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Beginner Finding the key of a song

Tenor Viol

Full of frets in North Shropshire
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OK having read a bit more of this thread...

I'm with @jbtsax in that these various 'quick win' methodologies they really do a disservice to the beginner. Yes, they are perhaps good at getting people started, and yes I sympathise with the majority of basic tutor books being aimed at kids (hence twinkle twinkle...), BUT you cannot get very far with them and it will pay you many times over to get to grips with the basics of reading music.

You don't have to be able to sight-read your way through pieces, but the notation helps you with what pitch to play, what rhythm to play, the articulation to apply... all the things which help to make the notes into music.

If like me you've looked into a bit of music history, you will see that how we use notation has evolved and that most of the evolution has been towards making it simpler. Don't believe me? Even 100 years ago there were 6 or 7 clefs in use - we use 4: the G2 treble clef; the F4 bass clef; plus two most people don't use (but I do) the C3 alto clef and the C4 tenor clef. We don't use the F2 baritone clef the G1 French violin clef.... The symbols we use for note lengths have become simpler (and shorter - the 'minim' (half note) was a 'minimus' the shortest note in use until C16th).

Key signatures only 'settled' when music theory settled on diatonic harmony i.e. harmony based on the major and minor scales. This happened roughly around 1600, prior to that music was modal. Because of that it made assigning what we would call a key signature 'tricky'.

The current convention for writing a key signature is to place the sharp or flat on the highest line or space when there is a choice within the staff. So for treble clef, F# on line 5 not space 1, Eb on space 4 not line 1, but G# goes on line 2, not the space above line 5, etc.
 

eb424

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Hi guys... we all (me included) know there are no quick fixes.. the book is one start of a journey one that i have only been on for 3 years so lots to go... I think it's up to the individual to ascertain what they want from the experience me I like to understand theory how things work and constantly ask questions.. as you can probably tell.... it does give an alternative start which many older beginners may find beneficial although it has problems which should start people on the learning music theory path..we are all different and I feel an alternative path that leads to the same goal should be welcomed. Its a diverse world and a one approach fits all surely can't work..
 

Tenor Viol

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Okay... I have had a dig around the study and the music room...

John Dowland, one of England's greatest composers, was a lutenist but was catholic, which made life tricky for him in Elizabethan and Jacobean England... He is well known for his lute songs, and I have sung some of them - mostly with piano accompaniment, but I have sung one once with a lutenist.

The song I have chosen is one of his most well known: Flow my Tears. The Latin word for tears is 'lachrymae' and this tune of Dowland's was picked up by many other composers so you will come across other 'lachrymae' based on this tune.

There are two photos here. One is of a facsimile of Dowland's original music published in 1600 (Elizabeth had the sense to support people like Dowland, Byrd etc even though she knew full well they were catholic). This has the vocal part and the lute accompaniment which is written in French/English lute tablature. The vocal part is in standard staff notation for the time.

The staff has the usual 5 lines. The clef is one you might not recognise. It is a 'C' clef and it is the 'ladder' type (there are several symbols used for C clefs). The middle of the ladder denotes where middle C is, in this case it is on line 1 (hence C1) which is where you would normally expect E to be on a treble clef. So everything is 'up' a major third. The lines therefore read as: CEGBD and the spaces as DFAC.

The time signature I am not going to explain as that's an essay in its own right - but the broken circle is part of it (and what people mistakenly think is a 'C' for "common" time is a remnant of this notation and it's not a C - it's a broken circle... and ditto the 'C' and two lines through it for 'alla breve'). The time signature in modern terms is 4/2 i.e. 4 minims to a bar.

The notes are more-or-less as we would recognise them. The note heads are diamond shaped rather than round. The first note on 'flow' is a dotted minim on A. Then two quavers and a minim. The diamond on the word 'springs' is a semi-breve. The X is a sharp symbol, so it's a G#. Looking ahead to the next system there's a lot of G#s and the final note at teh repeat mark (yep - they've been around that long!) is an A... so the clue was with all the G#s we are in A minor. Notice that some of the sharp symbols are under the note not in front of it. You have to remember that printing was very expensive so anything to save space...

