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19: Keys

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Lesson 19: Keys

This lesson explains what a musical key is. Keys are a basic music concept which you will need in order to understand both chord progressions and written music.

Before taking this lesson, you should know: major scales (Lesson 10: Major 1-2-3 Games).

In most songs, one particular pitch feels like the "resting" or "home" pitch; this pitch is the song's key. For example, if the pitch C feels like the home pitch, then the song is "in the key of C".

Keys can be major or minor. If a song's home pitch is C and most of the song's notes come from the C major scale, then we say the song is in the key of C major. If the song's notes come from a C minor scale, then the song is in the key of C minor.

Now let's see how you can play the same song in different keys. First, here is "Mary Had A Little Lamb" in the key of C major:

Ma-ryhadalit-tle lamb
<- Notes (click)
3212333 <- Scale degrees

Click each note button above to hear the song.

Next, below, is "Mary Had A Little Lamb" again, this time in the key of E♭ major:

Ma-ryhadalit-tle lamb
<- Notes (click)
3212333 <- Scale degrees

Again, click each note button.

Notice that when you play the song "Mary Had A Little Lamb" in a different key, all the pitches change, but the scale degrees stay the same. You can play "Mary" in any key by playing scale degrees 3-2-1-2-3-3-3 from that key's major scale.

You'll use keys to understand chord progressions, in Lesson 20: Roman Numeral Chords.


1: Introduction
2: Practicing Songwriting
3: Pitch Names
4: Letters Game
5: Sharps & Flats
6: Half-Steps & Whole-Steps
7: Steps Game
8: Scales
9: Major Scale 1-2-3
10: Major 1-2-3 Games
11: Major Scale 1-5
12: Major 1-5 Games
13: Chords: Major Triads
14: Major Triad Games
15: Minor Triads
16: Minor Triad Games
17: Major Scale 1-8
18: Major Scale Games
19: Keys
20: Roman Numeral Chords
21: Scales Above 8
22: Diatonic Triads
23: Using Diatonics
24: Tonic Function
25: Subdominant & Dominant
26: Diatonic Function Analysis
27: Natural Minor Scale
28: Natural Minor Games
29: Minor Key Triads
30: 7th Chords
31: 7ths Games
32: Suspended-4th Chords
33: Time: Beats & Measures
34: Starting a Song: Hook Chords
35: Melody: Chord Tones
36: Treble Staff
37: Treble Staff Game
38: Note Lengths
39: Tied & Dotted Notes
40: Rhythm: Rests
41: Key Signatures
42: Diatonic 7ths
43: Non-Root-Bass Chords
44: Major Pentatonic Scale
45: Embellishing Tones
46: Melody Rhythm: Rolling Stone
47: Pitch & Frequency

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