~ key center ~

~ a 'tonic' pitch to rule them all ~

~ diatonic songs and a key center ~

~ 12 major 12 minor ~

'... each of the 12 pitches of the chromatic scale skipper their own fully functioning key center and complete palette of colors ...'

'together we write out the letter name pitches of all our keys and we'll own them forever more :)

In a nutshell / key center. A key center is comprised of a set group of pitches, a 'key', that features one pitch as its tonal 'center', this we think of as One, while the remaining 'key' pitches orbit around and create the various tonal gravities, these we number also, Two through Seven, as measured from our center, One.

So, really just a fancy theory term that organizes pitches for creating our songs? Yep. We get 12 major and 12 minor centers, so 24 total. Yet ...

Each of the 12 centers are individually paired as 'relatives', as they share the exact same pitches.

We choose a key center for a song usually on how the song first sparks to life, although with a bit of theory, movable scale and chord forms, or even just a capo, we can change keys is a snap. A song's chord progression, the pitch range of the melody paired with the vocal range of the artist, the 'mojo color' of a key in relation to our instruments for its eventual performance, all combine to find the right pitches to tell the tale.

Once a key center is determined, the whole tamale of the theory falls into place. That we can project the same theory and gain the same musical elements from each of the 12 pitches we are bequeathed is the modern day magic of it all. For with equal temper tuning, all the scales and their modes, their resulting arpeggios, all the chords we create from these arpeggios with their various color tones and alterations and voicing combinations, all of this resource we can equally project from each of the 12 pitches. So an awfully big nutshell yes ? And with no creative limits, we're golden.

"Imagination is more important than knowledge."

wiki ~ A. Einstein

Relative major / minor. As songs are mostly written in a major or minor key, or a balance and pairing of both, our most common key center is built up with the pitches of the diatonic major / natural minor scale. This ancient grouping also is known to us today as the Ionian major / Aeolian minor modes. In theory chart form and using letters and numbers, a modern key center can often look like this, thinking 'C' major then 'A' minor. Example 1.

scale # degrees
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
C major scale
C
D
E
F
G
A
B
C
arpeggio # degrees
1
3
5
7
9
11
13
15
C major arpeggio
C
E
G
B
D
F
A
C
chord # / quality
Imaj7
ii-7
iii-7
IVmaj7
V7
vi-7
vii-7
VIII
diatonic 7th chords
CEGB
DFAC
EGBD
FACE
GBDF
ACEG
BDFA
CEGB
scale # degrees
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
A minor scale
A
B
C
D
E
F
G
A
arpeggio # degrees
1
3
5
7
9
11
13
15
A minor arpeggio
A
C
E
G
B
D
F
A
chord # / quality
i-7
vii-7b5
III
iv-7
v-7
VImaj7
VII7
i-7
diatonic 7th chords
ACEG
BDFA
CEGB
DFAC
EGBD
FACE
GBDF
ACEG

These last two charts are a nice bite of the whole tamale. Rote memorize these, and know how to create them, and you've taken a giant step forward in understanding the nuts and bolts of our Americana musics. Throw in some blues hue and swing rhythms ... and off ya go :)

We use a key center with its own unique key signature to write a song down in music notation, which really is just a paper road map for the song. Other players can then recreate this song from its map. Our standard notation of today is the written paper 'recording' of the song to pass along to friends, colleagues, future generations of artists.

Thanks to equal temper tuning, we get twelve equally unique and independent letter named pitches. And while we can expand this number by adding another octave or two, the basic theory of the 12 letter names always remains the same. That we can create any lick or melody, scale, arpeggio or chord equally from each of the 12 pitches, is the magic of the modern theory and tuning we enjoy today.

Theory overview. What a key center creates for us is a chosen, designated focus on one of our 12 pitches. For example, that a song is written in the 'key of C' tells us that the one pitch 'C', is designated as that songs key center. Once selected, this pitch creates the center musical note from which the remaining 11 are honorably beholden to. We term this centering on just the one pitch 'diatonic', and from this one pitch, in theory, we generate the basics of our songs.

Identified by letter name, we create a key center by following our ancient tone formula to create its core, mode, scale or 'group of pitches.' The pitches in this group are termed diatonic, meaning 'through the tones' and form a perfectly closed loop. This idea of key center, its selected diatonic pitches and the one's left over, can become the basis all of our music theory discussions.

Scales / modes / arpeggio / chords. From each of the 12 key centers we get the exact same diatonic resource. Its scales include relative major / minor and their modes. And of course, all of these scales reconfigure into their arpeggios, whose pitches are then segmented up and stacked into chords.

Musical styles and composing. For guitarists, this instrument does many many excellent things in a number of ways. Our 12 unique key centers each have their own distinctive aural colors and depending on where sounded on the neck, composers of a style often work in select keys. Said composers who sing also, are also finding their keys to match up with their voices. Throw a capo and some open tunings into the mix, and off we go with a rather robust and unbreakable resource.

