Musical Key

Someone asked me recently "What is a Musical Key?", so I'd thought to briefly explain this simple yet essential concept in music :)

The Key
  • Identifies the tonic triad (chord) representing the final point of rest for a piece/focal point of a section.
  • Usually noted by a letter name (C, D, E, F, G, A, B) followed by the term major/minor. Eg. C Major.
  • The key chosen depends on the composer to compliment the tonal voice of the piece.
  • Each key is identified by the key signature located between the clef & the time signature.
  • Every major key has a relative minor key. The minor key shares the same key signature but may be natural, harmonic (7th note raised) or melodic (6th & 7th notes raised).
Key signature
It is useful to remember the key signature for a particular key.

Click for larger view
The sequence of the accidentals in the key signature is important & fixed:
  • Sharps: F#, C#, G#, D#, A#, E#, B#
  • Flats: Bb, Eb, Ab, Db, Gb, Cb, Fb
A simple example on how to analyze the key of a piece:

As circled in the excerpt above, the key signature is just F#. Referring to the chart above, the key is identified as G major. This means that throughout the whole piece, all natural F's will be raised to F# unless a natural sign is inserted in front of an F note.

It's a very simple & basic concept, yet one of the most important in music playing & writing. Understanding this concept will make playing music & composing easier. Feel free to ask any questions you like :)

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