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Composers and performers find keys very, very helpful. Keys allow musical selections to be modified to fit different performers. For example, if a composer writes a song in the key of G, for example, and the melody is too high for a particular singer to sing, the song can be changed to a lower key (like F or E) to accommodate the singer’s voice. The composer likes this, because the overall song isn’t affected, only the highness or lowness of the melody. Changing the musical key of a song is called transposing, a frequent occurrence in music.
U2 Part IV: Living in Perfect Harmony____________________________________
Leading and returning to the “home” keg
No matter what a home looks or sounds like, its basic purpose is the same as every other house: to have a place to cool your heels and relax. The same applies to keys.
Melodies and harmonies in a song often venture outside of the song’s basic key. Particularly in jazz music, performers realize that exploring notes and chords outside of the original key lifts the music and gives it a fresh sound. Composers as far back as you can imagine used various keys to carry the music to new and unfamiliar places. Hey, an all-expenses-paid vacation for the ears! After such an “out of key” experience, you feel a sense of “coming home” when the song returns to the original key.
To get a better grasp on this concept of musical travel, listen to Track 48, Figure 11-1, which begins in the key of A and travels around to other keys for a few measures. Just by listening (without cheating and looking at the notes), see if you can tell when the song returns home to its original key.
Did you hear it? In measure 9, the music begins to venture outside of the original home key of C. In measure 13, the song returns safely to the key of C. I hope you weren’t too “tense” during measures 9 through 12.
11-1: kj. ' f |»f V
ation (g>’' 1 1 I 1 1
Destination unknown 9 ... leaving and returning home.
Chapter 11: Understanding Keys U3
Using Kegs to Play Music
As a performer, recognizing and reading keys is an invaluable skill, more so than just how high or low a song sounds. Understanding keys helps you play better because the key of a song tells you a little more about the music under your fingers — more specifically, which notes to play or not to play.
For example, if you play a melody in the key of G, you mostly play notes from the G major scale. Your knowledge of scales (see Chapter 8) reminds you that G contains the note F-sharp. Thus, you play all the Fs in the song as F-sharp.
Those crafty composers invented a way to remind you which sharps and flats to play within a particular key. To conserve ink, composers employ a little tool called a key signature. Placed just after the clef on every line of music, a key signature allows the composer to:
J’ Stop writing all those little tic-tac-toe symbols next to every sharp in the song.
«h Stop writing flats next to every flat in the song.
J’ Instantly tell the performer (that’s you!) what key the song is in.
Sure, you may already have framed pictures of sharps and flats on your living room wall because you like the looks of them so much. But as the music becomes more and more complex, please believe me that you do not want to see these symbols cluttering the music. Instead, you too will want to use the ink-saving key signature tool thingamajig.
Reading keg signatures
Figure 11-2 shows you two key signatures: one for the key of G and one for the key of F. The first shows a sharp symbol on the top line of the staff. This tells you to play every F as F-sharp. The G major scale contains one sharp, so this must be the key of G. The second key signature uses a flat on the middle line of the staff, telling you to play every B as B-flat. This must be the key of F, because the F major scale has one flat, B-flat.
Key of G:
s'9non - 0 i t
the line. f
Part IV: Living in Perfect Harmony
All right, already... F-sharp!
Signing with both hands.
You may think that only Fs on the top line are altered by the sharp in the key signature. Nope! The key signature applies to every F, not just the one on the top line. This, of course, is another time- and ink-saving decision. Otherwise a G key signature would look like the one in Figure 11-3.
The only time the same note is marked with a sharp or flat twice in a key signature is when you have two staves. In this case, you get one key signature on the treble staff and one on the bass staff, as shown in Figure 11-4.
Try playing an entire song with a key signature. It’s no more difficult than playing a song without one. You just have to remember (with a little help from your friendly key signature) which notes to sharp or flat throughout. Track 49 features a familiar tune, called “Worried Man Blues,” in the key of G. Play along when you’re ready and remember that all Fs are actually F-sharp.
Chapter 11: Understanding Keys 145
Worried Man Blues (in the key of G)