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#1104191 - 01/01/08 10:54 AM How do I know what scale I'm playing on?
C D Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 12/30/07
Posts: 6
Loc: Berkeley, CA
Let's take something simple like the song "The Farmer in the Dell."

The song is based on F major, however the first note starts with middle C. As the song goes on, I only see three notes from F major. The question is, how do you know that the song is F major and not some variation on C Major?

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#1104192 - 01/01/08 11:08 AM Re: How do I know what scale I'm playing on?
Theowne Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/26/06
Posts: 1099
Loc: Toronto, Canada
[quote]As the song goes on, I only see three notes from F major.[quote]

The notes of C Major and F Major are identical except for the fact that F Major has a Bflat instead of a natural B. It would seem that most of the notes are also from F Major, but they act differently in the context of each key. In F major, the note F is basically the root note.

Also, nursery rhymes are played in many different keys. If it's played in one key when you hear it, it doesn't mean the sheet music you bought will have it in the same key.

You can tell what key a piece is in by it's melody and it's chord progression. Many simple tunes, most pop music, and some classical pieces begin and end on the tonic chord which tells you what key it's in. A piece in C Major will usually begin and end in a C major chord.

Your version starts in F Major. This is because the first chord played in the left hand is an F Major chord. The first note is middle C, but the C is sort of a lead-in to the 5 repeated F's, which is where the "emphasis" is. But it could just as easily start on an A or C and still be F Major. To put it simpler, which part of the song feels like the "base" or "home" of the song from which other things build. The "Farmer in the dell" at the beginning, right? That's because that's the root note and chord, F Major.
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#1104193 - 01/01/08 11:16 AM Re: How do I know what scale I'm playing on?
signa Offline
8000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/06/04
Posts: 8483
Loc: Ohio, USA
if you understand how a scale construct, then for major scale, whichever note represent 'Do' in do-re-mi-... scale sequence is the signature key (tonic key). for minor scale, look for whichever note represent 'La' is 'la-te-do-re-mi-...' scale sequence.

however, many would have memorized all key signatures and scales to tell immediately from the signature itself.

also, most pieces (except some contemporary ones or atonal stuff) will end on tonic chord/note, and therefore, you could tell from the last note/chord what the signature of that piece is.

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#1104194 - 01/01/08 12:01 PM Re: How do I know what scale I'm playing on?
C D Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 12/30/07
Posts: 6
Loc: Berkeley, CA
Bear with this. I've never had any kind of formal music lessons...

I'm really not following

la te do re mi

thing for the minor scale.

This is how I interpret it.

The song starts with C. But the key sequence in C major is

C D E F G A B C

If I would go

Di re mi la, then I would end on F. This would mean the song is in F major, right? Or did I just totally miss it?

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#1104195 - 01/01/08 12:18 PM Re: How do I know what scale I'm playing on?
jazzwee Offline
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/25/07
Posts: 7153
Loc: So. California
In the Jazz study group, there's a discussion of 'scale degrees'. First read that.

Now in any tune, you'll need to uncover the underlying chords. In most cases, you can rely on the bass note as being the root of the chord. Then look for characteristic notes of the chord 3rd and seventh. If you find the dominant seventh of the tune which will have Root-3-b7 interval, then you have found the dominant chord.

That is the fifth of the scale in question. So if there's a G7, then the key is C.

Now there are simpler ways to guess, like the first bass note may be the tonic (key), but this is not as reliable as finding the dominant. In fact it wouldn't work with many 'Standards'. Of course standards show the chords so it's even easier.
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#1104196 - 01/01/08 12:21 PM Re: How do I know what scale I'm playing on?
DragonPianoPlayer Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/12/06
Posts: 2462
Loc: Denver, CO
do re mi fa so la ti do are the steps of a major scale.

In C Major these are
do - C
re - D
mi - E
fa - F
so - G
la - A
ti - B
do - C again

In F Major:
do - F
re - G
mi - A
fa - B flat
so - C
la - D
ti - E
do - F again

The melody note by itself is not enough to indicate the key. It is the harmony that determines it. I was taught to look more at the notes that make up the last measure or chord.

For example, if the version you are playing has a C in the right hand but an F and A in the left, that would make up an F Major chord and would indicate that it is in F Major.

If the harmony is made up of C E and G, then that is a C Major chord and would be in C Major.

What is the key signature? No sharps or flats or one flat?

If you are trying to play it out by ear, then it sounds like you are playing it in C Major.
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#1104197 - 01/01/08 12:31 PM Re: How do I know what scale I'm playing on?
C D Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 12/30/07
Posts: 6
Loc: Berkeley, CA
There aren't any sharps or flats.

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#1104198 - 01/01/08 12:33 PM Re: How do I know what scale I'm playing on?
mdsdurango Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/01/04
Posts: 1755
Loc: Durango Colorado
 Quote:
Originally posted by C D:
Let's take something simple like the song "The Farmer in the Dell."

The song is based on F major, however the first note starts with middle C. As the song goes on, I only see three notes from F major. The question is, how do you know that the song is F major and not some variation on C Major? [/b]
Well, very simply; there is one flat in the key signiture. That is Bb. Therefore you are in the key of F.
C is the fifth note in the key of F.
So the melody is starting on the fifth, or, the third note of the triad F major. That first C is a leading tone that actually comes in on the count of four from the previous measure. In its simplest version the only two chords used in this tune are F and C creating a 1 V chord base. Neither of these two chords contain that note defines the key of F - Bb. However, as you get to know this song and begin to broaden your chord vocabulary you would find that the fourth chord of the key would provide some interesting diversion.

