Keys of tunes

Keys of tunes

I have been playing for quite a few years now could anyone tell me how to work out the key of a tune

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Re: Keys of tunes

If you’ve been playing for quite a few years, why the sudden need to know?

Not meaning to be unhelpful or flippant, just wondering why it has suddenly become an issue.

I can’t offer any help because I don’t know. I’ve been playing about 25 years and never needed to.

Re: Keys of tunes

In a very general sense, the note that the tune "wants" to end on is most often the name of the key of the tune. If it ends on a D, for example, it’s probably in the key of D.
That approach is a little bit limited in that it doesn’t account for the modes — your tune ends on a D, but it could also be D minor or D mix, etc. Make those differentiations is a bit harder. Most tune players I know are content to know it’s "D" and let the backers worry about whether they mean "D-dorian" or "D mix" or whatever.
Showaddy is right, though; there shouldn’t be any real need, unless, in the middle of the set, you want to notify the backers of the next turn in the road.

Re: Keys of tunes

There are different clues on the sheet music that will tell you, but I’m guessing that if you don’t know what key you’re playing in, you probably don’t read music.

Often, the last note of a tune (or either part of a tune) is the note of the key that you’re in. Sometimes, when you finish a tune and it sounds like someting is missing at the end, that means that it doesn’t finish on the note of the key that you are in. You can probably find the note easily enough if you try a few notes until it sounds "finished". Then that would be the key of the tune. The you have major and minor to consider and also the fact that some tunes are in other modes such as mixolydian or dorian. Those are a bit more confusing, but, to get a start, try looking for the note that gives the tune a finished sound at the end.
Hope that wasn’t too confusing.

Re: Keys of tunes

haha, I guess cuchulain54 and I were writing at the same time, sorry for saying the same thing twice.

Re: Keys of tunes

In any tune, there is one note that the tune will want to resolve to. In other words, when you play or hum the tune, there is a single note that seems to be dominant. The note that, for instance, would be the drone note. Usually, but not always, the tune will start or end with that note. That note is the key that the tune is in.

Knowing the key by itself, however, is not enough. You would want to know the mode also. I don’t remember the various modes offhand. To be honest, when I think about it, I’m not really sure what difference it makes to know them unless you are doing chordal accompaniment.

A more simplistic way to approach this is determining the key signature. If the tune has an F#, the key signature is G. If it has an F# and C#, the key signature is D. If it has an F#, C# and G#, the key signature is A. But because Celtic is modal music, a tune with a key signature of G that resolves to a D will be in D Mixolydian. Again, I’m not sure it makes any difference to someone playing melody.

I’m sure others here can point you to web sites that explain modal theory.

Re: Keys of tunes

If I don’t already know a key I will drone the D string and see how it sounds. If it sounds good then I’ll assume the key is D. If not I’ll try G, then A, then E, then C. If its a minor sounding tune then I’ll try E-minor, then A-minor, then B-minor.

Of course, I am playing backup so someone else is playing the tune while I conduct my tonal experiments. Anyway, that’s kind of the trial and error method—you can play a drone note and see how it sounds.

In my opinion, the best way is to train your ear to recognize pitches and be able to name them. Also train yourself to recognize the different modes, and scales. Some people can do this, some can’t. But, I’ve found, that by playing tunes often and knowing which mode/key they are in, you naturally develop this power over time (at least to some degree).

Peace.

Re: Keys of tunes

If you’re only trying to play the tune, and your ear is good enough that you know where to put the sharps or flats, then you have no problem.
It’s us accompaniests ( sp ? ) that have the problem, but it usually resolves itself, by ear I find, quite quickly, although the required chord progression may not be so easy.
Incidentally, I was playing the other night with an old pupil of Pete Cooper, who has some reputation as a teacher, and another as a fine performer on the fiddle. She had some copies of some of the tunes he teaches - incidentally, he teaches them by ear, by phrase, and only gives out the music at the end of a class. We ran through a couple of his tunes, which included suggestions for chording, which I didn’t entirely agree with. " Ah, he’s a fiddle-player," she explained. I think you definitely work from different points of view with different instruments, a box player will come up with different chords again, because he only has a small selection.

