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Help: Learning musical keys from the ground up

Moz

Senior Member
Messages
855
I have had a break from playing the sax for about six months because I kinda lost my way. Having reached what might be interpreted as grade 6/7 I realised I just couldn't do the practice to go any further, I felt I had achieved all I could.

But I couldn't let the last seven years of saxing go to waste, but couldn't get any better so what should I do? Start again; only this time try to do it more formally so my questions are:

How do I learn the different keys, how do I remember which key has which sharp's and flat's? I know them all but I just go by the 'oh, that's got two sharp's in it' and play it that way but that doesn't make for good improv (or composing either). How are keys related to one another and how do I remember what those relationships are?

I know it exists, I just don't know how to learn this stuff. Anyone got any tips, hints, web addresses? I need something that a reasonably skilled player can use to learn the basics formally that he can already do informally.
 

old git

Tremendous Bore
Messages
5,545
Do you need to know all this? Some do, some don't.

Why not just improvise and "feel" what's right or wrong for you?

If they start pointing firearms at you, gracefully accept you are wrong.
 
Messages
181
A good thing to do is try and visualise the circle of fifths in both major and minor keys, you'll find it easy to remember if you have a photographic memory. :)
 

Pete C

Member
Messages
344
FCG at the top BEAD going down the flat side F#/Gb at the bottom BEAD going back up the sharp side
 

navarro

Senior Member
Messages
863
Hi Moz jbtsax sent me the following which I have found invaluable.

The order of the sharps in key signatures:
Fat Cows Go Down And Eat Buttercups

The order of the flats in key signatures is: B E A D G C F --- the order of the sharps backwards

One half step above the last sharp in a key signature is the name of the major key. 1# - G, 2#'s - D, 5#'s - B etc.

The next to last flat in a key signature is the name of the major key. 3 b's - Eb, 2 b's Bb, 7 b's Cb, 1 b is the key of F.

Chord symbols - triads: Generally capitals are major, and small case are minor.
Examples: C - major spelled C E G, c - minor spelled C Eb G, D - major spelled D F# A, d - minor spelled D F A.

Chord symbols - Dominant 7th chords (major triad with a flatted or lowered 7th) Capital letter followed by a 7.
Examples: C7 spelled C E G Bb, D7 spelled D F# A C natural, Eb7 spelled Eb G Bb Db

Chord symbols - Major 7th chords (major triad with the 7th as found in the major scale). Capital letter followed by Maj 7 or triangle 7.
Examples: C Maj7 spelled C E G B, D Maj7 spelled D F# A C#, Eb Maj7 spelled Eb G Bb D

Chord symbols - minor 7th chords (minor triad with a flatted or lowered 7th) small or capital letter followed by m7.
Examples: Cm7 spelled C EB G Bb, dm7 spelled D F A C, Ebm7 spelled Eb Gb Bb Db

These are the most common chord symbols and a good place to start. Being able to write out and play all 12 major scales provides a good foundation to begin to master intervals, chords, and harmony. Best REgards N.
 

ArtyLady

Well-Known Member
Messages
1,030
Hi I would suggest you learn your scales slowly from the music so that you learn the sound, then as soon as you can try to play them by ear immediately after you've played each one from the music - if you know how they should sound then you'll know if you've gone wrong - repetition is the only way things will become second nature, other than that it won't really matter if you can't name how many and which sharps/flats there are in each key. For relative minors I just find the note that's down a minor 3rd. hope that helps :thumb:
 

Tenor Viol

Full of frets in North Shropshire
Subscriber
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5,946
A lot also depends on your personal learning style. If you fancy reading, try The AB Guide to Music Theory, by Eric Taylor - it's in two small volumes about £6 each (see here). Another AB publication is Harmony in Practice.

I'm one of those types that has to understand how and why things work (for anyone who's ever been through a Myers Briggs assessment, I come out top right hand corner - way to annoy me is deny me facts and information!). Telling me to just play it and see what works just isn't going to work with me. It does for some.
 

easycn

Member
Messages
33
I am an activist! (- learning styles!)