For example, folk and children's songs love the open chords to back their story, thus 'C' and 'G' are the common major keys. Blues songs love the open chords too, which for our guitar often translates into 'E' and 'G.' Country music loves 'G.' Rock and beyond loves all of the above and surely into A minor, B minor.

So in one sense, moving clockwise on our circle of 5th's. Once barre chords or a capo equivalent come into the mix, all the 12 keys open up for any style really. Jazz songs generally follow along with 'horn' keys so, 'C', 'F', 'Bb', moving counterclockwise on our circle of 5th's.

In storytelling. Somehow the right key center for a song seems to find itself. This is a big help. A song's words needs to find its own pitches. Once set into motion in time, the repetitive working out' of the idea generates its mojo. We theory cats turn this into a key center.

How we then style or jazz up the story becomes the composer's art of weaving many things together. These often include; the vocals of the writer singing the story, instrumentation at hand, even an arrangement and orchestration of the song as resources permit.

What follows. A most academic presentation of the nuts and bolts of our 12 key centers, paired as relative diatonic major and minor tonal environments. First there's a chart for spelling out the letter name pitches for each key's scales, arpeggios and chords, a sequencing of our five basic scale shapes to get us over the fingerboard. Also included are suggested songs for each key and some Jacmuse riffing on cliche Americana that happens in certain key centers plus whatever else shakes loose in our theorizing process of the magic we call Americana music.

Creating a key center ~ a local universe. So just what is meant by idea of a key center and how do we make one? A key center becomes like our own local universe of sun and planets, commonly termed our solar system. Our chosen key's letter name becomes the sun. Its other pitches become the planets. Their position within the key is simply determined by how far away from the center pitch they reside. These measured numerical distances become our musical intervals.

Tonal destination. Key centers also create our tonal destinations and the dominant chord V7 chord is generally how we create direction to get there. In composing works, moving from one key center to another creates opportunities to explore, developing our melodies in ways that move beyond the diatonic realm. Termed 'modulation', changing keys is a powerful way to enhance really any event in the music, as our ears tend to 'perk up' when a new tonal center is sounded. And V7 chord is the traffic cop in all this?

Tonal forces. And just as with our solar system where there is a gravitational pull between the spheres, so to is there a tonal gravity between the pitches in a key center. We use this sense of pull between the pitches to create the tension / release energy that powers our music along. How we shape this 'pull between the pitches of a tonal center', by creating tension and its release, in this work is described as the 'aural predictability' of the music.

tonal gravity + aural predictability = style

These two 'tonal forces' coupled with the number of pitches we choose to sound out our ideas, are a good part of the basis of musical style. Our various musical styles and crossover genres are really in one sense just the various ways we tell our stories, based on how the creative musical artist chooses to live in the society they are a part of, and their reflections of its peoples, their inspirations and the day to day doings of life and love.

What we get within one key center ~ a palette of the diatonic colors through and through. So in most every Americana song, we choose one pitch of our 12 to be the tonic pitch (One) of our song. Well we get it all really, for composing most of the music we hear on the radio, at any given moment on any given day. We get the now ancient basis and balance of the core major and minor pairings in melody, arpeggios and harmony, all with the exact same group of pitches.

So ... with 12 pitches to create a key center we get ...

Seven pitches to create a diatonic key center. Check.

The five blue notes? Check.

Seven modes? Check.

Seven arpeggios? Check.

Seven chords? Check.

Chord color tones? Check.

Seven, full chord color tone arpeggios? Check.

1 4 5 chord progression for major and minor. Check.

One pivot chord between major and minor. Check.

Seven select pitches. Check ... ooops back to start.

~ three major / three minor chords ~

One / Four / Five chord progression ~ major and minor. Among the most essential of the essentials of our music theory is understanding and truly believing that in any given key center, we get a One / Four / Five chord progression for both the major and minor, for writing songs. As harmonic motion to Four and then on to Five, resolving to One is our tops all time most common of Americana chord progressions, simply good sense to know of this theory and rote learn it now if need be. Examine the pitches in 'G' major / 'E' minor. Example 2.

scale degrees
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
G major
G
A
B
C
D
E
F#
G
arpeggio
G
B
D
F#
A
C
E
G
One / G major
G
B
D
.
.
.
.
.
Four / C major
.
.
.
.
.
C
E
G
Five / D major
.
.
D
F#
A
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
E minor
E
F#
G
A
B
C
D
E
arpeggio
E
G
B
D
F#
A
C
E
One / E minor
E
G
B
.
.
.
.
.
Four / A minor
.
.
.
.
.
A
C
E
Five / B minor
.
.
B
D
F#
.
.
.

One / Four / Five melody scales ~ major and minor. Really just the same idea as above but included here for the non-chord capable instrument artists. So, arpeggios? Yep, for the arpeggio players among us. Relative keys of 'G' major and 'E' minor. Example 2a.

