Key and Capo

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andypandyp Frets: 192
Bear with me here... I’m learning theory stuff just now and working on key and modes etc. and I’m finding it really interesting, but some seemingly simple stuff still stumps me.

My 8 year old son is learning to play and his homework at the moment is a chord sequence of Am, C, G, D. So I used this as a wee test for myself and worked this out as being in the key of G. But... he’s playing those shapes with a capo on the third fret, so it’s not actually in G, is it? What key is this in and how do I work it out? Hope that makes sense.

I tried to figure this out but can’t quite get it and I’m interested in how to work it out as much as what the answer is.

Thanks in advance.

Andy
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  • RolandRoland Frets: 2174
    Third fret is three semitones up. Walking up the semitones from G you have G G# A A#.

    A little more information: A# is also known as Bb (B flat), and G# as Ab.
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  • ...and if you are playing in Bb that’s officially jazz. Fact. 

    ——————————————————————————-

    Without rewatching it I’m sure this is the Rutbuster that goes through how to work out what key you are in, it looks like you have it but it might fill in any gaps. Quite an easy watching series. 

    https://youtu.be/fhGx-D7KCUI


    With the capo as Roland said three semitones. Each fret is a semitone and two semitones is a tone. 

    Lots of these  type of diagrams, this is just the first straightforward one I found on google images. Pick the note you are on and count up, use going from G to A#/Bb as your example. You should be able to see if you used the capo on the 12th fret using those same chord shapes you’d be back in G again. 


    https://i.imgur.com/6IWpYvd.jpg


    Hope that’s helpful, got me out of watching Strictly for five minutes...
    Dum dum dum, dum dum de dum, dum dum dum, dum dummmm.
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  • andypandyp Frets: 192
    edited September 22
    Ah right. So it is as simple as moving up the 3 semitones! I wasn’t sure if the capo did something else here in terms of changing the key and it confused me. So if I was to just ignore the capo I would’ve worked it out straight away.

    I knew this was probably a daft question but it’s even dafter than I thought it was. Thanks guys! That’s helped me work out what I wasn’t getting.

    Cheers!

    That rutbuster video was great. It came out just as I was getting into this at my lessons and it really helped. I’ve been “playing” since January 2015 and only now I’m getting more confident with keys and it’s sparking so many questions.
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  • Am, C, G, D with a capo on III gives you Cm, Eb, Bb, F.

    Your original chord progression is indeed in G and goes ii IV I V, the chords you end up with after the capo are ii IV I V in the key of Bb.

    I don't think it matters which way you work it out so long as you end up with the same result.
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  • vizviz Frets: 5093
    edited September 23
    Sorry but I’d be incredibly surprised if that song is in G. It’s in A minor. Well, A Dorian, but anyway it’s a minor piece in A, with the progression i-III-VII-IV. Like Wonderwall or Boulevard of Broken Dreams. I can’t think of any piece that has the progression ii-IV-I-V - it would be almost impossible to interpret that third chord as home. Nobody would say Wonderwall is in E major or Boulevard is in Eb major, it would make zero sense. 

    Now, your son - if he’s playing the same shapes but capoed 3 frets up, he’s still playing i-III-VII-IV, it still sounds like Wonderwall or Boulevard, but now it’s 3 semitones higher, so it’s in C minor (well, C dorian if you want to be precise). Like Stars by Roxette. 

    Edit - Andy, I don’t know how you arrived at G as the key - did you listen to the progression and ‘hear’ the G chord as being home or did you use a theoretical / mathematical approach? I’m wondering if the latter and you maybe took a wrong turning somewhere, perhaps because A Dorian and G major both have an F# note in the D major chord. If you are a novice in theory, by FAR the more reliable method is just to listen to the progression and sing the note that you think the song comes to rest on. That will be the key note, the home note. Then listen to whether it’s major or minor (that will be indicated by the “3rd” of the chord; if the I chord has a MAJOR 3rd, the piece will either be in Major or Mixolydian, or possibly Lydian (or possibly something more exotic). If the I chord has a MINOR 3rd, as in this case, the piece will be in natural minor, dorian, melodic minor or harmonic minor, or maybe phrygian. But normally natural minor or dorian. (This particular piece is marked out as dorian because the IV chord - the D - is a D major, not a D minor.)

    Then if you use a capo, all you are doing is the same as tuning the guitar tighter. You are raising the base pitch of the instrument so everything gets ‘transposed’ up. Same as using a whammy pedal really. 
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  • The chords you name with the capo are merely 'shapes' you are playing in a key. So as Phil mentioned the actual key is Bb due to the capo raising the pitch by 3 semi-tones. I do a lot of songs with beginners using a capo in various positions on the fretboard but allowing them to keep the familiar open D, E, A, C, F and G shapes.
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  • andypandyp Frets: 192
    The chords you name with the capo are merely 'shapes' you are playing in a key. So as Phil mentioned the actual key is Bb due to the capo raising the pitch by 3 semi-tones. I do a lot of songs with beginners using a capo in various positions on the fretboard but allowing them to keep the familiar open D, E, A, C, F and G shapes.
    Yip, this is how I looked at it. The shapes if they were on open strings were in G, but I knew it wasn’t G due to capo. That’s really what made me want to find out more.
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  • @Viz You don't need me or anyone else to point out that A dorian is G. Just in a slightly different order ;)
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  • andypandyp Frets: 192
    Thanks folks.

