Banjo Hangout Logo
Banjo Hangout Logo

Premier Sponsors

Fiddle Lovers Online

Discussion Forum

Want to hide these Google ads? Join the Players Union!

 All Forums
 Playing the Fiddle
 Music Theory
 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Calling out the key -some interesting confusion results.

Please note this is an archived topic, so it is locked and unable to be replied to. You may, however, start a new topic and refer to this topic with a link:

Page: 1  2  

Snafu - Posted - 10/15/2017:  18:31:57

I was recently at a slower pace bluegrass jam where the lady singer called out a song in the key of Bflat. I thought that was somewhat of an unusual key but figured I’d give it a go on the fiddle because I’ve been practicing playing in different keys. As an aside, calling out Bflat elicited quite a few side conversations among the banjos and guitarist about capo positioning and which chords were the I, IV and V in that key. I wish I had paid attention to that conversation but I was busy trying to recall the fingering for B flat on my fiddle.

As the song got going, I realized that what the person meant by Bflat was not the key of B flat (where the b’s and e’s are flatted) but more like “oh that key that has a Bflat in it”. Meaning the key of F.

The song was, “interesting”, some playing in the called key and others understanding what the caller of the key really meant. I have been a jams where the key was called out as the number of sharps or flats in it. This I’ve gotten used to since some players don’t have knowledge of or perhaps can’t be bothered with the correct grammar of music.

Any one else have a similar experience like this at a jam?

tonyelder - Posted - 10/15/2017:  20:12:59


but been in situations where the discussion was about how many sharps / flats are in the key that was called.

boxbow - Posted - 10/16/2017:  04:09:12

Sounds like a great example of how not to lead a tune at a jam. Everybody caught on eventually, sure, but a moment of clarity would have been much better. I don't play my Bb tunes at an open public jam unless I know the players are up for it.

UsuallyPickin - Posted - 10/16/2017:  06:44:55

There always seems to be a bit of confusion Geee Ceee Deee Beee. I always appreciate it when someone calls out Deee Dog...... etc. At a public jam keep it simple oh yeah ..... R/

Jaunskots - Posted - 10/16/2017:  08:44:00

Key is not always simple for fiddle tunes. I've heard people sing out "D-ish" or "A but only two sharps" for modal tunes that are kind of difficult to classify, neither major nor minor, and drive beginning guitarists crazy trying to find chords. That seems reasonable to me; few people know the names of all the modes.

But F major might as well be called just that.

farmerjones - Posted - 10/16/2017:  11:52:41

Those sketchy jams, if they tell me the key I'll take it under advisement, but quietly find it myself.
The last thing I want to do is sound superior, and declare, "I'll find it myself." Because, I might not find it by the time the tune is done. In that case, on to the next, and hope for the best.

Dick Hauser - Posted - 10/17/2017:  06:59:46

I have seen strange things happen in jams, but nothing like the original post described. I wasn't surprised though. There have been many cases I have encountered where people didn't know the difference between a chord and a key. I think the confusion resulted from the way the key was selected. So when they play in the key of "E", do they announce the key by saying "F#,C#,G#, D# ?

boxbow - Posted - 10/17/2017:  17:36:14

I learned to read key signatures through a mnemonic rather than by rote memorization. It means stopping and thinking for a moment, but that works for me. This is out and out speculation on my part, of course, but I wonder if she just dropped a stitch and out popped something that she normally would have had pat.

sbhikes2 - Posted - 10/17/2017:  18:31:44

At a jam recently a guy said he had a tune in key of C and then went on to play an A-minor tune. I told him, "That's not a C tune, that's an A-minor tune. They have the same key signatures, but it's A-minor, not C." He argued with me. I tried to explain that there's no way you can play that tune with C-major chords. It will sound bad. You have to play it with A-minor chords. I also told him there's no way it's a C tune because it resolves on the A, the root note. He thought I was crazy, but he was wrong and I was right, so there.

Fiddler - Posted - 10/17/2017:  19:02:14

Wait until you hit modal tunes - not A maj - not A min - it's uhhhh..... A modal. That will really mess with their minds.

