Keys without Locks

As many of us, including myself, are coming at session with very little experience with theory, I thought I would blog about what I am learning as I do, and how understanding these things let’s you better work with the music we play, and predict things that will/won’t work for harmonizing and such.  I’m going to come at this from two angles; conceptual, and then following with correct-ish terminology that I’m learning. Knowing terminology can help you communicate with other musicians a lot faster, so there can be less talkin’ and more playing. ^^ Finally, I’m going to open up the comment section for thoughts, including mine, on what the post talks about, and where things may be more confusing and how I clarified things to better sit in my brain.

First thing to tackle is, what is this “Key” thing people talk about, i.e.,

“This new tune is in G Major, with the third bits descent using A minor melodic.”

A key is a summary term that tells you three pieces of information:

  1. Which group of pitches(notes) the song will use;
  2. The home note the song most likes ( aka the tonic), and
  3. The respective relationships between the notes that are most used for the melody (scale).

Example: G Major

The home note for this song would be “G” (open first string/second string third fret/fourth string second forward fret, any of those) , and

A section of piano keyboard. (Maxamillion Sterling)

the word “major” tells us the relationship between the rest of the notes used is  WWhWWWh, where W indicates a whole note between each note, and h indicates a half note change. If you think of a piano, it can help.


Whole step, whole step, half step, whole step, whole step, whole step, half step. (G A B C D E F# G)

So now we know which notes the song is going to build itself out of, where it’s likely to start or finish (on the tonic), and a little about the feel of the song.  Each type of scale has a different feel to it.

Leave a Reply