Relative and parallel keys. The idea of relative keys is really the gist of this discussion, pairing up the major and minor centers that share identical pitches. Parallel keys simply use the same root pitch and project various tonal centers and colors from the one pitch. Example 2b.

Cool? Relative or parallel key centers.

~ organizing key centers ~

For the advancing reader. We theorists arrange our 12 pitches in a couple of key ways that can help shape our own 'big picture' of our art and music. Thus empowered we can constellate any number of elements into a mobile of form that floats right along.

wiki ~ mobile scuplture
 

'No more no less ..." At the heart of our theory are the 12 unique pitches with which we create our musics, no more no less. Now an ancient format, we have cycles of the 12 pitches, such as this next pic of the cycle of fifth's. This arrangement of the letter names organizes the pitches, thinking diatonic major scales and their key centers. The letter 'C' sits at the 12 o'clock position, as its seven pitches need no accidentals, no addition of pitch altering sharps or flats, to create the diatonic, relative major / natural minor scale formula. Example 4.

Look familiar? Cool. No? Easy, learn it right here :)

Now the minor keys. Similar format with 'A' natural minor. Located at the top of the clock as it uses no accidentals; sharps or flats to get the right pitches. Just like the pitches of 'C' major? Yep. Example 4a.

 

Cool so far? So 'A' minor and 'C' major share the same pitches? Sure do :) Remember the white keys on the piano? Example 4b.

And chromatic. Another cool theory way to include all 12 pitches are in their form as closed 'loops.' We design a loop by the interval or intervals in their composition. Mixing sharps and flats, here are the letter names of our pitches created by the half step interval forming up the chromatic scale. Look familiar? Example 5.

A
Bb
B
C
C#
D
Eb
E
F
F#
Ab
A

Sharps and flats together? Yes agreed, a rather weird looking chromatic scale keyboard overlay. Really not the best theory way to letter the pitches out. Exclusively using one or the other is the norm in written music ... and then there's the super melodic complexity of the ...

Charlie Parker Omnibook

For it is mostly written so that melody notes align with chord changes and the song's original key center, but ... there's no key signature in the score or staves. And then there's the blue note inflections to notate too. So? We just rote know both sharps and flats, and just be flexible, yet knowledgeable enough, to sort out whatever sorts of pitch / letter / accidental notations comes along.

Running ideas / key centers. The 'running' of an idea through some sort of filter, such as the cycle of 5th's and chromatic / by half step, are simply ways that advancing folks practice or shed a motif they dig. Ever hear of to "run that idea through the 12 keys", from an experienced artist you admire? And while mostly a jazz thing, all artists can surely benefit from this practice and organization of an idea.

For newby's here, beyond amazing how even just working an idea once through the cycle will broaden the horizons, show us areas we need to strengthen both in theory and on the fingerboard, and often generate new ideas along the way that might get the same 'running' sorts of treatment.

Running changes. Similar but different from the last idea, the 'running' of the chord changes of a song is something most jazz players love to do, though probably done in all of the styles too. This practice process, often done in time with a metronome, simply entails creating a melodic line through the chord changes of a song. We're just exploring the pitches in the context of music we love, looking for melodic ideas, patterns, sequences and other coolness that we can use when performing.

For the process of running the changes includes all of what we as improvising musicians do; exercise our physical chops, our mental connection to our hands and heart, finding the swing in a line, thus the whole of the process of improvisation, all while moving through time.

Arpeggios tell the tale. In this next idea we 'run' the three note triads of a common turnaround of the pop and jazz language. Termed a '3 6 2 5 1', our root motion backpedals along the cycle of fifth's, 'C' major is our chosen key center that we're gravitating towards. Thinking 'C' major. Example 5a.

Revolutionized the music. There's a legend in our history / literature about how our Americana jazz dramatically evolved in the early 40's through this process of 'running the changes.' Alto saxophonist Charlie Parker said, that while he was warming up before a performance and running the changes to the then new song "Cherokee", of 1938 vintage, he hit upon the idea that he could extend his arpeggios into the upper color tones of each chord and find new melodic ideas, tensions, resolutions and blue coolness beyond. In this next idea we simply diatonically extend each of the chords of the Two / Five / One cadential motion in 'C' major. Example 5b.

So all of this melodic resource is available, plus the blue notes, on every chord in a chord progression? Yep, potentially every chord. Style? Bebop :)

Life beyond the triad. So this is often a natural process, moving beyond the pitches of a triad to add color tones. For we do add the dominant 7th to each triad for the blues. Once to that level and style influence, adding in the pitches that reach further into the upper structure of each chord surely expands our creative palette as well as our range of musical styles. Oh ... from measure 3 above, the 'C' major 7 / One chord's #15 is diatonic?