Yes, some uninformed folks have not yet learned that the "pattern" (e.g. no sharps = Key of C) is not always true. They don't know about relative minors and other stuff. And, they will argue in their ignorance!

Hey, I was guilty of this early in my learning and was gently told by a friend and ethnomusicologist that I was wrong. It was then in my embarrassed state that I wished I had really paid attention during my piano lessons. I did apologize later to the person with whom I argued. That experience got me a bit more interested in music theory.

To quote Mark Twain: "Better to Remain Silent and Be Thought a Fool than to Speak and Remove All Doubt."

mmuussiiccaall - Posted - 10/17/2017:  19:55:47

I'd be interested in what the other "Am" chords are.

Fiddler - Posted - 10/17/2017:  20:44:17

Some one with music theory will have a better answer. The Am scale has a flatted 3rd or C natural.

Some A modal tunes may not use the C natural all of the time - it may shift from Aeolian mode to Dorian mode or Ionian mode within the tune. So, there is a need to know modes - is it Aeolian mode, Dorian mode, Myxolidian Mode, etc. (There are seven modes.) The mode will tell you what chords are appropriate.

Ok - I've exhausted my knowledge of music theory. Someone else can take over.

Snafu - Posted - 10/18/2017:  07:54:42

Ive learned over my few years of fiddle playing that what the Irish world calls tunes (meaning no words) are almost always played in a specific key or mode. I’m still stying to wrap my head around the concept of modes so I just learn ‘em in the standard key and play along.

In bluegrass I’ve also learned much to my newbie fiddler angst that the singer gets to call the key he/she wants to sing in and don’t argue. Either play or sit that one out. On guitar I knew quite a few chords and could usually manage or look at other knowledgeable guitarists and catch on to the proper chords. For fiddle the fingering of the different keys is so subtle that unless I’m right next to the fiddler and my sight line is perfect I cant visually distinguish the keys.

Playing fiddle well in bluegrass jamis a hard learning curve, at least for me!

tpquinn - Posted - 10/18/2017:  17:07:32

This seems to be coming back around to previous threads on keys and modes and how blasted difficult it is to understand. I'm trying to devote a portion of my lesson time to music theory and modes and major and minor scales and and and... argh!

This does remind me of a music circle I was at a few months ago when a woman with a banjolele called out a key, started to play, and others came to a halt stating she wasn't playing in the key she called. Can't remember if it was figured out, but there was some interesting discussion. I kept my mouth shut.

sbhikes2 - Posted - 10/19/2017:  20:11:24

Maybe this confusion is why old-time jams tend to play all in one "key" until the tunes run out. So we'll play "D tunes" which will mean D-major tunes or D-modal tunes (usually D-tunes that have C naturals in them, which would be D-mixolydian but nobody is so pretentious as to say such a $10 word). But we won't play any A tunes that have G naturals (those would be A-modal tunes, or A-mixolydian tunes for the technically-inclined, and we'd save those for a night we play "A tunes".)

This key signature/modal thing really does start to make sense once you've played the music for a while, and I swear you don't need to know anything more than if it's a major or a "modal" tune.

Fiddler - Posted - 10/20/2017:  04:14:05

Blame the banjoists for the key issue in old time jams. Go from Ionic mode to Dorian mode or Aeoloian mode and they have to totally retune. And since most banjoists are tone deaf, it takes them forever to get anywhere close to being in tune. This is one reason many of us are so thankful for technology and inexpensive tuners.

