Questions about the key of any song

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1)When a song writer composes some lyrics,if they write the music how do they decide what key it will be?

  2)I can harmonise the major scale to get the chords for a major key but have no idea what to do if the song in a MINOR key,help
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  • 1. Depends on the range they can sing in (and play in). They might have to use a capo so as to sing in a key they can't play in

    2. Minor keys are often modes of major keys, the most obvious being the 6th mode (Aeolian). "A natural minor" is the 6th mode of C major. Raise the b7 note of the natural minor scale (G, in Am) by a semitone to get the Harmonic minor scale - allows use of E7 rather than E-7 to give you a more definite push back to the Am chord. Raise the 6th of that scale (keeping the maj7) to even out the intervals between the steps (eg F -> F#) and you get the Melodic minor scale. Often songs in the "minor key" will mix the various scales depending on context (IIRC Greensleeves does this?) so you may find F,F#,G and G# being used at various points within the song.

    HTH :)
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  • vizviz Frets: 4950
    Also d minor is the saddest key. 
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  • 1)When a song writer composes some lyrics,if they write the music how do they decide what key it will be?

      2)I can harmonise the major scale to get the chords for a major key but have no idea what to do if the song in a MINOR key,help
    In my experience, people don't often "decide" what key something is in, as such. They write melodies and harmonies and chords and the key is the result of that, not the starting point.
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  • Irving Berlin only wrote in the key of C for much of his career and he did okay. Although in the days when sheet music and things like hymn books where the main ways of communicating music having songs mainly in C or G  was important anyway. 
    I guess you could think of the key as a function of arrangement rather than writing - think of a song that’s been heavily covered and how many of those versions are in the original key - and, therefore, something to be thought about after. 

    Dum dum dum, dum dum de dum, dum dum dum, dum dummmm.
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  • Singing ranges (typical)

    Soprano: Middle C - 2 Es above middle C
    Alto: The A below middle c - the C above middle C
    Tenor: The C below middle C - the E above middle C
    Bass: 2 As below middle C - middle C

    Training may extend these ranges, but if you want ordinary people to sing a tune you have to set it in a range that is accessible to the untrained voice.
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  • I would try learning some songs in minor keys and analyse the harmonic function of the chords. Or analyse ones you already know. As Phil said, the biggest thing to watch in a minor key is whether the 5 chord is actually a dominant 7th chord rather than a minor 7 chord (E7 instead of Em7 in the key of Aminor). 


    I'd recommend the book  Harmony and Theory by Keith Wyatt, it goes through all of this in a practical way. 


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  • viz said:
    Also d minor is the saddest key. 
    Is it? Toccata & Fugue in Dm ROCKS! Or am I missing something?
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  • FatPeteFatPete Frets: 199
    viz said:
    Also d minor is the saddest key. 
    Is it? Toccata & Fugue in Dm ROCKS! Or am I missing something?

    Trading feedback: Trading feedback
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  • ClarkyClarky Frets: 3003
    I choose the key for a variety of reasons
    the style of music makes a difference for me too

    1 - the melody: I may write a piece and then may find that I need to change the key later to ensure that it sits within the sweet spot of the singer's voice, especially if it's written for someone else to sing.
    This is also true for orchestral composition. The parts must fit within the range of the instruments being used.

    2 - playability: some parts [guitar and bass specifically] may depend on using open strings. Or some instruments prefer certain keys [tenor sax, flute, violin for example]

    3 - power: especially with my orchestral, movie soundtrack / trailer pieces, I may compose a piece and then later change the key so that the lowest note in a bass line is a C [cos the lowest note on the double bass]. The idea is to get the piece as low as it can be to make it sound as powerful as possible whilst ensuring that it can still function given the ranges of the other instruments in the orchestra. This can be a bit of a puzzle to solve but is always worth the effort.
    play every note as if it were your first
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  • vizviz Frets: 4950
    ^ totally agree. And regarding playability, you can usually tell what key a guitar-based song is in even if you don’t have perfect pitch, just from the guitar playing, the use of chord shapes with their distinctive sounds, use of open strings, certain note choices down at the nut, etc. When you hear Hotel California played in A minor it sounds wrong, not only because it’s the wrong pitch but also because the voicings are all different. 
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  • NeillNeill Frets: 373
    Back in the Punk Rock days there was a joke about most songs being in D major as D was the easiest chord to learn to play on guitar.  It doesn't make much sense really as the IV chord would be G which is a difficult chord for a beginner.  

    However, I think within the rock/pop genre, playability, is probably the main factor.  It's a criticism often levelled at guitarists who like to play in A E and D but I remember a story, I'm not 100% certain but I think it was Lionel Ritchie, someone asked him why all his songs were the same tempo and usually in Ab or Bb he said because he wasn't a very good piano player and the black keys were easier to hit.

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  • ClarkyClarky Frets: 3003
    viz said:
    ^ totally agree. And regarding playability, you can usually tell what key a guitar-based song is in even if you don’t have perfect pitch, just from the guitar playing, the use of chord shapes with their distinctive sounds, use of open strings, certain note choices down at the nut, etc. When you hear Hotel California played in A minor it sounds wrong, not only because it’s the wrong pitch but also because the voicings are all different. 
    I had an interesting issue with a recent piece I was working on for my own band [SY3ERIA]
    the song has a difficult riff in it that's in Dm [cos I tune D-standard]..
    the riff needs to be in Dm not only because I need the open D on the 6th string but also because it's where it sounds most powerful..
    I sang the guide vocal track which was fine..
    the singer really struggled with it because it was a bit on the low side for him and so he couldn't get the best out of his voice down there..

    the options I had were..
    change the key of the song - the riff became extremely difficult to play and lost its power
    change the melody - which didn't work because it began to sound more like a harmony part rather than a principle melody..

    the solution - change the key of the verses and chorus's only to Gm, and then write small phrases at the end of the riff in Dm and the end of the chorus in Gm to facilitate the key changes
    the outcome - purely by chance, the song actually sounds better than the original that was in Dm throughout..
    the key changes provide a lift into the verse from the riff and a decent into something darker and more powerful from the chorus dropping down to the riff.. so there's an added dynamic / dramatic effect that's been introduced by the change

    it's interesting that I had a problem to solve, thought it worth trying to compose my way out of trouble, and stumbled upon a better result that never occurred to me when I wrote it first time around
    play every note as if it were your first
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  • Phil_aka_PipPhil_aka_Pip Frets: 8993
    @Clarky I like your approach :)
    "Working" software has only unobserved bugs. (Parroty Error: Pieces of Nine! Pieces of Nine!)
    Seriously: If you value it, take/fetch it yourself
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  • ClarkyClarky Frets: 3003
    @Clarky I like your approach :)
    thanks matey....

    I guess the main point I'm trying to get across is that when I choose a key for a piece or a specific section of a piece..
    there is generally a specific reason for it
    play every note as if it were your first
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