~ 12 relative key centers ~
... '12 unique root pitches, 12 pairings of relative major / minor key centers, all based on the now ancient diatonic scale formula ...'

'The ancient diatonic scale formula is built right in.' Turns out that this ancient scale interval formula has been built into our keyboards all along the way, using what might be the easiest series of pitches to find on any keyboard. Ancient and easiest. Imagine that :) For right under our noses on a piano's keys, the ancient way our notes do lay. Example 6.

So what follows here is an exploration of using each of the 12 pitches of the chromatic scale and simply building a diatonic key center using the above scale formula. This scale is then transformed into its arpeggio and the seven diatonic triads are spelled out.

C major / A minor. 'No sharps or flats.' So with no sharps or flats in the key signature, are these two key centers generally the easiest to 'theory cogitate' with? That's the idea. To just use the pure alphabet letters makes it a lot easier to recognize when an accidental is added into the mix. For then when we borrow a pitch to jazz something up, good chance it'll have a sharp or flat attached and jump right out on a written page of music.

And for this very same reason, these letter names sit right atop at the 12 o'clock position of cycles of the perfect fifths and fourths etc., as illustrated above and peppered in throughout this primer. And are there five shapes puzzled together for 'C major / A' natural minor on guitars? Absolutely.

The key centers 'C major and A' minor are also among the most common for composition and performance. From songs for children and folk songs, right on through to jazz standards, the 'C' major scale sets the mood. Or off to the 'Fair', for 'A' minor. Examine the basic theory of the spelling out of letter pitches, arpeggios and triads of these relative key centers. Example 6a.

1 ~ 8
a one octave span
scale degrees
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
C major
C
D
E
F
G
A
B
C
1 ~ 15
a two octave span
arpeggio degrees
1
3
5
7
9
11
13
15
C arpeggio
C
E
G
B
D
F#
A
C
triads
C E G
D F A
E G B
F A C
G B D
A C E
B D F
C E G
chord quality
I
ii
iii
IV
V
vi
vii
VIII
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
1 ~ 8
a one octave span
scale degrees
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
A- minor
A
B
C
D
E
F
G
A
1 ~ 15
a two octave span
arpeggio degrees
1
3
5
7
9
11
13
15
A- arpeggio
A
C
E
G
B
D
F
A
triads
A C E
B D F
C E G
D F A
E G B
F A C
G B D
A C E
chord quality
i
ii
III
iv
v
VI
VII
viii

And the 'five movable shapes puzzle' for the key center of C major / A natural minor ? Of course. The buttery gospel open shape for our 'C and A' pairing ends up at the 12th fret with tons of stuff in the middle. Always watch fret numbers for proper locations and think from the root of the chord / key center etc. Know all the letter names on your ax yet? Click to explore.

Key centers of G major / E minor. A first clockwise click up an interval perfect fifth on our key clock and we find 'G' major and 'E' minor right at about 1:00 PM on our key clock dial. One sharp in the signature, our diatonic formula requires the half step leading tone motion from Seven to Eight close the octave. Compare the letter pitches of 'C' and 'G' major, as created by the diatonic scale's interval formula. Example 7.

scale degrees
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
diatonic scale formula
.
1
1
1/2
1
1
1
1/2
C major
C
D
E
F
G
A
B
C
G major
G
A
B
C
D
E
F#
G

Note the bold type, in 'C' major our two natural, 'built in' half steps, follow the set in stone piano keys. For 'G' major, we need to raise the 'F to F#' to create the half step resolution to tonic. That each clockwise click of a 5th adds us a new sharped pitch to our groups. And with clockwise clicks it is the ...

'click right ... 7th scale degree we raise by half step'

Method to the madness? Always. Music and math? Same numerical theory in different key? Absolutely. Here's a full charting of the pitches and basic sound of these essential key centers. Example 7a.

1 ~ 8
a one octave span
scale degrees
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
G major
G
A
B
C
D
E
F#
G
1 ~ 15
a two octave span
arpeggio degrees
1
3
5
7
9
11
13
15
G arpeggio
G
B
D
F#
A
C
E
G
triads
G B D
A C E
B D F#
C E G
D F# A
E G B
F# A C
G B D
chord quality
I
ii
iii
IV
V
vi
vii
VIII
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
1 ~ 8
a one octave span
scale degrees
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
E minor
E
F#
G
A
B
C
D
E
1 ~ 15
a two octave span
arpeggio degrees
1
3
5
7
9
11
13
15
E- arpeggio
E
G
B
D
F#
A
C
E
triads
E G B
F# A C
G B D
A C E
B D F#
C E G
D F# A
E G B
chord quality
i
ii
III
iv
v
VI
VII
viii

And is there a 'five movable scale shapes puzzle' for this key center too? Yep. Explore through the link. And the lovely Elizabethan era song "Greensleeves" is 'G' major / 'E' minor? Near every chart I've seen uses these key centers in writing out this song.

