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Topic: question about scales/key signatures

  1. #1

    question about scales/key signatures

    Hey guys, i have a composition question cuz im kinda noobish in music theory and composition.
    We all know that a scale has 7 notes/pitches, ex. C major scale has pitches C D E F G A B
    If one would include a note or a chord thats not from that scale, say, C#, it would result in false sound.

    Well what happened to me.
    I wrote a piano solo. I enter notes with mouse in Cubase so sometimes i dont really pay attention which notes im pressing or which key im playing in, i go by ear.
    First half is in the key C major and for the second half it modulates into a different key which is all right.

    But, first i thought that the new key is
    E-flat major (pitches C D Eb F G Ab Bb)
    Then i noticed that in few verses, the notes and chords include pitch Db ,instead of D. That would be the key
    A-flat major (pitches C Db Eb F G Ab Bb)

    These pitches, D and Db, doesnt play both at one time so it doesnt sound false, at least to me but maybe im tone deaf who knows.

    My question is, could it be that randomly without really knowing it i made a few modulations from E-flat major to A-flat major back and forth?
    Theyre changing pretty quickly, something like
    0-10 sec.: A-flat major
    10-15 sec: E-flat major
    15-20 sec.: A-flat major
    20-.... sec: E-flat major

    you can hear it here: http://www.keitaro.sk/download/kei4sample.mp3

    Is this kind of fast modulations common in music? Or is it simply false and im weird?

  2. #2

    Re: question about scales/key signatures

    It sounds good to me. I wouldn't go as far as to call it a modulation. It's just some brief mode mixture, which essentially means to "borrow" a chord from another key temporarily. You're borrowing a chord from Ab major for a splash of color, but you're not modulating.

    Don't worry too much about what you call things. Write what sounds good and let the eggheads who write the history books find names for it!


  3. #3

    Re: question about scales/key signatures

    Or it's possible that you're actually in Eb Mixolydian. I'm not sure, I'll have to give it another listen.


  4. #4

    Re: question about scales/key signatures

    I do not think that you are, per se, changing keys. I think that you are doing more of a chord modulation. Which basically means that where a chord was normally major...you used minor. It is akin to key modulation, but a bit more subtle...it adds tension to the melody...the release comes when you change it back. Then again, if the D is in those faster runs, then you might just be useing it as a passing tone. My ear is not good enough to tell where the shift is happening. For that matter, your ear may have guided you into using a 9 note scale...thus C Db D Eb F G Ab Bb C. If my memory is working right, the Neapolitan scale is one of those weird scales with more notes than normal. I am probably wrong about that scale...but they are out there. The Gypsy scale or Hungarian minor are also strong contenders in my memory. Anyway...My point being, that, in the end, you have to trust your ear. It knows better than your brain...at least, that is true in my case. In theory there is always an explaination for whatever notes we choose...in chords or in melody. Personally, I liked what you have so far. Whatever explaination come out of this thread, trust your ear. I am sure someone will disagree with my "theories", but that is okay. Especially since, I am pretty much untrained as far as theory and harmony goes.

    Keep on writing,


    P.S. If you want a good example of me writing by ear, and not knowing what I am doing...check this out "Off with His Head" which is for a film scoring contest I entered. Mind you, this Fall I'm starting college as a Music Major...at which point, I will have to use theory. At the very least, I will know what I am doing wrong when I do it.

    P.P.S. While I was writing all this...most of my theories were stated!!LOL

  5. #5

    Re: question about scales/key signatures

    Thanks guys this info really helps.

    This composition is actually already completed, and only after i finished it i was interested to know which key its actually in
    You can listen to it here if you like:

  6. #6

    Cool Re: question about scales/key signatures

    Quote Originally Posted by Keitaro333
    Thanks guys this info really helps.

    This composition is actually already completed, and only after i finished it i was interested to know which key its actually in
    You can listen to it here if you like:
    My friend, all the answers above are right in the mean time, and they are showing how flexible is theory.

    If you don't have a wide classical education, and you write "by ear"" you are not using any real musical system, but re-creating your own.

    You make several "mistakes" that are absolutely acceptable, and sometime researched by pop musicians, to make more free his musical style (and in the beginning "strange, original, unusual" but day by day, year by year, usual and common).

    The pop music language is based on a mixture of tonal and modal rules (un-written rules), and it doesn't make sense at all to find the right key. It works? Your ear is satisfied? Well,...that's all.

    If you want write classical music, you need more theory study, and then you will be able of finding answers for your self. But if it's not your aim, forget it, and just write music as you like it.

  7. #7

    Re: question about scales/key signatures

    Thanks Fabio, yeah i just thought sometimes that my ear might not be so great so i was trying to find out if its right 'by theory' but now i see that there isnt exactly 'right' or 'wrong'.

    You make several "mistakes" that are absolutely acceptable
    I guess they're mistaked from the perspective of classical music and theory. That interests me, what are they for example?

  8. #8

    Thumbs up Re: question about scales/key signatures

    The choice of chords sequence (and then a harmonic structure) is related to the key of your composition if you make classical music. If you make "ultra-short" modulations to different tones, they are so short that you can't just say I'm in Ab instead of Eb, but some other reasons are equally possible (mixolidian mode? use of minor chords? just chromatic embellishments?...etc.)