Please - I'm only kidding the banjoists. However, .... Staying in one key for a while is really due to them and sometimes to the fiddlers who like to cross tune. Otherwise we would only get to play a few tunes at OT jams. It's an efficiency thing.

fujers - Posted - 10/20/2017:  22:52:14

This maybe a little off centered..but Im allways a little off centered. You know playing in Bb is a little bit hard to play in even for seasoned players. Now not that's it's hard or any thing it's just that you have to use a different position for you I said it's not hard. When you are learning to play scales. I would check out the pentatonic scales. Now these scales are just about as easy as tying your shoe. You know without this scale most of your bluegrass players wouldn't exist, without these scales you couldn't play just about all the music you are trying to play. This is the Gmaj pentatonic scale and it has only 5 notes instead of 7 notes in your regular G scale. The notes are what I suggest it to take it up an octave..same notes..Jerry

sbhikes2 - Posted - 10/21/2017:  18:57:30

You use a different position to play in Bb? What is you do? I genuinely don't know. Do you do it to play in F, too?

boxbow - Posted - 10/22/2017:  05:59:37

Bb feels different from the more common fiddle keys. I think it's because of where it lays on the fingerboard in 1st position. We're used to a half step interval between middle and ring finger placements in, say, D or A. Bb has a full step interval there, and there are fewer open strings involved. It's perfectly doable, it just feels strained at first. I don't know any tunes in F, but it seems similar.

Dick Hauser - Posted - 10/22/2017:  07:09:48

I play the key of "F" in the first position. I play most music in the keys of C,G,D,A,F,Bb. I think that like anything else, doing something improves your ability to perform something. Playing tunes in the keys of F and Bb maintains my ability to play tunes on those keys. I consider the tune "Done Gone" an exercise in playing in the key of Bb. The only problem I ever had with playing in the key of F was resisting sharpening the F note. Just before I play a tune in F or Bb, I consciously remind myself that I am about to play in those keys. As you probably guessed, I play a lot more tunes in G,D,A than I do C,F,Bb. Except for waltzes.

fujers - Posted - 10/22/2017:  14:02:28

This is what I do if im ever playing in those chords. Have you ever giving the cycle of fifths a look at. The cycle will show you relative minors for each keys. So lets say I was playing in F..I can see on the chart the relative minor is D or D minor. What I do is if I play F is to play a lot of my stuff in can play all you want but you have to resolve it to F. Hitting the F ties what you play you don't sound like a weirdo if you didn't. Bb pretty much the same thing..the chart tells me that the relative minor to Bb is G or G minor. Then I just play G minor over the the end I have to resolve to the Bb. But there's an easier way and that's the pentatonic scale. I've already written a little bit about them I think you might find it in the Sound Off forum. Now it really depends on how much you want to know about fiddling..some want just a little and some want a lot. Any way up to you. Man I love this stuff. Jerry

Lonesome Fiddler - Posted - 10/22/2017:  17:24:05

It soon becomes apparent how similar the first position Bb and F scales are to the C scale we know (and hate) so much. You know where the C is on the A string, right? The F is at the same position only on the D string. The Bb note is at the same position on the G string. To play those scales, just start the C scale a string or two down.

To do a first position Major Bb scale on the A and E strings, I just move my hand toward the nut a half-step and start the scale at the half-step spot on the A string. I then use my pinkie to hit the fourth and eighth notes in the scale.

buckhenry - Posted - 10/22/2017:  21:36:36


Originally posted by fujers

 What I do is if I play F is to play a lot of my stuff in can play all you want but you have to resolve it to F. 

This is interesting Jerry, playing in cross keys. Playing the D aeolian notes in F major would extend the tonic chord with the 6th note. So if you played the notes of C mixolydian in  F you may get the extended chord with the major 7th note and the 9th...


fujers - Posted - 10/22/2017:  22:55:04

Man you lost me with the theory part. I guess and.... I know you can play any mode you want too while playing F or Bb. I try and mix it up the best I can..but I mainly stick to the minor of the major plus I mix in pents. I like the pents the best because your not locked into a scale you can play anything you want.

Just a little heads up. You don't have to end a phrase in the song on F. You can play any note you want to just as long as it pertains to the original key. Jerry

buckhenry - Posted - 10/22/2017:  23:07:17


Originally posted by fujers

Man you lost me with the theory part. 

Ha Ha, yeah I was intent on bamboozling you, and I succeeded.  You see D aeolian has the same notes as F major, so does C mixolydian, so does Bb lydian....and so does G dorian...all the same notes right. So I dont know why you dont just think of the notes as F major, you know the chord notes of each chord in that key and you can add extensions when ever want, so just play them? And people may think you are weird if you finish a phrase on any note other than a chord tone...?

