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20: Keys

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Lesson 20: 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 11: 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
E
D
C
D
E
E
E
<- 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
G
F
E♭
F
G
G
G
<- 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.

When you're sure you understand how keys work, you can start learning about chord progressions in Lesson 21: Roman Numeral Chords.

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Lessons

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

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