Key centers of D major / B minor. The next click up a perfect fifth on our key clock and we find 'D' major and 'B' minor. Two sharps in the signature, again it's the Seventh scale degree that adds the new accidental. Compare the pitches of 'G and D' major by the diatonic scale's interval formula. And dig that mini pic .png of the cycle of 5th's :) Example 8.

scale degrees
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
diatonic scale formula
.
1
1
1/2
1
1
1
1/2
G major
G
A
B
C
D
E
F#
G
D major
D
E
F#
G
A
B
C#
D

Cool with this additive theory? Of the new sharp raising the 7th to being a half step below our tonic pitch 'D?' Same for every key? Yep, same for every key. That is until we get too many sharps and move to flats, to lessen the number of accidentals needed. Now with two sharps, examine the pitches for 'D major and B' minor. Ex. 8a.

1 ~ 8
a one octave span
scale degrees
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
D major
D
E
F#
G
A
B
C#
D
1 ~ 15
a two octave span
arpeggio degrees
1
3
5
7
9
11
13
15
D arpeggio
D
F#
A
C#
E
G
B
D
triads
D F# A
E G B
F# A C#
G B D
A C# E
B D F#
C# E G
D F# A
chord quality
I
ii
iii
IV
V
vi
vii
VIII
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
1 ~ 8
a one octave span
scale degrees
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
B minor
B
C#
D
E
F#
G
A
B
1 ~ 15
a two octave span
arpeggio degrees
1
3
5
7
9
11
13
15
B- arpeggio
B
D
F#
A
C#
E
G
B
triads
B D F#
C# E G
D F# A
E G B
F# A C#
G B D
A C# E
B D F#
chord quality
i
ii
III
iv
v
VI
VII
viii

'D major / B' minor.

Key centers of 'A' major / 'F#' minor. Taking the next click up a perfect fifth on our key clock and we find 'A' major and 'F#' minor. Three sharps in the signature, again it's the Seventh scale degree that adds the new accidental to our pitches. Compare the pitches of 'D' and 'A' major by the diatonic scale's interval formula. Example 9.

scale degrees
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
diatonic scale formula
.
1
1
1/2
1
1
1
1/2
D major
D
E
F#
G
A
B
C#
D
A major
A
B
C#
D
E
F#
G#
A

So one by one we add a new sharp, adding to the one's we already have. Now with three sharps, examine the pitches of 'A major / F#' minor in the following chart. Example 9a.

1 ~ 8
a one octave span
scale degrees
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
A major
A
B
C#
D
E
F#
G#
A
1 ~ 15
a two octave span
arpeggio degrees
1
3
5
7
9
11
13
15
A arpeggio
A
C#
E
G#
B
D
F#
A
triads
A C# E
B D F#
C# E G#
D F# A
E G# B
F# A C#
G# B D
A C# E
chord quality
I
ii
iii
IV
V
vi
vii
VIII
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
1 ~ 8
a one octave span
scale degrees
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
F# minor
F#
G#
A
B
C#
D
E
F#
1 ~ 15
a two octave span
arpeggio degrees
1
3
5
7
9
11
13
15
F#- arpeggio
F#
A
C#
E
G#
B
D
F#
triads
F# A C#
G# B D
A C# E
B D F#
C# E G#
D F# A
E G# B
F# A C#
chord quality
i
ii
III
iv
v
VI
VII
viii

'A major / F# minor.'

Key centers of 'E' major / 'C#' minor. The next click up a perfect fifth on our key clock gets us to about 4 o'clock, where we find the 'E' major and 'C#' minor groupings. Four sharps in the signature, and yet again it's the Seventh scale degree that adds the new accidental. Compare the pitches of 'A' and 'E' major by the diatonic scale's interval formula. Example 10.

scale degrees
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
diatonic scale formula
.
1
1
1/2
1
1
1
1/2
A major
A
B
C#
D
E
F#
G#
A
E major
E
F#
G#
A
B
C#
D#
E

So one by one we add a new sharp, adding to one's we already have. Now with four sharps, examine the pitches of 'E' major / 'C#' minor in the following chart. Ex. 10a.

 
1 ~ 8
a one octave span
scale degrees
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
E major
E
F#
G#
A
B
C#
D#
E
1 ~ 15
a two octave span
arpeggio degrees
1
3
5
7
9
11
13
15
E arpeggio
E
G#
B
D#
F#
A
C#
E
triads
E G# B
F# A C#
G# B D#
A C# E
B D# F#
C# E G#
D# F# A
E G# B
chord quality
I
ii
iii
IV
V
vi
vii
VIII
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
1 ~ 8
a one octave span
scale degrees
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
C# minor
C#
D#
E
F#
G#
A
B
C#
1 ~ 15
a two octave span
arpeggio degrees
1
3
5
7
9
11
13
15
C#- arpeggio
C#
E
G#
B
D#
F#
A
C#
triads
C# E G#
D# F# A
E G# B
F# A C#
G# B D#
A C# E
B D# F#
C# E G#
chord quality
i
ii
III
iv
v
VI
VII
viii