But as far as learning scales go, given there is only twelve major keys (really) why not just try learning them away from the instrument. i.e. while driving or something. I play scales through my mind when I exercise or certainly when I am away from the instrument. Then you can muck around with them and imagine chords (scale chords etc.). Eventually (really in a week or so) the key signatures become ingrained.

Worked for me!
 

Moz

Senior Member
Messages
855
I've looked at the interactive circle of fifths and got an idea but then it got rather complicated and assumed some I knew some things that I patently didn't. Perhaps I may pursue this matter a little:

When a piece of music (jazz, say) dispenses with the notes and allows you to ad lib and gives you only the chords how can I know what notes I can play that will still be in that chord? For example, if I see Cdim7, what notes will fill the criteria required to sound in tune with the backing music? Do I have to learn every chord ever commonly listed to know what I can improvise with?

I know that to some these questions may seem a bit elementary but indulge me for a while as my own abilities regarding playing by ear seem to preclude understanding the theory. I can hear a tune once then play it by ear on the sax, piano, whatever, but if instead someone writes the chords down then hands it to me, I'm lost and this is what I am trying to improve upon.
 

ArtyLady

Well-Known Member
Messages
1,030
I've looked at the interactive circle of fifths and got an idea but then it got rather complicated and assumed some I knew some things that I patently didn't. Perhaps I may pursue this matter a little:

When a piece of music (jazz, say) dispenses with the notes and allows you to ad lib and gives you only the chords how can I know what notes I can play that will still be in that chord? For example, if I see Cdim7, what notes will fill the criteria required to sound in tune with the backing music? Do I have to learn every chord ever commonly listed to know what I can improvise with?

I know that to some these questions may seem a bit elementary but indulge me for a while as my own abilities regarding playing by ear seem to preclude understanding the theory. I can hear a tune once then play it by ear on the sax, piano, whatever, but if instead someone writes the chords down then hands it to me, I'm lost and this is what I am trying to improve upon.
Yes you can learn your chords so that at a very basic level of improvising you can play the notes that make up the chords for your improvising and eventually link them together melodically using scales that will fit with them. So you could include relevant scales (and licks based on those scales and chords) - ie if you see a minor 7th chord you can play the arpeggio and/or a Dorian Scale.....if you see a Dominant 7th chord symbol ie D7 you would play the chord and/or a mixolydian scale and so on, hope that helps a bit? :D
 

Moz

Senior Member
Messages
855
if you see a Dominant 7th chord symbol ie D7 you would play the chord and/or a mixolydian scale and so on, hope that helps a bit? :D
But this is what I don't really get. If I see D7 on a bit of music, how do I know what notes I can play that will fit with the music. A quick look at wiki tells me that the arpeggio that fits the criteria for D7 consists of D F# C (and D again higher or lower) and while in a bar of D7 I could vary the order of those three (4) notes but it would tend to be a bit dull after a while. How can I tell from the little information given by the symbol D7 what I could do to sound good in that particular bar? What I am asking is...you know I don't know what to ask really, I'm not sure what I want to know.

I'll leave it for now and experiment with C major tomorrow, something might hit me (probably the piano lid!) :w00t:
 

saxplorer

Senior Member
Messages
879
Try getting a backing track that just plays a simple 12-bar blues form over and over, that only has three chords to remember. Then learn what notes fit those chords and have fun playing along. See if you can hear which notes work best over the backing, chances are that the ones from the chords will sound good, some other notes will sound more or less ok, and some will sound awful. Sometimes one will sound so bad it's good :) See which notes sound best _where_ in the bar, and where it doesn't seem to matter so much. Mess around, have fun ...

With D7 the chord tones are D, F#, A, and C but its the 3rd (F#) and 7th (C) that give the character to the chord. The "D" itself will work at the end of a phrase ...