Underneath this pic we will look at a modern edition of the same piece

IMG_5464.jpg

The photo below is for the modern Stainer & Bell edition, with piano accompaniment for 'low' voice. A tenor or baritone singer (e.g. me) sings this an octave lower than written. It has been dropped by a whole tone and we can see it is in G minor. The time signature and note values have been halved to 4 / 4 to make it 'easier' to read - this was commonly done until the serious revival of internet in early music from about 1960 onwards: a modern edition would retain original note values where feasible.

IMG_5465.jpg
 

Clivey

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It's probably just me but barring my "getting worse every month eyes"and ledger lines. I pretty well believe the traditional system to be the best way by far. Better than tabs and less cluttered than this one we are discussing.
Now. note lengths ties and rhythms that's where the real challenge is for likes of me.
You just can't buy these skills at any price. famili*******arity is the only way. Surely we all know this here.
Oh and everything has a shelf life too , reading, fingering,tone. aye it's a nightmare but most of us are playing for enjoyment ??? Grrrr tee hee
 

nigeld

I don't need another mouthpiece; but . . .
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There has been criticism in this thread of the idea of playing from note names (G G A F# G A) as a method of teaching beginners.

I don't know anything about BlowoutSax, even though it is based near where I live, but as far as I can tell from a quick internet search, their method of teaching is that the beginning student learns songs by ear memory. This is the way I learned music as a 6-year-old singer. Gradually I learned to read the notes, and over the years I have become dependent on having a score in front of me. Learning by memory is a valid way to teach beginners with no musical training, in my opinion.

Learning by memory wouldn't suit me as a note-reading adult, and it certainly wouldn't help me to play bari in the big band, but someone with no musical training who has just picked up the sax as their first instrument isn't likely to be playing bari sax in a big band in year 1. Presumably (hopefully) the teacher introduces note reading as the student progresses.

In this context, the assumption is that the student cannot read music, but that they know how the tune sounds before they start trying to play it. Writing out the names of the notes is just a way to help the beginner work out and remember the fingerings on their own without the teacher present. It also introduces them to thinking in terms of the note names. There is no intention that the student will play from the written note names once they have learned the fingerings - they are supposed to learn the tune by heart. It isn't necessary to write out the lengths of the notes because the student already knows the tune.

Edit: I meant learning by memory, rather than learning by ear.
 
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Nikki

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Hi JBT


sorry for the bluntness but I dont think that your opinion is fair and have to agree with Nikki; There is more than one way to skin a cat (horrible saying and apologies to all you cat lovers out there lol). A brief history.. At 55 years young i woke up one morning and had 2 thoughts, " I have never seen a wild badger" and "I have never played a saxophone". I have no musical ability and went to a school where smoking behind the bike shed was on the curriculum ahead of attending music lessons... I booked a trip to Cornwall and have now seen a wild badger and bought my first alto...that was 3 years ago i moved onto the tenor after a year... I initially bought "a new tune a day"; it was great for fingering and i remember basic music reading from school but tbf i did not want to play twinkle twinkle little star or the other basic tunes, but did as blowout sax gave me better tunes....you refer to the book as musical shortcuts...my philosophy is there are no shortcuts to anything is this wonderful life you have to take from things you want to take the book is but a tool... whilst i would wholeheartedly agree with you that it is not an ideal way of learning it is a fantastic tool that allows you to play some well known tunes get to more difficult notes quicker, learn to cross the bridge, and hear some improvement. My eyes and speed of thought are not what they once were i do not think that i will ever be able to play a tune from a music sheet so will always write the notes above. However i do understand that much more is taken from a music theory.. I always print out the music i feel i should buy what I'm playing and at least i can see the notation quavers minims I know the time signature bass or treble cleff changing the notation on the staff. I can usually work out the key (is yours above G major) and i learn something from each piece of music I print. I am currently learning Hello Dolly and what i learnt from that and confirmed from your example above is that a key signature on the mid F means that all Fs are sharp...I hope this is right and your 2 low Fs are not accidentals LOL... I don't know why the ~ symbol cannot go in the low F space but will now try to find out. At my stage in life I have to many financial and life commitments to have a lesson a week which would be great.. I do try to go monthly. I guess what I am trying to say is that blowout sax gave me the motivation to continue my learning and gave me an understanding of how to play some tunes.. It is up to the individual involved to fill in the blanks, which is what I will try to do.. It is not an ideal way of learning but anything that ignites passion and starts you asking more questions that can only be answered through reading of music has to have some value.. Music reading is complex and I think that even Mr Thomas said that this one was more difficult and Nigeld said that i asked a good question. I love the help that I get from here and appreciate everyone's input..I have learnt a lot from this thread; which I will print and look up the facts. Peoples experience and knowledge costs so i really appreciate in this forum that people give away knowledge for free and I genuinely thank you all for that...without picking up Blowout sax at the start of my journey my motivation for this wonderful instrument may have wained. I have bought literature from here and find the resources brilliant but without the orange book the rest of my life would be unknown instead of being full of the challenges of learning to read music, learning to play the sax and all the frustrations and joy that this is bringing.. For me only 3 years into my journey that was the benefit of Blowout sax.....
You don’t need to feel apologetic or justify why you chose what method you did to learn saxophone. It might not be what others have done but that’s what makes us all unique.