'E' major / 'C#' minor.

wiki ~ piano sonata 14 / Beethoven

Key centers of 'B' major / 'G#' minor. The next click up a perfect fifth on our key clock gets us to about 5 o'clock and we find the 'B' major and 'G#' minor groupings. Five sharps in the signature, and yet again it's the Seventh scale degree that adds the new accidental. Compare the pitches of 'E' and 'B' major by the diatonic scale's interval formula. Example 11.

scale degrees
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
diatonic scale formula
.
1
1
1/2
1
1
1
1/2
E major
E
F#
G#
A
B
C#
D#
E
B major
B
C#
D#
E
F#
G#
A#
B

So one by one we add a new sharp, adding to one's we already have. Now with five sharps, examine the pitches of 'B' major / 'G#' minor in the following chart. Ex. 10a.

 
1 ~ 8
a one octave span
scale degrees
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
B major
B
C#
D#
E
F#
G#
A#
B
1 ~ 15
a two octave span
arpeggio degrees
1
3
5
7
9
11
13
15
B arpeggio
B
D#
F#
A#
C#
E
G#
B
triads
B D# F#
C# E G#
D# F# A#
E G# B
F# A# C#
G# B D#
A# C# E
B D# F#
chord quality
I
ii
iii
IV
V
vi
vii
VIII
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
1 ~ 8
a one octave span
scale degrees
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
G# minor
G#
A#
B
C#
D#
E
F#
G#
1 ~ 15
a two octave span
arpeggio degrees
1
3
5
7
9
11
13
15
G#- arpeggio
G#
B
D#
F#
A#
C#
E
G#
triads
G# B D#
A# C# E
B D# F#
C# E G#
D# F# A#
E G# B
F# A# C#
G# B D#
chord quality
i
ii
III
iv
v
VI
VII
viii

B major / G# minor.

Key centers of 'F#' major 'D#' / minor. The next click up a perfect fifth on our key clock gets us to 6 o'clock and we find the two letter choices for our tonic pitch. It's a bit of a toss up really, as each of the pitches create a diatonic key center with a six necessary accidentals.

Just a a whopper of a key signature. We can go on beyond six, 'C#' major would have seven yes ? Yet its enharmonic equivalent 'Db' has only five b's, so a bit more civilized, thus easier to read. They do share the same five diatonic scale shape sequence, thank goodness. So the key of 'C#' major is a non-starter? Yep. 'C#' minor? Quite popular really, and the key center of some classic songs that have stood the test of time. Example 11.

wiki ~ piano sonata 14 / Beethoven / C# minor
 

So either way, 6b's or 6#'s, our written notation is going to be busy. Also, while we moved a perfect fifth to get from 'B' to 'F#', the relationship at '6 o'clock' from our starting point 'C' is surly worth noting. Polar opposites you say? Kind of yes. So polar opposite sounds in a key center? Key schemes hmmm ... do composers ever 'scheme' keys together based on some theory nonsense? That would all indeed, seem to be the case.

Can we flip to relative minor pitches and perspective here and still be theory correct and recognize the proper interval ? So 'C' to 'Gb' becomes 'A' and 'Eb?' Examine this next diagram. Example 11a.

 

Measure the interval from 'A' to 'Eb' straight across equals 'C' across to 'F# ?' 'C' to 'Gb?' It must ... and of course it does. Tritones? Yep, tritones. Go there and explore the 'polar' pitch to any chosen key center.

So now six sharps in the signature, and yet again it's the Seventh scale degree that adds the new accidental. Compare the pitches of 'B' and 'F#' major by the diatonic scale's interval formula. Example 11c.
scale degrees
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
diatonic scale formula
.
1
1
1/2
1
1
1
1/2
B major
B
C#
D#
E
F#
G#
A#
B
F# major
F#
G#
A#
B
C#
D#
E#
F#

Yikes an 'E#.' And an 'A#' too. They are rare. 'E#' is of course also 'F' natural. 'A#' is 'Bb' too, enharmonic equivalents as we theorists say.

Whatever is easiest to read is probably easiest to read, and has the best chance for being read successfully, when someone reads our music.

Now with six sharps, examine the pitches of 'F#' major / 'D#' minor in the following chart. Ex. 11d.