I suppose that you just have to accept that if the key signiture has only a Bb that you are in the key of F even if you never use the Bb.

Don't worry, in short order it will all make sense.

Mike
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#1104199 - 01/01/08 01:11 PM Re: How do I know what scale I'm playing on?
DragonPianoPlayer Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/12/06
Posts: 2462
Loc: Denver, CO
Here is an example to The Farmer in the Dell melody written in G Major.

http://www.traditionalmusic.co.uk/songs-tab/Farmer_In_The_Dell.htm

For one in F Major read on:

If the melody you are playing is:
C F F F F F - The farmer in the dell
G A A A A A - The farmer in the dell
C C D C A F - Hi Ho the merry o
G A A G G F - The farmer in the dell

Then it would be in F Major. Note that it always seems to come back to F and ends on F.

The above melody should be written with one flat, but some easy play books may skip the flat since the music never plays a B flat.

Hope this helps.
Rich
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#1104200 - 01/01/08 01:38 PM Re: How do I know what scale I'm playing on?
keystring Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/11/07
Posts: 12472
Loc: Canada
Farmer in the Dell in "do re mi" (movable do solfege)

sol do do do do ... re mi mi mi mi mi .....
sol sol la sol mi do .... re mi mi re re do.

In F major, Bb is "fa" and it happens that there is no "fa" in that song, which is why you won't play one, but it's still in the key signature.

Your question "How do I know what scale I'm playing on?" can be worded "How do I know what key I'm playing in?"

First: Your keys are either major or minor. Let's look only at major keys. If it's in a major key, then the key signature will tell you that. You should memorize your key signature in time. When you see 3 sharps you'll know this is A major, with the A major scale. The first note of the scale, called "tonic" will be A. One flat means it's in F major and the tonic is F etc.

Usually music ends on the tonic. You will also hear that the music sort of gravitates toward that note - it feels "complete" when you're back on F. It doesn't always start on the tonic. Very often it jumps up to it from below, like your C, or it jumps down from the C (that's the 5th note above your tonic, called the dominant, and that has an important role in music). So the three ways you can tell is through the key signature, what note it ends on (usually), and what note has that tonic-completeness feeling.

Minor keys:
A minor key has a sad, blue feeling to it, and in solfege it sounds as though you were starting on "la" (as you wrote)
In key signatures, the tonic is three notes below the tonic of the major scale. C major starts on C, which is its tonic. A minor has the same key signature as C major (no sharps or flats) and it starts on A, which is 3 notes below C. F major has one flat, and starts on F. If you have one flat but it's a minor key, then the tonic is three notes below the F, and that is D. So D minor has one flat just like F major. Since music usually ends on the tonic, you can often tell it is in D minor, because the music ends on a D, and it seems to stress D. Minor keys are trickier to recognize than major keys so don't worry about it yet.

The other way you can tell if something is a minor key is that you will see repeating accidentals (sharps, flats, or naturals) in the piece. The accidental will always be on the note below the minor tonic. So in D minor, you'll see a bunch of C#'s in the music, because C is below D. In A minor, you'll see all the G's raised to G#, because G is below A.

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#1104201 - 01/01/08 04:22 PM Re: How do I know what scale I'm playing on?
Gyro Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/24/05
Posts: 4533
The context would suggest the key. If
you start on C in the r.h., this harmonizes
nicely with an F maj. triad in the l.h.
Moreover, you can stay with an F maj. triad,
F A C, and its first inversion, A C F,
in the l.h., all the way through the song
until "...high ho the derry o the farmer in
the dell.", changing to a C maj. triad
in first inversion, E G C, on "in the" only,
to conclude the stanza. C is the V chord
in F maj., and the V-I sequence often
finishes a stanza in a maj. key. Moreover,
eveything falls nicely under the l.h.
without much moving around: F A C,
A C F, F A C, A C F,..., E G C, F A C.
This all suggests the key of F maj.,
rather than C maj., even if there is no
Bb in the r.h. melody.

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#1104202 - 01/01/08 07:16 PM Re: How do I know what scale I'm playing on?
playadom Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/21/06
Posts: 1366
Loc: New Jersey
 Quote:
Originally posted by keystring:

The other way you can tell if something is a minor key is that you will see repeating accidentals (sharps, flats, or naturals) in the piece. The accidental will always be on the note below the minor tonic. So in D minor, you'll see a bunch of C#'s in the music, because C is below D. In A minor, you'll see all the G's raised to G#, because G is below A. [/b]
Not always!

While this is usually true, this only holds for the harmonic minor scale. Sometimes the natural minor is used, which retains the original leading tone.
_________________________
Practice makes permanent - Perfect practice makes perfect.

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#1104203 - 01/01/08 07:27 PM Re: How do I know what scale I'm playing on?
keystring Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/11/07
Posts: 12472
Loc: Canada
 Quote:
While this is usually true, this only holds for the harmonic minor scale. Sometimes the natural minor is used, which retains the original leading tone
This was meant only as a very general sketch for someone trying to orient themselves in key signatures for the first time. The melodic minor would also not have the C# in the descending D minor scale. However if you have a bunch of repeating accidentals, they can be a clue that you are dealing with a minor scale.

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#1104204 - 01/01/08 07:28 PM Re: How do I know what scale I'm playing on?
keystring Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/11/07
Posts: 12472
Loc: Canada
There should be an "oops, double post" icon.
\:o

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