    Just to maybe add some more context...

    I knew it wasn’t actually in G as the capo was in play, but my way of looking at it was that if these were played open, then it would be in G and my question was how do I translate that to the key that we were actually in.

    What I was trying to do was work out what scales I could use to solo over those chords without using a capo as my son was using it and we only have one here, but I couldn’t figure it out due to the capo changing the key. In terms of arriving at being in “G” (assuming no capo, just based on the open shapes) all I did was refer to a sheet of keys and chords that my tutor gave me to work with. No maths etc, I just checked which key had Am, C, G and D in it.

    The capo is confusing me. I want to think that the guitar is simply now tuned 3 semitones higher than E standard... That would work, right? Open would be in G... so G#... A... A# (Bb). Sorry about this, I’m confusing myself now I think.
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  • @Viz You don't need me or anyone else to point out that A dorian is G. Just in a slightly different order ;)
    I wrote a long, slightly confused reply to Viz which I’ve now deleted as that’s more succinct. Although not even in a different order just from a different starting place. 
    I think I get the point that you might hear it as an A minor progression but if you look at it as a collection of chords you would say it comes from G major. I’ll bow to Viz’s knowledge if he says that’s not really true but to most guitarists I’d suggest they would see that as the key of G. 

    andyp said:
    Thanks folks.

    Just to maybe add some more context...

    I knew it wasn’t actually in G as the capo was in play, but my way of looking at it was that if these were played open, then it would be in G and my question was how do I translate that to the key that we were actually in.

    What I was trying to do was work out what scales I could use to solo over those chords without using a capo as my son was using it and we only have one here, but I couldn’t figure it out due to the capo changing the key. In terms of arriving at being in “G” (assuming no capo, just based on the open shapes) all I did was refer to a sheet of keys and chords that my tutor gave me to work with. No maths etc, I just checked which key had Am, C, G and D in it.

    The capo is confusing me. I want to think that the guitar is simply now tuned 3 semitones higher than E standard... That would work, right? Open would be in G... so G#... A... A# (Bb). Sorry about this, I’m confusing myself now I think.
    A capo is a movable nut. So without it in standard you are tuned EADGBE.  Put the capo at the first fret and you are FA#D#G#CF and so on as you keep going up. 
    Although we learn to call those shapes Am G C and D there are different ways to put your fingers down to get those chords and if you put your fingers in the shapes you’ve learned but the tuning is different they aren’t Am G Cand D anymore. They are just shapes rather than anything inherently musical, might as well be called Poppa Bear, Salty, Barry and Pippa. 
    For soloing everything you did over G would work over Bb as long as it is moved up three semitones. This is the good and bad of playing the guitar. If you learn the guitar as a series of shapes that can move about that’s musically quite lazy but it’s a shortcut to actually playing stuff. You couldn’t move everything up three semitones on a clarinet or a piano and play everything the same, you would have to apply your theoretical knowledge and/ or learn new shapes. With guitar you just move everything across and start playing. 
    Dum dum dum, dum dum de dum, dum dum dum, dum dummmm.
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  • vizviz Frets: 5093
    edited October 6
    @Viz You don't need me or anyone else to point out that A dorian is G. Just in a slightly different order
    Ha no indeed not

    But there are two things which I’d add to that (which I know you know too!)

    1) Firstly the “key” is not necessarily the same as the “key signature”.  So to say A Dorian is G has grave consequences!!! They use the same notes but they are not the same thing. Well, not grave to us because we know this stuff but grave to people starting out on this, because this piece has virtually nothing to do with G, not in how it sounds anyway. In the same way that Code has virtually nothing to do with Deco. 

    Here the question is what key is the song in, and in an actual real-life situation, people would  call out “it’s in A”, or better, “it’s in A minor”, or better still “it’s in A minor but the IV chord is major”, or best of all “it’s in A Dorian”. So the key is A Dorian; the key signature could be the same as G major - though actually it probably wouldn’t be, which is my second (lesser) point - see below:

    2) Secondly, in almost every Dorian piece I’ve seen, the key sig is written as though the piece is in the natural minor, then the 6th note is raised using accidentals whenever the IV chord comes up. 

    Hence Wonderwall is written in F#minor with 3 sharps, and the IV chord (B) has a D# indicated as an accidental throughout. Boulevard is written in F minor with 4 flats, and the IV chord (Bb) has a D natural indicated with the natural sign throughout. Even Greensleeves is written as though it’s in natural minor. The only exception to this that I can think of right now is Debussy’s Sunken Cathedral which is notated in Mixolydian. 