Edited by - buckhenry on 10/22/2017 23:07:46

fujers - Posted - 10/22/2017:  23:08:39

The most common keys for the fiddle are GDAE just like the strings on your fiddle. It's because those strings offer you more open notes than any other keys. The second dairy keys are CFBb. These keys offer you less open notes but still over a challenge but easy to play in once you get the know them. The hardest..It may be easy for you..but hard for me is..Eb, Ab, C# and F#. These keys do not if any have no open notes if any. We as fiddles just love the open notes because you use less fingers..and the less fingers the better. Jerry

fujers - Posted - 10/22/2017:  23:18:59

Now Henry don't forget who you are talking..I'm just an Old Country boy that doesn't know nothing. Yes you can play any mode you want to as long as the notes are there. I was explaining it simply..that's is what I do you know what I do you know. Then you come along saying things like...F is related to the Dm and the Dm is related to your if you pull off your'll have to start all over again..hehe

buckhenry - Posted - 10/22/2017:  23:22:24

Jerry, if you are playing in F major, you play the notes in that key, not D minor ( Aeolian ) or C mixo, or Bb Lydian, and neither G dorian. Even though they ALL use the same notes, you are playing in the key of F MAJOR.....!

buckhenry - Posted - 10/22/2017:  23:37:07


Originally posted by fujers

So lets say I was playing in F..I can see on the chart the relative minor is D or D minor. 

Sorry Jerry, I thought you said this before I did, and it seems as though you understand theory..Apparently not.

fujers - Posted - 10/22/2017:  23:56:04

Well, Modes are modes and scales are scales. Depending on what you play you may have to branch out to the the unknown. I know as well as you that different mode have there own character about them. You can sit here and play modes all day and with a stroke of the bow I can play just 3 scales with different intervals play till my hearts content. High low and in between You can play circles around someone who has knowledge about all you speak of. There is no secret or mystery in Improv..there just the knowing of how to play. So playing in F does not scare me or does's just knowing how to play in these keys...know..I've told you this before..I don't play play in C#.F# or Ab..because everyone I know just don't go there. Jerry

fujers - Posted - 10/22/2017:  23:56:51

Theroy, I know enough to me by buddly

fujers - Posted - 10/23/2017:  00:01:42

henry, I've got to do to bed now...time to change my depends diaper. Maybe we'll talk some more. Jerry

Peghead - Posted - 10/29/2017:  07:02:17

If you look at Jerusalem Ridge written out in musical notation you might think it's in the key of C major (no sharps, no flats) but it's clearly an A minor tune (the aeolian minor) a mode of C. Same scale notes, different leading tones and relative intervals make for the difference.

pete_fiddle - Posted - 10/29/2017:  10:58:07

i know that you probably all know this already but for clarification

C major has no sharps or flats

A  Aolian minor has no sharps or flats and is the relative minor of C Major, or the 6th Aolian mode of C Major

A Harmonic minor has a G# instead of a G natural

A Melodic minor Ascending has F# as well as a G#  instead of  F natural and G natural

A Melodic  minor Descending has the G# taken back to G natural and the F# taken back to F natural

A Jazz Minor is the same as A melodic minor Ascending and keeps the same notes Ascending or  Descending

...Chords modes and pentatonics can be built from any, and all of these scales and all impart their own flavours....

Then there are the Neapolitan Major and minor with their chords and modes, the Harmonic Major and its chords and modes, the Bebop and Blues scales with their respective chords modes and inversions ,..and probably more that i dont know of ......just learn all of these through a couple or three octaves in the 12 keys, and where they sit on the fiddle neck, learn to use them with some nice cadences, progressions, melodic phrases and harmonies, etc, with impeccable tasteful and authentic sounding technique, intonation and timing (in whatever genre) and i'll be good to go!

(better get that cack off my bow and put some new strings on first.... and maybe wash the diesel off my fingers...get some logs in....)

Right here i go ! ....

