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  1. #1

    How Does One Determine The Key and Chords to Use?

    Now that I have begun teaching myself to read, I anticipate being able to finally transcribe my original compositions. Once that is done, are their harmonic and theoretic "rules" that are typically followed to determine what key a tune is in - and then which chords to use?

  2. # ADS
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  3. #2
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    Not knowing anything about your compositions, that a very hard question to answer.

  4. #3
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    no. You are the composer, it is your world. Your composition is a musical structure that follows the rules you created for that composition.

    there's no rules about what key to put anything in, but if you'd like some guidelines for a traditional jazz tune, then take your melody and identify the cadences. use the key your cadence resolves to.

    as far as what chords to use, there are no rules there either, but somebody listening should be able to follow your idea or you are not communicating effectively. So there are not rules, but it isn't random. This is where, like Chris said, it is hard to answer without knowing anything about your compositions

  5. #4
    It sounds like you wrote the tunes by ear already? And are now trying to figure out what key they're in?

    It might be better to post some of them once they're written so we can help you analyze them. Some tunes are in more than one key, they can move around, etc.

    Also, it can be VERY helpful (if not necessary) to have some level of understanding of music theory if you want to be able to analyze keys and things like that. So again, looking at specific tunes with us might be a good way to proceed, since we'll be able to analyze the theory, answer questions, and walk through different issues with you.
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  6. #5
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    In my experience jazz musicians can get a bit confused by key signatures when it's complicated beboppy stuff.... It can be a good idea to write things out in no key...

  7. #6
    destinytot Guest
    My two cents...

    Put Chromatic Solfège in your Theory Bag.

    Once you've found where Home is, you've already found the Key.

    And any modulation becomes like Hansel and Gretel's crumbs, which can be thought of as a chromatic trail leading you Home.

  8. #7
    Thanks everyone for your input; it is much appreciated! When I say I'm a new reader, I mean as of 3 weeks :-). And, am beginning to go through The Real Book to get "up to speed" with my band members' repertoire, so it will be a while before I'll have time to even roughly sketch out the tune. I will try to get around to posting a clip of me playing it. Thanks again.

  9. #8
    I do actually actually have a video clip of it on my YouTube channel, which is searchable by googling "Lawrence kincade" but, as I noted, I hope to get the vid posted on here. The tune is called, "An Angel's Whisper"

  10. #9
    Just gave it a listen JF. Totally different from what I was expecting. I thought you had the chord progression written already and wanted to analyze the tune to figure out what key it was in. But you actually want to analyze the single note line to figure out what chords are available to you? Yes?

    I mean, that's one way to go about that. I suppose you could take the time to write down all the notes and try and see if you can figure out what key (or keys) they're all from, then analyze those keys for the chords, then just pick through trial and error to find chords you like. I wouldn't do it that way, but it's possible.

    Two other processes you might want to try.

    1. See if you can just find the bass notes that you like under all your melodic ideas. Can you rework your fingering so that you can fill in a (very simple) bass line underneath the melody. Listen for intervals that you like the sound of. If you can fill in some type of basic lower part, then you've got the roots and melodies figured out. Then filling in the inner voices of the chords is much easier. I find.

    2. Pick a chord type you like, let's say a min9 chord. Multiple ways to play this with the 9 on top (D-9: X5355X and 10X10.10.10.12 come to mind). Try picking out what you feel to be the most important notes within the melody, and try to harmonize that note ALWAYS with the min9 chord. You might not like the sounds created, you might like some but not others... but it will help you get outside the box and find some unexpected twists in your composition. Maybe try this with 3 or 4 or 5 different chords types, always sticking ONLY with that chord type while working on it. You might find from listening that you love that sound of a min9 harmonizing certain notes and a Maj7#11 harmonizing others, and a something else altogether. The idea is to get outside the normal ways of letting diatonic theory dictate everything instead of the ears.

    Both of these ideas are more about experimenting and listening, and making decisions... then using theory to act as backup to figure out what it is we like so much. Both of these may be a bit advanced if you're still having a hard time knowing what the chords of your key are... but still... I don't think it's ever too early to learn to listen and make choices from that place. Though theory should be learned alongside that as well... I feel.

    Hope you'll post a video with some ideas you've got once things are coming along.
    NYC Jazz Guitar Masterclasses - Free Weekly Lessons

    "Jordan Klemons is a great guitarist with unlimited potential. His prodigious technique is never an end in itself but instead the means to musical expression. He is a musician who looks to the past for inspiration and influence yet has a modern conception; he is someone to look out and listen for!"
    -Peter Bernstein

  11. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by jazzfreak View Post
    Now that I have begun teaching myself to read, I anticipate being able to finally transcribe my original compositions. Once that is done, are their harmonic and theoretic "rules" that are typically followed to determine what key a tune is in - and then which chords to use?
    talking about key is almost the same as talking about scale

    you have all the freedom to chose whatever chords you want
    but the most basic (diatonic) approach to harmony is to derive chords from scales.
    This means that you build chords using notes you have in a selected scale (scales can of course change during a song)

    As you derive chords from a scale, each chord built on different degree of a scale has specific characteristic.
    For example: V chord of major, called the dominant, is a major chord and has b7 as first extension

    you can define key by recognizing the scale that you play or search for a dominant chord which is V degree of major or harmonic/melodic minor (of course the scale could also be lydian dominant or altered scale or some other scale to which this rule would not apply). But in those basic scales (major, or melodic/harmonic minor) only the V chord is dominant major chord with b7.
    in case of written music it is best to look at (and learn from) circle of fifths, which explains which diatonic scale has which sharps or flats. System of adding sharps goes in fifths (hence the name circle of 5ths): C major has no sharp notes, G has one (f#), D has two (f#, c#) etc.
    system of flats goes in other direction (in circle of fourths): C major - no flats, F major has bb, Bb major has bb and eb etc.

    Even if you stick to diatonic approach, to every note of melody you play, you can in theory add any chord
    Let say that in C major scale you play D note (2nd note)
    You can add this D to every chord found in C major scale:
    I Cmaj9
    II Dm
    III Em7
    IV Fsus4 or F6 or F13
    V G
    VI Asus2 or Am11
    VII Bdim

    You can also add as many extensions to this chord as you want and also use inversions
    and also break rules of diatonic harmony, make it chromatical and so on.
    Last edited by zelenjava17; 03-10-2016 at 09:22 AM.

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