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What Does the “Key” of a Song Mean?

Video Transcript And Relevant Links:


Hi I'm Tomas from Real Guitar. Let's talk a little bit about what it means to be in a Key in Music and why that's important.   First I'm gonna explain just a little bit of music theory. Now nothing complicated so don't worry and it's nothing you really have to memorize or anything but they will help this explanation go a little more smoothly. 

First, there's what we call the musical alphabet. We used letter names to indicate notes. Now for those of you who have been playing for a while this is old stuff of course. But I want to make sure we're all on the same page so we'll start with the musical alphabet A B C  D E F G - 7 notes, there's no H. So it just starts going back around in a circle A B C D E F G and then starts over A B C D E F G that's supposed to be 7.

Now we're gonna take those notes and form what we'll call a musical scale. In this case I want to use the C scale so instead of starting on A we're gonna start on the letter C and it's still going to go around in a circle but that's what I've written down here. C is the first note. They go  D E F G A B and after B comes C again. You could start right here and just keep going around in a circle. Now if you say something its for an example in the key of C, what you're actually saying is that if you took this group of notes that that song revolves around those group of notes. The melody is basically comprised of those notes. The chords are comprised of those notes. So if you say it's in the key of C you're using notes from the C scale to make up the song for the most part.

Another way to think about a key is just by ear and listening to what note sounds like the home note or the home chord. So if you're playing a song and you play through it and you come to a resting place that sounds like “ah that's home” that is likely the key of the song. So for an example if I were playing something in the key of C when I get to the C note that would sound like a rest everything else would sound like it was still going somewhere.

Now I want to take this just a little bit further and this will help me demonstrate that aspect up in a little bit more. Go  and take a look at the scale. We can number the notes. The first one being #1, #2, #3, #4, #5 and #6. I left 7 out for a reason I'll explain in a minute.

If we make a chord out of the 1 the 4 and the 5 each of these chords will be a major chord. So in this case it'll be a C major, F major and the G major. If you're using the notes right out of the scale and you build chords out of the notes in the scale it's always gonna fall as a major on this 1, 4 and 5. Now this is important  because if you play a song and you play the 1, 4 and 5 it's really gonna sound like the 4 and 5 are kind of setting you up to go back to the one chord. Let me show you an example. I'm gonna play Happy Birthday in the key of C so it goes happy birthday C to the 5, G, happy birthday to - back to the one - you. You hear it sounds like I want to go back there - happy birthday - none of my key - happy birthday I did the four chord - happy birthday - G5 and you see if I stop there don't you feel the tension that it wants to go somewhere? Back to C. Now you might be thinking there's other numbers in there besides the 1, 4 and 5. You can play a lot of songs with just the 1, 4, 5. So much music has been made with just the 1, 4 and 5 chords in a key but there are other notes in the scale and that means there are other chords.

Let's go to the 2, 3, and 6 chords. Each of these will end up being a minor chord. So this will be D minor in the key of C, E minor in the key of C and the 6 to A will be a minor in the key of C. So what that means if you're playing a song and you used the C chord, the D minor chord maybe the G chord to an F chord. It's gonna sound like it's in the key of C. It's made up of the notes and the chords that are from that key. You could apply the same thing starting on the different notes so I left an example here for the key of G. If we start on G and go through the scale G A B C D E it's going to be F sharp to make the scale accurate and starts back to G goes around in a circle again.

Again if you took the one chord before chords and the 5 chord they're each going to be major in this case G major, C major and D major. If you take the 2, 3  and 6 that would be A minor, B minor and E minor.

Now I didn't include the last chords in this case the B chord because that's a little bit different. It falls into the category of what we call diminished chords. And most beginners are people in the early stages don't really have access or used diminished chords very often so rather than get into that I'll stay focused and kind of just leave that out for now.  I hope this has been helpful.

I'm Tomas Michaud from Real Guitar Success I've really enjoyed having you here. I look forward to seeing you in the next video and if you're watching this on either YouTube or on my blog please go ahead and leave me a comment and hit that like button. I appreciate it. See you later.

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