 
1 ~ 8
a one octave span
scale degrees
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
F# major
B
C#
D#
E#
F#
G#
A#
B
1 ~ 15
a two octave span
arpeggio degrees
1
3
5
7
9
11
13
15
F# arpeggio
B
D#
F#
A#
C#
E#
G#
B
triads
F# A# C#
G# B D#
A# C# E#
B D# F#
C# E# G#
D# F# A#
E# G# B
F# A# C#
chord quality
I
ii
iii
IV
V
vi
vii
VIII
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
1 ~ 8
a one octave span
scale degrees
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
D# minor
G#
A#
B
C#
D#
E#
F#
G#
1 ~ 15
a two octave span
arpeggio degrees
1
3
5
7
9
11
13
15
D#- arpeggio
G#
B
D#
F#
A#
C#
E#
G#
triads
D# F# A#
E# G# B
F# A# C#
G# B D#
A# C# E#
B D# F#
C#E#G#
D# F# A#
chord quality
i
ii
III
iv
v
VI
VII
viii

'F#' major / 'D#' minor.

Key centers of 'F#' = 'Gb' major / 'D#' = 'Eb' minor. A deja vu moment ? Almost :) But no, just stopping to compare the key of 'F#' with its six sharps to 'Gb' with its six flats. The root notes of 'D#' and 'Eb', covering the minor tonality pairing. Dig the visual transition point to flats on our cycle of fifth's, right at about 7:00 PM. Example 12.

 

Coming around the half way mark the flats arrive. Do we ever mix sharps and flats in written music? Super rare in diatonic scores but yes. Music notated without a key signature often needs both sharps and flats to get it all right. Mostly a jazz thing? Yep.

So now six sharps in the signature, and yet again it's the Seventh scale degree, the leading tone, that adds the new accidental. Compare the pitches of 'F#' and 'Gb' major by the diatonic scale's interval formula. Example 12a.
scale degrees
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
diatonic scale formula
.
1
1
1/2
1
1
1
1/2
F# major
F#
G#
A#
B
C#
D#
E#
F#
Gb major
Gb
Ab
Bb
Cb
Db
Eb
F
Gb

Yikes, now a 'Cb.' A never seen, super raremusical note / letter, even in theory and jazz. Just confusing and there's a better way. Well at least 'E#' is now 'F', that helps mucho. Well let's go through 'Gb' major / 'Eb' minor letter pitches, following our same process for creating their diatonic scale, arpeggio and spelling out their triads.

Now with six flats, examine the pitches of 'Gb' major and 'Eb' minor in the following chart. Example 12b.

 
1 ~ 8
a one octave span
scale degrees
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
Gb major
Gb
Ab
Bb
Cb
Db
Eb
F
Gb
1 ~ 15
a two octave span
arpeggio degrees
1
3
5
7
9
11
13
15
Gb arpeggio
Gb
Bb
Db
F
Ab
Cb
Eb
Gb
triads
GbBbDb
AbCbEb
BbDbF
CbEbGb
Db F Ab
EbGbBb
F Ab Cb
GbBbDb
chord quality
I
ii
iii
IV
V
vi
vii
VIII
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
1 ~ 8
a one octave span
scale degrees
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
Eb minor
Eb
F
Gb
Ab
Bb
Cb
Db
Eb
1 ~ 15
a two octave span
arpeggio degrees
1
3
5
7
9
11
13
15
Eb - arpeggio
Eb
Gb
Bb
Db
F
Ab
Cb
Eb
triads
EbGbBb
F Ab Cb
GbBbDb
AbCbEb
Bb Db F
Cb Eb Gb
Db F Ab
EbGbBb
chord quality
i
ii
III
iv
v
VI
VII
viii

Gb major / Eb minor.

Key centers of Db major ~ Bb minor. Well as we can see as we head back towards the top, where 'C' reigns in non-accidentalness, With 'Db' / 'Bb'-, we loose a flat; from the six of 'Gb' to five for 'Db' and 'Bb-.' Here we evolve the pitches. And still the 7th scale degree is the new pitch for each succeeding key by fifth. Example 13.

scale degrees
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
diatonic scale formula
.
1
1
1/2
1
1
1
1/2
Gb major
Gb
Ab
Bb
Cb
Db
Eb
F
Gb
Db major
Db
Eb
F
Gb
Ab
Bb
C
Db

Back to a 'C' natural. Whew. Easy to tangle up with some of these combinations. Know any songs in 'Gb' or 'Db?' 'Eb' or 'Bb' minor? Not all that common for key centers but surely we can borrow a bit from here or anywhere for that matter to spice up whatever.

Now with five flats, examine the pitches of 'Db' major and 'Bb' minor in the following chart. Ex. 13a.

