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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: What key am I playing ?

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tabsavont - Posted - 11/11/2017:  08:46:31

I knew this day would come, that some time it might help if I knew a little music theory. When it comes to theory a dark fog rolls over my brain ! I've played the mountain dulcimer for almost 15 yrs. and if any of you have ever played with dulcimer players know we almost always play in the key of D. I mostly us tab but I can read music I just do better with tab . My friends call me tabsavont I started playing the fiddle a few years ago and found it very easy to use dulcimer tab to play it but of course it was always in the key of D . fiddle players are very versatile and play in lots of keys , but as long as I played with dulcimer players I was ok. I can play in other keys as long it is an open position I cant transpose dulcimer tab over to a closed position but I have found that dulcimer tab works on any string you start on until you get to the E string then you have to move up the string. So here is my question I'm working on this song that I really want to learn I'm doing ok in the key of D. the first pick up note starts on the G string no 1 if I move that pick up note to the D string and start the song from there what key would I be playing in? My brain tells me that I'm. now in the key of A but but my ear wants to say I'm still in the key of D. and if I play the song starting on the D string will it harmonize with someone starting on the G string So this is my dilemma of being a dulcimer player tabsavont trying to learn fiddle. wanting to find my way through the dark fog of music theory

amwildman - Posted - 11/11/2017:  09:11:22

What note does the tune resolve to? Most often the ending note will tell you the key.

amwildman - Posted - 11/11/2017:  09:14:45

Also, if a tune is in D and you move it up one fiddle string, it becomes a fifth higher. Key of D becomes A, G becomes D etc.

Lonesome Fiddler - Posted - 11/11/2017:  13:50:33

Zillions of exceptions notwithstanding, the first pick up note in folk tunes tends to be the fifth, in other words the fifth note in the scale of the key the tune is in. For example, if the first note in the song you want to play is, say, G, chances are the tune is in the key of C. If the first lead-in note is A, chances are the tune is in D. If it's D, the tune is probably in G.

Then again, sometimes a tune's intro just chugs along for a few beats in the key the tune is actually is in. Ya gotta listen! Hum it!

Dave S - Posted - 11/11/2017:  18:23:17

As Aaron wrote (and as your brain told you), it will be in the key of A but the tune played there will very likely not harmonize in a pleasing way with the tune played in D. What will result is referred to around here as "Chinese" harmony.

To get a sense of that, play a simple melody on, for example, just the A string, and then try playing it double-stopped on the E string at the same position, so each note on the A string has a partner note a 5th above on the E string. Bluegrass players occasionally use this technique to get the characteristic dissonant and somewhat jarring sound of it, but it has to be used very sparingly.

Figuring out good harmony parts is not that difficult to do once you get the hang of it, but it is more complicated than just moving across one string.

Joel Glassman - Posted - 11/12/2017:  09:02:16

There are many online sources for ABC notation of fiddle tunes.
Most likely the tunes you want to play are available. They can be easily changed to standard notation. Transposing dulcimer notation in your head seems like a hard way to go. As far as determining what key you're in, try to superimpose an arpeggio over the last few notes. That will likely be the key you're in.

boxbow - Posted - 11/12/2017:  11:38:53

If reading standard notation is as dodgy as you say, and for some it is, then you need to move right on to ear training. Learn how to send your fingers to the notes you hear in your head as they come. That is not about theory so much as it is about what sounds right. If you want to discuss it with somebody, OK, maybe a little theory would help. If you want to play the note that you hear in your head, that means developing your ear. It has long been my opinion that the chief function of music theory is so we can discuss what we play as well as actually play it. Reading standard notation is 80% of understanding most practical aspects of music theory. That's another personal opinion. When somebody in a jam circle starts rattling off 5 or 6 chords in their latest epic, I stop listening to them and listen instead to the music they play. I'm not going to parse music theory as I play any more than I'll do my tax returns.

Edited by - boxbow on 11/12/2017 11:40:18

tabsavont - Posted - 11/12/2017:  15:53:57

Thanks guys great advice ! I don't have a problem with numbers because it is the way I learned to play . Tab let me learn how to play the song right away and eventually to my learning notation and transporting it back into tab. I just naturally read numbers when they are there but can play written music . I don't understand how it works. I use dulcimer tab . and I know Dulcimer people are made fun of because because they almost always play exclusively in the key of D, but I was thrilled when I picked up the fiddle and starting playing Dulcimer tab starting on the D string. I could play pretty good ! and it worked no matter what string I was on but from that point I had no clue what key i'm in especially when the pick up notes started on the sting above The song I was asking about started on E - 1 on the D string and ended open A so I didn't know if the key was E or A . and because I was using D tab only 2# 's could it l be in the key of A? OH please forgive me I know some of you are scratching your head and saying WHAT!
Maybe I posted in the wrong forum should be in playing advice Beginner class !