    So for this song in A Dorian, I’d say “it’s in A Dorian”, and notating it I’d write it as in A minor with no sharps or flats, and I’d indicate the F# on the D chord whenever it came up. 


    ——————————————————————


    I am aware this all sounds terribly theoretical and divorced from reality, which is my doing, but I believe that stems from people over-thinking things in the first place. I think the thought process in this song should start incredibly simply, and for those who are interested it can get progressively more detailed, like this:

    1) It’s in A minor, that’s where home is. 

    2) Oh that’s odd, the IV chord is major. I thought minor songs had minor iv chords. That must mean it’s in A Dorian. 

    3) When noodling over this I’ll play in the A blues box (not the G major box!) but I’ll raise the 6th note, especially when the D chord is playing. 

    4) If I ever get round to notating this, the key signature will be A minor - ie it will have no sharps or flats, and I’ll raise the F to an F# with an accidental whenever the D chord is played. 


    The golden rule is (IMO) “What does it sound like?” Only after that should we use theory to understand the why. 
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  • RolandRoland Frets: 2174
    andyp said:
    I was trying to do was work out what scales I could use to solo over those chords without using a capo 
    With the capo on the chords are Cm, Eb, Bb, and F.

    It’s a lot easier to explain which scales to use if we go back to the Am, C, G, D chords, and then worry about transposing up three semitones. The A minor and C major scale use the same notes. G major uses the same, except that it has F# instead of F. D major has both the F#, and also C# instead of C.

    Simple approach: The A minor scale will work almost all of the way through. You can even use it over the G chord because, if you replace the F# in the G major scale with F then the scale becomes G mixolydian. Don’t get put off by the pseudo Greek name. The mixolydian scale appears all over popular music. Over the D chord you just avoid playing the F note.

    Clever clogs approach: as above but make sure that you use the F# over the D chord. This adds melodic interest, and says to the listener “I know what I’m doing here.”

    Chord tone approach: Forget the scales. Focus on the notes in each chord. You can do this by visualising the chord shape as you play. Always end a phrase with a note from the relevant chord.

    The next bit might be contentious for some players. Throw in a few bends. Your ear will tell you whether each bend should be one or two semitones. Throw in a few extra notes. If it sounds wrong then play the adjacent note up or down, or bend a bit further. Remember that any “wrong” note you play is only one fret away from a “right” note, and will sound “right” if you treat it as a passing note on your way to one of the notes in the chord.

    Moving on to soloing over Cm, Eb, Bb, and F. If you use the chord tone approach, and you can visualise your Am, C, G, and D shapes moved up three frets, then you are home and dry. Ditto if you can visualise your Am scale moved up three frets.
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  • markblagdonmarkblagdon Frets: 840
    edited September 23
    @andyp you aren’t actually playing a C chord - it’s a C shaped chord pattern but played 3 frets higher. Try working on understanding where the root note is in each chord and which note they are on the fretboard if you use a capo. This is key to being able to use barre chords (which are like the open chords with your index finger as the movable capo).

    search for CAGED system on YouTube for an explanation of how these chord shapes link up via the root notes all up the fretboard.
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  • andypandyp Frets: 192
    Thanks, that helps too. I do understand a lot of this and can play the chords no problem but lately I’ve decided I want to understand all this so I can use it for this type of thing. It’s proving  quite tough to get my head round some of the pretty fundamental elements.

     
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  • vizviz Frets: 5093
    edited September 23
    andyp said:
    Thanks, that helps too. I do understand a lot of this and can play the chords no problem but lately I’ve decided I want to understand all this so I can use it for this type of thing. It’s proving  quite tough to get my head round some of the pretty fundamental elements.

     
    Maybe take it back to first principles, and the first principle of all is to be able to detect where a piece’s home is. If you close your eyes and listen to Wonderwall and recognise that the song is in the key of the first chord, you’re on to a winner and ready to progress your theory. If you think it’s in the key of the 3rd chord, you might find it better to spend more time really critically listening to music and establishing where home is so that you’re really secure on that, before embarking on keys and signatures and names and numbers. 
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  • andyp said:
    Thanks, that helps too. I do understand a lot of this and can play the chords no problem but lately I’ve decided I want to understand all this so I can use it for this type of thing. It’s proving  quite tough to get my head round some of the pretty fundamental elements.

     
    The advice to find the root notes is the key here. The root of a Gmaj chord is on the 3rd fret of the E string. Bung the capo on and make the G shape. The 'third' fret E string is now a Bb note. It's important to know where all of the notes are on your neck but follow the roots and you will find what the new chord is easily.
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  • You're way ahead of me @Viz, I still think of A dorian as the 2nd mode of G major. We both know it IS that, but have a wis for saying it sounds like Am with a major IV chord. It is that too. :)
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  • vizviz Frets: 5093
    You're way ahead of me @Viz, I still think of A dorian as the 2nd mode of G major. We both know it IS that, but have a wis for saying it sounds like Am with a major IV chord. It is that too.
    It is

    There are so many routes in and interlinkages to be explored on this topic, but maybe that’s for another thread!


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