Edit:... again

Edited by - pete_fiddle on 10/29/2017 11:02:52

Brian Wood - Posted - 10/29/2017:  13:55:25

Many years ago I did a show with my group with Peter Rowan. While onstage Peter called out a key, and one of the guys (Ernie) was fairly hard of hearing and didn't get it. Peter asked him what to say if you want to play in a certain key, and Ernie answered "G George", "C Charlie" "D dog", and so on. So Peter says what do you say if you want to play in F? Ernie looked nervous, and then said "We don't play in F"...

Joel Glassman - Posted - 11/02/2017:  18:58:17

This chart shows a mandolin E scale. You play this by placing your first finger on the E note on the D string and the B note on the A string. One finger covers 2 strings. Move that finger up 1/2 step and you are playing in F. Learning to slide up 1/2 step takes a little practice but isn't hard. Notice the symmetry of whole steps in this chord/scale grid. A very good way to solo in the Key of F

Brian Wood - Posted - 11/02/2017:  22:39:41

What? Oh, never mind. 

Edited by - Brian Wood on 11/02/2017 22:41:02

Joel Glassman - Posted - 11/03/2017:  20:24:52

"What? Oh, never mind" seems kind of sarcastic Brian Wood. Mandolins are tuned like violins. The chart represents an E scale [on the D string] with the first finger placed on the E note. Each vertical line is a mando fret, which is a half step. The E major scale is E F# G# A B C# D# E as shown. This is a "closed position" meaning there are no open strings. Place your first finger on any note and play a major scale. The key you are in is named by the first finger note. Very easy to play in the keys of Bb, F and C that way. Those notes are each three half steps above the open G, D and A strings.

Edited by - Joel Glassman on 11/03/2017 20:27:12

buckhenry - Posted - 11/04/2017:  15:40:05


Originally posted by Joel Glassman

This chart shows a mandolin E scale. 


I think you forgot to read the original post....?

Joel Glassman - Posted - 11/04/2017:  16:34:37

There were recent posts about playing in Bb and F. This is a way to do it.

Brian Wood - Posted - 11/04/2017:  19:31:58


Originally posted by Joel Glassman

There were recent posts about playing in Bb and F. This is a way to do it.

I’m not sure what happened here. I don’t need advice on how to play in F. I tried to relate a true and funny (at the time) story that happened to me that had to do with calling out keys on stage (or at a jam). I should’ve used a smiley or something (except I NEVER use smilies). The nervous “we don’t play in F” was Ernie making a joke on the spur of the moment. Everybody laughed. That’s it.

Joel Glassman - Posted - 11/05/2017:  05:08:29

Brian: See where said I was replying to "recent posts about playing in Bb and F"? Your [one] post wasn't about that. This was directed to buckhenry and fujers, not you.

pete_fiddle - Posted - 11/05/2017:  06:57:38

calling ... "The".... Key aint  that simple take this progression (again) C/// |C/// | E7/// | E7/// | A7/// | A7/// | Dm/// | Dm/// |

Its "All of me" written out in the Key of C, But whats going on there? the only time you are in in the key of C major there is....erm  on the C Major chord

Then the next line is E7/// | E7/// | Am/// |  Am/// | D7/// | D7/// | G7//// | G7/// |

The only time you are in C major is when you get to the G7 Chord???

Then you are back to the first line again C/// |C/// | E7/// | E7/// | A7/// | A7/// | Dm/// | Dm/// | ???

Then it gets nicely weird F /// | Fm/// | Em/// | A7/// | D7/// | G7 /// | C maj ...ahhh | G7 ...ohh! |

i suppose it is simple in the fact that it starts and ends on C Major (for a couple of bars) and ends on C major,  but you have to know what keys it passes through to get away from C major and back again before you could pick up the progression and run with it. or make substitutions and neat licks that fit with the progression

.....and thats just a really simple (and neat) little Jazz tune, that can and probably has been Blue Grassed up

...then take all that modal and bluesy stuff that folks play ......etc....etc...

