The question of Keys, Key Signatures, and Modes comes up again and again.
Most explanations seem somewhat jumbled and/or full of technical description.
This is confusing, but over the years (decades?) it has become clearer to me.
It comes down to:
What note does the tune resolve too? (its Tonic Note)
What notes are in the scale of the tune? (how many Flats or Sharps)
Chords give clues, but they are subjective or 'symptomatic' as chord choices are not always universally agreed upon.
Why does it matter what the Key is?
Knowing what the Key is alerts melody players what notes, and chord players what chords, to expect (or not expect).
Yes, it is possible to play well without knowing what Key, Notes, or Chords you are playing, but most people recognize they have names; and it is easier to understand if everyone uses the correct names.
Tunes may also contain 'accidental' notes (not in the scale of the Key), but these usually stand out as different - the more one plays the more intuitive they are.
TRAD MUSIC ONLY USES 4 MODES?
Major, Mixolydian, Dorian, and Minor are the 4 Modes that virtually all Tradition (Western) Music use - Celtic, Old Time, Country, Blues, Bluegrass, Rhythm & Blues; and I believe Rock, and maybe Jazz too.
Tunes that are in a Major (Ionian) Key tend to be self-evident, however the mislabeling of tunes in Minor (Aeolian) and 'Modal' Keys (Mixolydian and Dorian) cloud that clarity. There are also 3 other 'Authentic' Modes (Phrygian, Locrian, and Lydian) that rarely come up.
There also happen to be 7 "Plagal (or Hypo-) Modes" where tunes resolve to the fourth note of the scale, instead of the first (or last) note. These are typically used in 'Renaissance' music, but commonly are likely never noticed that there is a 'different' name for the scale of same notes. For example the Hypoionian uses the same notes as the Ionian (Major), but the fourth note is the tonic.
HOW TO DETERMINE THE KEY?
1) determine what note a tune (or each of its parts) resolve to - its Tonic Note.
2) determine what notes are played (comprise the scale - how many sharps or flats) - its Key Signature
3) match the Tonic Note and Key Signature with the appropriate Key Name.
KEY NAME is the Tonic NOTE followed by the MODE:
Start by presuming the note it resolves to is a Major Key, and how many flats or sharps would that be?
C Major = 0b / 0#
G Major = 1#
D Major = 2#
A Major = 3#
E Major = 4#
B Major = 7b / 5#
Gb (F#) Major = 6b / 6#
Db (C#) Major = 5b / 7#
Ab (G#) Major = 4b
Eb (D#) Major = 3b
Bb (A#) Major = 2b
F Major = 1b
If less sharps (or more flats) are used, how many?
0 fewer, then Major (Ionian)
-1# (or +1b), then Mixolydian
-2# (or +2b), then Dorian
-3# (or +3b), then Minor (Aeolian)
-4# (or +4b), then Phrygian
-5# (or +5b), then Locrian
-6# (or +6b), then Lydian
If a tune resolve to A:
A Major has 3#s
but Key signature (or actual #s in tune) is 1#
then A Dorian
The attached chart may make it clearer.
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The 'right Key' is conceded to be the singer's Key.
Most tunes and songs have more than one version or interpretation, which are melodic and/or rhythmic variances from 'how it was written' or 'what you are used to hearing'.
Looking at song transcriptions is is not unusual to see a part of the melody written as e.g. a half-note in one verse and as two quarter-notes in another verse to correspond to one word versus two words.
Many musicians (and even singers) will add different ornamentations which can add, subtract, and/or change notes.
Whether it is the same tune/song has to do with the overall 'sound', minor differences don't change the basic melody.
Yes, most tunes/songs tend to be played in a certain Key. I think that is because of how the notes fall on the instrument(s) it was written on and/or tend to be played on and/or sung in.
What Key is it?
That is determined by what note the tune/song resolves to and how many flats/sharps there are (the Key Signature) - this is really just a matter of what it is called.
I've found most Music Theory instruction to be confusing, recently I think I've managed to sort it out - I'll start a new message thread with my take on it.
Checking with John Burke an old time fiddler in Seattle he said Rubber Dolly is in the key of whoever sings it. Back up and Push is in C but the “B” part starts on the 4 chord (F). The same tune though...
> On Oct 30, 2019, at 8:30 PM, jim saxe via Musicians <musicians(a)lists.sharedweight.net> wrote:
> Thanks to Jim McKinney, David Firestine, and John Beland for identifying "Dusty Roads" as "My Love Is [/She's] but a Lassie-O [/Lassie Yet]," also known by many other names (see
> ) including "Too Young to Marry," and not to be confused, by the way, with "Take Me Back to Tulsa," also also known as "Too Young to Marry."
> Regarding "Rubber Dolly"/"Back Up And Push," the annotations at
> mention the song lyrics
> My mama told me, If I'd be goody
> That she would buy me, a rubber dolly
> one version of which can be heard, for example, here:
> Looking at the musical score on
> I believe the words "told" and "me" in the song correspond the first two notes of the first full measure: a quarter-note for "told" and a quarter note tied to an eighth note for "me", both on C-sharp, or scale degree 3 (mi) in the key of A major. In the music for "Back Up and Push" at
> (notated as 2/2 instead of 4/4 and in the key of G instead of A), I believe the corresponding notes are a half note on D (sol in G major) and a half note tied to a quarter note on A (re). So those notes are rhythmically the same in (the cited transcription of) "Rubber Dolly" as in (the cited transcription of) "Back Up and Push, but melodically different: "mi mi" in RD vs. "sol re" in BUAP).
> Listening to the rendition of "Rubber Dolly" at
> that I cited in my earlier message, I think that in the place where I've just described transcriptions on tunearch as having two long notes, the banjo player (Jack Hawes) on the record plays seven notes:
> told (ti-ka) me (ti-ka) ee
> And yet I can still detect (albeit with a little stretching) a resemblance between that recording and some recordings I've found of "Back Up and Push." But it does set me wondering just how much two musical performances can differ from each other rhythmically and/or melodically and still be regarded as renditions of the "same" tune.
> As I write this, I'm reminded of an occasion about 15 years ago when I was sitting in a dining area with one of my aunts and she asked if I knew what tune was playing on the P.A. system. I said I thought it was "Tea for Two" but she said it sounded nothing like "Tea for Two". Years later (unfortunately when my aunt was no longer living), I happened to hear this on the radio
> and the mystery was solved when the DJ announced the title.
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