Keep playing however you like. It’s your life and your perogative to learn however you like and if this helps you learn and tickles your fancy then that’s really all that matters. You don’t need to impress any of us. Enjoy playing music your own way. It doesn’t matter what others think. It’s YOUR life and YOUR choice. Don’t allow anyone to make you feel bad about choices you’ve made which bring you happiness.

In my opinion, not that it matters in the least, I think you listened to your heart and this is where it lead you.
There’s absoluteky nothing wrong with that. It’s how life should be.

Keep following your heart. It’s the ego you have to watch out for.
 

jbtsax

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Allow me to add another thought to this discussion. Most beginning band and method books that introduce notes and fingerings one at a time in a logical sequence as well as rhythms and note values are such that a motivated "adult learner" can master at least one page a day. It takes just 4 or more weeks to build a foundation of knowledge and skill upon which more advanced learning can be built. Many of these methods now come with a CD accompaniment that helps to develop timing and pitch and add to the enjoyment of playing simple tunes and exercises.

While devoting a part of a practice session to mastering the fundamentals, part of the practice time can be also devoted to learning to play more sophisticated and popular songs by rote learning or by ear. The point I wish to make is that it does not have to be an "either/or" choice since both can be done concurrently complimenting each other and adding to the dimension of interest and enjoyment.

Let me paraphrase a common saying about fishing. Teach a man to play "Baker Street" and you have given him one song. Teach a man to read music and you have given him songs for the rest of his life.
 

jbtsax

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The title of this thread reminds me of the old musician joke.

How can you tell if there is a vocalist at your front door?
She can't find the key, and doesn't know when to come in. :)
 

Colin the Bear

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The most important thing to learn when learning music, both practical and theory, is don't ask why. A lot of it won't make any sense for years and the answer may overload you.

The second important thing to be aware of is that there are lots of so called experts who aren't. Not on here btw. ;)
 

CliveMA

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OP, if you have a smartphone there are apps that can quickly teach reading music by turning learning into a quick game. For example, "reading music" in Google Play store. If you have a spare 30 seconds in your busy day, you can quickly do a 20 note quiz where the app shows the single note on the staff while playing that note. You can adjust settings to your current ability.

Repetition is critical to learning to read music. Apps make learning fun and fit in with the busiest of schedules.
 

eb424

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600
Thanks Clive o can read it just not quick enough..I have difficulty with the size of the notation too but will persevere..
 

Tenor Viol

Full of frets in North Shropshire
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The original query was around determining the key of the piece when just provided with a list of note names.

I think the shortest answer to that question is: tricky. A melodic line can infer tonality, but to confirm it you need the harmonic context (i.e. the notes being played by the accompaniment as well).

It is common in classical music to have an anacrusis (pick-up) on the dominant and the first beat of the first full bar to then be the tonic (in effect a V-I) this is done to establish the key. BUT you don't have to do this, so it's not a 'guarantee'.

EDIT: I am getting seriously fed-up of Apple's predictive text changing what I've actually written into something else - it is becoming increasingly common for it to change entire phrases. I type quite quickly, then I read what's appeared and it has been altered - significantly in some cases. I do have some words I am constitutionally incapable of typing correctly such as any word with '...uld' at the end, and as for 'form' and 'from'...:confused2:
 
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randulo

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in addition to what @tenorviol just said, it's very common for popular standard to start on the bridge, which is often in another key!
 
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