Brian Wood - Posted - 11/05/2017:  08:18:13


Originally posted by Joel Glassman

Brian: See where said I was replying to "recent posts about playing in Bb and F"? Your [one] post wasn't about that. This was directed to buckhenry and fujers, not you.

I see. Your post followed mine so I thought you were talking to me. It helps to indicate what you are replying to, especially if it isn't to the original post.


ChickenMan - Posted - 11/05/2017:  08:29:02


It helps to indicate what you are replying to, especially if it isn't to the original post.

And because some of us skip past posts when those two hijack a thread. ->>>> smiley

buckhenry - Posted - 11/05/2017:  16:11:18


Originally posted by pete_fiddle

calling ... "The".... Key aint  that simple take this progression (again) C/// |C/// | E7/// | E7/// | A7/// | A7/// | Dm/// | Dm/// |


But this a common progression of dominant 7ths...and one still could play only C major scale notes regardless of the chord modulations..?

So this tune is in the key of C major, but to make improvisations sound sophisticated one should play the chordal tones.  

DougD - Posted - 11/05/2017:  17:01:46

Pete, to my way of thinking you make music a lot harder than it really is! "All of Me" written in the key of C is in .... the key of C - it doesn't change key just because the chords change, even if the chords are chromatic, not based only on the diatonic scale, any more than "Soldier's Joy" changes key when an A chord comes along.

I agree with Henry - that's a very common progression, I think called secondary or extended dominant seventh chords. They descend in fifths until they get to the dominant that leads back to the tonic. In C this usually starts with E7 or A7, and most people I know would just say it goes "around the horn" or is a "ragtime" progression ("Don't Let Your Deal Go Down" does this, for example).

That G7 at the end of the bridge is just a little turnaround that leads back to the tonic at the start of the verse - another common trick.

Just to be clear - to my way of thinking it doedn't "pass through other keys" to get from C to C. Those are just chord changes, not key changes.

Edited by - DougD on 11/05/2017 17:08:08

pete_fiddle - Posted - 11/06/2017:  01:02:46

yep i like to follow the Chords and know what they are doing (or at least my idea of what they are doing), just riding over chords with say C major would sound dull to me

to my way of thinking, that first line, goes from C to A minor as soon as the E7 comes in, so i could delay hitting the E7 by using a different way of adding tension to resolve to A minor by say using G#dim, or Bm7b5 then hit the E7 to keep the tension up ........But then! Instead of resolving on A minor, the progression jumps to the 5th of D minor with th the A7 chord,  adding even more tension and signaling that its going to resolve to D minor, so i could extend that V-I D minor progression as well, by introducing passing chords/modes that resolve to D minor

the second answering line starts in A minor with the E7 chord then gets back to C via a V-V-I progression D7-G7..... leading back to the 1st C maj section

havn't worked out the F - Fmin bit yet ?, so i just follow the two chords, but the rest is just a V-V-V-I progression back to C

of course all these chords have there respective modes that do the same job as the chords, eg: E mixolydian b9 to A (harmonic)minor, for  E7-Am...etc, so i use those on the fiddle.... or arpeggio's, pentatonics, double stops etc derived from them

To my way of thinking then, the progression starts on C, visits other keys and eventually ends up back in C,

buckhenry - Posted - 11/06/2017:  03:25:54


Originally posted by pete_fiddle


To my way of thinking then, the progression starts on C, visits other keys and eventually ends up back in C, this what you're gonna tell the jammers before you play 'that' tune....?


BTW....G#dim and Bm7b5, would be easier to think.... E7b9+11, and all the notes in this chord are in the key of ''C'' except one...G#...



pete_fiddle - Posted - 11/06/2017:  03:38:47

No but i like to know what the whole progression is rather than them just tell me "its in C"??

BTW the G# as you know, is the leading note for Am (Harmonic/melodic/and jazz minor) and the G natural is the Dominant of C, so by sharpening the G it leads the progression away from C Major and into A minor

Edited by - pete_fiddle on 11/06/2017 03:42:24

Page: 1  2  

Hangout Network Help

View All Topics  |  View Categories