Re: Keys of tunes

I’ll usually look over at one of the guitarists to see what chords he’s playing, but that assumes you already know guitar chord forms. Can any of you fiddlers out there recognize the key of a tune by looking at what the other fiddlers are doing with their left hands?
I’ve noted that box players can often tell if another boxer is playing either a B/C or a C#/D by their fingerings.

Re: Keys of tunes

Oh yeah, also keep in mind some tunes change key/mode part way through.

Re: Keys of tunes

SO , is it like standard practice to call out
the key of the next tune that you’re about to fly into, to the accomaniests?

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Re: Keys of tunes

only if its not D or G major, as someone mentioned before the phrase usually ends in the key note. I have noticed most tunes follow a basic 1-3-5-8 progression, 4ths and 7ths are unusual. Agreements, disagreements? I know there is a basic musical math formula in there somewhere.

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Re: Keys of tunes

hottfiddler- in addition to when joze mentions, at some sessions the key is sometimes called out when the accompanist is having trouble figuring out what key the tune is, after a tune is started.

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Re: Keys of tunes - The ‘A’ call

Just to confuse things, I recently came across a very confusing practice where this fiddler called out ‘A’ while playing a 3 part reel - 3rd part. I assumed she was shifting into another reel and was trying to tell all and sundry that it was in key of A. Instead she just repeated the reel she had been playing in D major.
Just before I got insulting to the fiddler someone kindly pointed out that this was to tell the other melody players that it was time to go back to the A-section of the tune, in case they got confused with a multi-part reel!! How did they tell me? THey said ‘that was an interesting Amaj chord at the start of the tune last time through’. With a big grin on their face.

Re: Keys of tunes

I have encountered "melody" people who always call out "G" when a one-sharp tune comes up. But that tune could also be in E minor or D mixolidian (or A dorian, I think). It helps to know something of the most common modes in this music, and I would recommend looking at some of the material Session member coyotebanjo has posted on his website to learn more. Tune keys is not something that can be explained in a paragraph or two, and in fact, when I discuss it, I am never fully sure I have my facts right.

That is a good point from Gurnsey Pete about box chords. Boxes have different chords available, some on the push and some on the pull, and the range is not always wide. For example, my box only has E available (an open E that can be used as E major or minor) on the push, so if I need that chord on the pull, I might put a G chord in, which might fit, but not as well as that E chord—or I could just leave a gap in the chord accompaniment. When playing in C, the C note or chord is only available on the push, and the F chord on the pull, which limits you, since there are often places in melodies where you play a C (which must be pushed), and the F chord is what is called for—so you are out of luck.

I find that, in unfamiliar territory, it is sometimes best to stop accompanying at the end of a tune when you don’t know what is coming next. Better musically to have a gap in the accompaniment, and come in later in the tune in the correct key, than to start out wrong, and then drop out.

Re: Keys of tunes

If melody players are calling out "G" when it could be A dorian or any of the other one-sharp modes, those melody players should be beaten soundly about the neck and ears, because what they’re calling out is of no real use to anybody.
On the other hand, if they call out "A" without specifying A-dorian, A-mix, or plain-old A, backers can still function. They can drone on A and E notes, leaving out the third (C or C#) for the first measure or two to buy themselves time to figure out what the tune is or where it’s going.
And, of course, if they guess entirely wrong, they could pretend to break into a coughing fit in the middle of the tune and then slink off to the bar.

I look at the guitar player’s hands to make sure he’s playing the right chords. Not that he can tell me what key it’s in. Its’s the other way ‘round.

Re: Keys of tunes

Personally, anyone calling "A" will do me for Amaj and Amix, I can work it out for myself. "A minor" should suffice for Amin and Ador, same thing. Although, "A" would do for all, major and minor modes are reasonably easy to diffentiate. If I have to work out what key a tune is in, my usual way is to take an educated guess (just from experience of listening to tunes, looking at whistle players etc) and start droning that note with my ear to the guitar. If it’s right, knowing what mode I’m supposed to be in isn’t a great leap, if I thought it was a mixolydian tune I’d try the flat 7 out to see if it fits (or the #6 if it’s dorian). Playing so only you can hear till you know is the best way to do it. Or, play in DADGAD, then you can pretty much not worry about it 😉