    The error is considering just melody. Considering just chord should be another error. But the harmony + melody + durations is enough to analyze your work: you are using a pop language, where temporary transitions to "near tonal or modal" zones are frequent to make spicy or melanconic or rocking the music. You have it in your mind, after listening a lot of samples.
    Now you are able of re-synthesizing this language (composing your own song), even if you are not yet understanding the right key, or simply you don't know yet the name of the process you used when you compromised for a while the key recognition!

    This kind of analysis is really close to musical style and musical language analysis. And never forget that today it's instinctive for every composer to use contemporarly different languages: maybe you include some classical, some jazz, some blues elements in a ballad without any voluntary effort, just following inspiration, and it is possible to make a "dissection" of the piece to separate elements, but just for didactic purpose.

    Composing just let your soul guide your skill/technic/knowledge.

    But please, because you like it, never stop your curiosity, and go on studying theory, it will be rewarding, believe me.

  9. #9

    Re: question about scales/key signatures

    I do not hear any modulation in that MP3. Modulation can be explained in all kinds of complicated terms, but the easiest way to hear it is if the "tonal center" changes. Your tonal center in this music remains in C the entire time. By tonal center, I mean the music wants to resolve back to C to sound final. Even when you play some freaky notes such as Db, it still resolves back "home" to C and that sounds like the resting place the entire time.

    About some of your interesting chords....buckle your seatbelt....

    You start with some kind of G Phrygian chord(or possibly locrian, I can't decide if I hear a Db in that opening sequence or not but I don't think so), which is the V of C. Then you resolve to C Aeolian(minor). You go to Ab Major a few times and back to C with some other interesting chords glueing them together that I don't have time to figure out from ear and tell you what they are. There is at least one Db Major chord in there..perhaps the one you're wondering about. Other chromatic embellishments are always possible, without considering them as freaky out-of-key chords or modulations as well.

    Note that G Phrygian, C Aeolian and Ab Major are all exactly the same sets of notes.

    Typical classical minor theory would use a G7 chord(C harmonic minor) for a V-I resolution. not a G minor chord with C Aeolian scale notes. By staying in C Aeolian the whole time, you are presting a "weak" V-I resolution. It is considered weak because you have no tritone present. You are leaving out the 7th in most cases of your V chords, so its not blatantly obvious since the 7th is part of the tritone.

    If you want to hear what I'm talking about, try changing all your G Minor chords to G7 chords. That means using B natural and F natural in addition to G and D. riff around with the new scale that sounds right over that chord. That will be one of the c minor scales..maybe melodic minor, but with a B natural for sure. You might also try G Mixolydian for kicks(all white keys). I think you will find the B natural on that chord sounds more "traditional".

    By not using the "traditional" way, you are staying hard attached to the C Aeolian mode. What it does is make your V-I resolution a little more subtle since the tritone resolution is missing.

    Fine so far?

    Now about the DbMajor chord you have in there. That can by analyzed three ways that I can think of. One way is to say you simply change the mode from C Aeolian to C Phrygian..which adds Db. This is simple modal interchange according to Berklee and the DbMaj7 chord is definitely one that can used, without destroying the tonal key center. Another, and I think better way of analyzing this chord is to call it a Sub-V7 chord, another Berklee/Jazz-ism.

    A Sub-V7 chord is basically a chord that is formed using the same tritone as the V7 chord but swapping out which note of the tritone is the 7th of the chord. So for example:

    G7 = G B D F (tritone = B-F)

    Swap the tritone

    Db7 = Db F Ab B (technically speaking its Cb, not B, but same tritone F-B)

    So in the key of C, the Db7 chord is the Sub-V7 chord and fufills a dominant function. It resolves down a half step to I.

    What I'm getting to, is that in the key of C, you can freely substitute a Db7 with a G7 chord when resolving back to the I chord. They both function the same way. They sound different, but the ear hears the tritone resolution, a very strong force in music.

    I believe that in traditional classical music theory, that Db7 chord can be spelled a different way and look like an Aug6 chord, which is how classical theory would explain it (I can't remember which one it is).

    Some of what I am talking about above is obscurred by the fact that you aren't playing the 7th of these V chords. So you're hiding the tritone..not playing it in either the G minor chord or the DbMaj chord. But functionally..that is what is going on..

    Similar to the experiment I told you before to try the G7 chord instead of the G minor chord...try adding a B natural note to the section where you are playing the DbMaj chord and see how it sounds and how it resolves back to the C minor. You will hear that Strong tritone sound and its desire to resolve back to your I chord.

    No modulation happening at all...
    "Music is a manifestation of the human spirit similar to a language. If we do not want such things to remain dead treasures, we must do our utmost to make the greatest number of people understand their secrets" -- Zoltan Kodaly

  10. #10

    Re: question about scales/key signatures

    PS - one more cool thing I discovered last week is that if you combine the notes of a V7 chord with a Sub-V7 chord into one monster chord, it basically ends up sounding like the ultimate bad guy chord.
    "Music is a manifestation of the human spirit similar to a language. If we do not want such things to remain dead treasures, we must do our utmost to make the greatest number of people understand their secrets" -- Zoltan Kodaly

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