing in the key of C" [br][br]I thought that's internesting, those indicate the key of C, and of course I had to do more google and find a website with 50 songs in the key of C major and found out they had similar chords ending with 5s [Iron Maiden-Run to the Hill was another one]. [br][br]So I was thinking why do these chords make the key C major? I was scratching my head thinking what is it about these chords or any chords that fit into a certain scale? Why do these specific chords for whatever reason are identified as the C major scale and the key of C? [br][br]So I though, well let me check something out, so I looked up a website that shows a fretboard and basically you can click the fretboard and the strings and it will show you the note and you can click multiple notes and it will make a chord then show you the name of the chord. For example [br]I clicked String 7A and string string 9B and the chord is E5 and interestingly that 7A string is the note E. So I tried another one [br]and clicked low String 10E and string 10A and the chord is D5 and the 10E string note by itself is a D. [br][br]I'm not sure if I'm using the correct terminology, but it looks like the first string is the root of the chord and determines the name i.e. if that string note is A then it becomes an A chord, D becomes a D chord etc. So I thought well that is interesting. [br][br]But my question is, since I'm a newbie, and this is all quite shocking and interesting to me, back to my question. Why do these chords make the key C major? I was scratching my head thinking what is it about these chords D5, E5, F5, G5, B5, and A5 or any chords that fit into a certain scale? Why do these specific chords for whatever reason are identified as the C major scale and the key of C? What's the logic behind them being in that scale/key?

# 0
Registered User
Joined: 06/21/21
Posts: 360

Basically, a 'five' chord is made up the root note: this is the first note of the scale which gives its name to the chord, then you add the fifth note of that scale. Eg C5 is made up of the notes C and G (C d e f G a b C), D5 is D and A (D e f# g A b c# D).

B5 isn't in the key of C major, as the 5 note of that chord is F# (B c# d# e F# g# a# B).

Sorry if the above is confusing, but I think, if you really want to get into understanding the theory behind keys, chords and such, then you could start with scales (keep this simple to begin with, such a Major, minor, and Pentatonic; then how chords are structured from the scales, starting with Triads).

As for rock songs, you will often find chords used as 'fillers' that do not fit in whatever key; or even find a complete change in key for some sections (which can also be found in songs of various genres).

I wish this forum had a "block user" feature. Possibly I'm not the only one......

# 2
Rumble Walrus
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Joined: 12/30/20
Posts: 240

Wow- I was poking around in the forum and found this excellent question. Really set me to thinking.

I had a number of years of formal musical theory, been playing music for decades, taught math for over 10 years and I find it challenging to find a concise answer to this thoughtful question. I'll keep thinking on a good answer but here's a few thoughts about the "key" of a piece of music. My opinions of course, but a cloudy channeling of my teachers.

'Disclaimer: there are a lot of people making excellent music that don't worry a whit about music theory. Ear and experience drop them in the groove.

Formally, key is determined by the "key signature". A major scale has a specific progression: start at the root note, then whole step, whole step,half step, followed by 3 more whole step and 1 more half step. For C scale (and its relative A minor) there are no sharp or flat notes along the way. On a piano, that usually means no "black" notes on the keyboard. All of the other keys will include some sharps and flats.

Many classical pieces are written in a particular key because, to many, each key has a particular feel. Beethoven deliberately chose the key of F major for his Pastorial symphony because of the "feel" of the tones in that key-" inspiring, heavenly" to use the words of others. You can transpose and play it in a different key and it sounds ok but it just isn't right. Other pieces transpose just fine but I believe in the "key can define/support" feel thing.

Now away from my teachers and onto the experience thing.

Sometimes you'll change keys to make it easier to play. Irving Berlin famously had a piano that physically moved the keyboard around because he could only write and play in the key of C major! He used this piano when playing with others (horns/strings) that needed to transpose out of C to make the tunes playable on their instruments.

Sometimes you'll choose a key because everyone is familiar with it (12 bar blues in A or E, anyone?) and can jam the shit out of it. This is really fun! And, the reason I'm personally here at GT. For a horn guy, for example, it may be Bb but a good guitarist just changes position and jams on.

As a keyboard player over the years, I usually had to change keys to fit the vocal range of a singer. I envied the guitar players who were always so cool about it while I pitched a fit about transposing on my keyboard. I was such a baby about it. Most of these guitarists weren't really thinking about theory. They just moved to a different position on the neck. Easy as changing a hat and always sounded great.

Keep digging into it and stay curious. Realize that while you can play and jam without theory, actually having an idea about what's going makes it so much more rewarding.

And, surprisingly, inspire your creativity.

# 3