Lonesome Fiddler - Posted - 11/12/2017:  19:35:13

Glenda -- If the tune starts on the E and ends on the A, chances are better than good that the tune is in A. Tunes usually end on the "Do" of the do-re-me because it lends a finality to them. It should be said, though, that a few old time tunes end on the fifth note of the scale not the first. It's something that gives a tune a pleasing, wistful openendedness. In any case, practice the tune. Get good with it. Eventually, with luck, the melody will make sense. You'll understand it and thus realize what the key is.

amwildman - Posted - 11/12/2017:  20:02:04

Oftentimes an instrument and its layout will distract us from what is really going on with the music. The number of sharps or flats don't define theory, they are merely a manifestation of what is going on with the music. The music is the music, and written stuff is just a representation. As somebody once said, 'Writing about music is like dancing about architecture'.

As I mentioned in my first post, if you want to know what key the tune is in, you need to figure out what note your tune resolves to. If your ear tells you the tune wants to end on D, well, it's a D tune. The tune may actually end on another note, but the note that your ear wants to end the tune with is the one that matters. Most tunes beg to resolve to a specific note, and that's the clue to unlocking the tune.

Dick Hauser - Posted - 12/30/2017:  07:32:09

If I am playing a tune by "ear", I can usually tell what key a tune is in by checking which notes must be sharpened or flattened. For example, just an F#, most likely the key of G. F# and C# probably the key of D. Add a G# to that, and key is probably A. When I play in the key of E, I just think "play in the key of A, but also sharpen the D note". The same logic works for they keys of C, F, Bb. C - all naturals, F - Bb, Bb - Bb and Eb.

This method is not foolproof. There are incidentals, but unlike sharps/flats for keys, they are not consistently used. There are other things. The key of A Mixolydian mode uses an F#/C#/A#.But in the music G# become incidentals that are changed to G natural. Mentally, when I played A Mixolydian tunes my mind says "just play like the tune is in the key of D".

Some tunes modulate. The key will change for parts of a tune.

There are no fool-proof ways I am aware of. There seems to be exceptions to every rule. So precede everything I wrote with the word "Generally".

The original post mention playing with mountain dulcimers. Sometime guitarists/fiddlers/banjoists learn to play a tune with mountain dulcimer groups. But like the original post says, mountain dulcimer players play everything in the key of D. So when one of these string players starts playing in a tune in the key of D, they are informed that the tune is normally played in a different key. Their reactions vary from indignation to thanks.

ChickenMan - Posted - 12/30/2017:  12:53:06

What tune are you playing? If it has two sharps and has the start/end notes you describe, like say, “Old Joe Clark,” then you are playing in A mixolidian. That’s Theory Speak for key of A with that with that note two steps lower than A (G natural instead of G sharp). An old fella I played with called it a “drop down” tune because because you would drop the chord down from A to G, (or G to F or in the case of “The Cuckoo’s Nest” D to C). Some call them ‘modal’ tunes in reference to any unusual chord structure, but that term is not just used to describe Mixolidian tunes.

Sing/play do re mi fa sol la ti do - 12345678. 7 is the G# in key of A. If you lower or flat the 7th, you get something that gets called a dominant 7th. Mixolidian is a ‘flat 7th’ key. More of that Theory Speak.

As far as learning other keys, start by learning another scale (do re mi...) that starts on open G and work it through to the high E string - two full octaves. Then find a tune in G “Seneca Square Dance” “Buffalo Gals””Girl I Left Behind Me” and learn that finger board. Check out mandolin TAB if you are in need. I hope you can commit the tunes to memory as that is the way to play traditional old time music.

Edited by - ChickenMan on 12/30/2017 13:02:10

mmuussiiccaall - Posted - 01/07/2018:  21:29:20


Originally posted by tabsavont

Thanks guys great advice ! I don't have a problem with numbers because it is the way I learned to play . Tab let me learn how to play the song right away and eventually to my learning notation and transporting it back into tab.

Learn to play melodies using interval numbers not tab numbers.

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