It's no coincidence that "play" has two meanings ... play as in music, play as in have fun ... so have fun playing music.
 

easycn

Member
Messages
33
Build any major scale by starting on a note then moving up in this pattern:

TTSTTTS where T is a Whole tone and S is a Semitone.

e.g in C - CDEFGABC in B - BC#D#EF#G#A#B

Naming conventions dictate that you use each letter once and a major scale has either sharps or flats (not both) and no double sharps. If you play around you will find 15 that work because some are the same just spelt differently (e.g. F# and Gb) even though they are effectively the same.

Further:

If you build a chord (i.e in C major: C,E,G,B then D,F,A,C then E,G,B,D etc.) off each note in the scale, you will notice that on the 5th note (i.e. in the key of C, G is the fifth) you will build a seventh chord.

Scale chords are:

Imaj7, II-7, III-7, IVmaj7, V7, VI-7, VII-7b5 where the roman numeral indicates which note of the scale you are starting on.

e.g. In C, Cmaj7, D-7, E-7, Fmaj7, G7, A-7, B-7b5. The C major scale (Starting from the root of the chord you are playing on) will work over all of these chords when in C. e.g. over G7 - GABCDEFG. The scales played by starting and stoping on different notes of the major scale are called the modes.

Check out this Music Theory

Try this book too http://www.amazon.com/Jazz-Theory-Book-Mark-Levine/dp/1883217040

He suggests thinking about chords as symbols for scales, which scale is determined by the context of the chord (i.e. through which key centre are you passing at that time)

At the end of the day however, if you like the sound of it then its good! Most of us learn the theory so we can improve our playing by ear.... looks like you are already well on the way ;)
 
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Jeanette

Organizress
Cafe Moderator
Messages
25,910
Deleted question as I found the answer, :)

Jx
 
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Tenor Viol

Full of frets in North Shropshire
Subscriber
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5,946
I think you might be overcomplicating it....

As you say, a simple chord such as Cmaj consists of CEG, C7 contains CEGBb. So, at its simplest level you're right, you simply play the notes that appear in the chord.

This is obviously limited in scope. The interest is created by say adding passing notes (filling in with the notes in between the notes in the chord e.g. adding a D between the C and E). If the "non-harmony" note is sounded on the beat it's going to add a strong dissonance, whereas if it's off the beat it won't feel as strong, but will still be dissonant.

Opinion as to what you can use as a harmony note is quite subjective and has changed over time - what is acceptable to say a be-bop player would make a Baroque player (who also improvises) shudder.

It might be worth seeing if you can find a local music teacher who is running music theory or composition classes.
 

TomMapfumo

Well-Known Member
Messages
5,219
As you would self rate at Grade 6/7 I would recommend the following book: "Creative Saxophone Improvising" by Kellie Santin & Cheryl Clark - "An introduction to improvising jazz, blues, latin and funk for the intermediate player." It is a very practical and helpful book with 16 tunes of various styles (all with an Alto and Tenor backing track CD) and covers many of the points that you are raising - chords, solo scales and ideas for improvisations. It is available from Amazon: http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb...aps&field-keywords=creative+saxophone&x=0&y=0 and carries a very high recommendation indeed.
 

Pete C

Member
Messages
344
Knowing which notes to use between the chord tones of any given chord depends on your understanding of where the chords come from harmonically: for example D7 is the 5th chord in the scale of G major so passing notes from G will sound OK. So its a good idea to start working out all the chords in each key: Gmaj7 Am7 Bm7 Cmaj7 D7 Em7 F#m7b5 for example all come out of G major. If you think about it that means each m7 chord crops up in 3 different major scales, each maj7 chord in two major scales so it's quite a big task to learn all that stuff. As someone above has already said getting chord tones on the downbeats means that you can play just about anything on the upbeats so a good starting place would be to learn all the chord arpeggios for common chord types and work on lines through chord changes that link chord tones of one chord to chord tones of the next - the passing notes stuff is for later.
 
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