 
1 ~ 8
a one octave span
scale degrees
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
Db major
Db
Eb
F
Gb
Ab
Bb
C
Db
1 ~ 15
a two octave span
arpeggio degrees
1
3
5
7
9
11
13
15
Db arpeggio
Db
F
Ab
C
Eb
Gb
Bb
Db
triads
Db F Ab
EbGbBb
F Ab C
GbBbDb
AbCEb
Bb Db F
C Eb Gb
Db F Ab
chord quality
I
ii
iii
IV
V
vi
vii
VIII
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
1 ~ 8
a one octave span
scale degrees
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
Bb minor
Bb
C
Db
Eb
F
Gb
Ab
Bb
1 ~ 15
a two octave span
arpeggio degrees
1
3
5
7
9
11
13
15
Bb - arpeggio
Bb
Db
F
Ab
C
Eb
Gb
Bb
triads
Bb Db F
C Eb Gb
Db F Ab
EbGbBb
F Ab C
GbBbDb
Ab C Eb
Bb Db F
chord quality
i
ii
III
iv
v
VI
VII
viii

'Db' major / 'Bb' minor. Know any songs in 'Db?'

Key centers of 'Ab' major ~ 'F' minor. At 8 o'clock, we find 'Ab' with its four flats. While not uncommon as a key center, it is the Four chord of 'Eb' major, a quite common jazz key as it puts the transposing horn players in very comfortable realms of pitches. The key center of 'F' minor is also fairly common throughout the literature. For guitar and bass players, even though there's no b7 below the two tonic pitches on the outer 'E' strings, we get the full force of the blues in first position. A jazz cats, blues in 'F' is common. Examine the pitches of 'Ab' evolving from 'Db', again the half step positions within the formula define diatonic. Example 14.

scale degrees
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
diatonic scale formula
.
1
1
1/2
1
1
1
1/2
Db major
Db
Eb
F
Gb
Ab
Bb
C
Db
Ab major
Ab
Bb
C
Db
Eb
F
G
Ab

Here we pick up 'G' natural, the leading tone for 'Ab' major. Now with four flats, examine the pitches of 'Ab' major and 'F' minor in the following chart. Ex. 14a.

1 ~ 8
a one octave span
scale degrees
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
Ab major
Ab
Bb
C
Db
Eb
F
G
Ab
1 ~ 15
a two octave span
arpeggio degrees
1
3
5
7
9
11
13
15
Ab arpeggio
Ab
C
Eb
G
Bb
Db
F
Ab
triads
Ab C Eb
Bb Db F
C Eb G
Db F Ab
Eb G Bb
F Ab C
G Bb Db
Ab C Eb
chord quality
I
ii
iii
IV
V
vi
vii
VIII
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
1 ~ 8
a one octave span
scale degrees
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
F minor
F
G
Ab
Bb
C
Db
Eb
F
1 ~ 15
a two octave span
arpeggio degrees
1
3
5
7
9
11
13
15
F - arpeggio
F
Ab
C
Eb
G
Bb
Db
F
triads
F Ab C
G Bb Db
Ab C Eb
Bb Db F
C Eb G
Db F Ab
Eb G Bb
F Ab C
chord quality
i
ii
III
iv
v
VI
VII
viii

'Ab' major / 'F' minor.

Key centers of Eb major ~ C minor. Now right around the 9 o'clock click, we find 'Eb' with its three flats. 'Eb' is a important key for jazz players. There's just some great songs written in 'Eb.' From top 10 super ballads to the hard bop of the 50's, 'Eb' is a handy choice, whose pitches lay out very well on our guitars.

The key center of 'C' minor is, as one might well imagine, very very important. For with 'C' minor pentatonic so close to the blues group, anything in 'C' with a hint of the blues will probably find some of these 'C' minor notes too. So why not just think chromatic? Well we could but for many of us, there's just a necessary evolution to get to that level of hearing and understanding chromatic lines.

Examine the pitches of 'Eb' evolving from 'Ab', again the half step positions define diatonic. Example 15.

scale degrees
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
diatonic scale formula
.
1
1
1/2
1
1
1
1/2
Ab major
Ab
Bb
C
Db
Eb
F
G
Ab
Eb major
Eb
F
G
Ab
Bb
C
D
Eb

Here we pick up 'D' natural, the leading tone for 'Eb' major. Now with three flats, examine the pitches of 'Eb' major and 'C' minor in the following chart. Ex. 15a.

1 ~ 8
a one octave span
scale degrees
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
Eb major
Eb
F
G
Ab
Bb
C
D
Eb
1 ~ 15
a two octave span
arpeggio degrees
1
3
5
7
9
11
13
15
Eb arpeggio
Eb
G
Bb
D
F
Ab
C
Eb
triads
Eb G Bb
F Ab C
G Bb D
Ab C Eb
Bb D F
C Eb G
D F Ab
Eb G Bb
chord quality
I
ii
iii
IV
V
vi
vii
VIII
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
1 ~ 8
a one octave span
scale degrees
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
C minor
C
D
Eb
F
G
Ab
Bb
C
1 ~ 15
a two octave span
arpeggio degrees
1
3
5
7
9
11
13
15
C - arpeggio
C
Eb
G
Bb
D
F
Ab
C
triads
C Eb G
D F Ab
Eb G Bb
F Ab C
G Bb D
Ab C Eb
Bb D F
C Eb G
chord quality
i
ii
III
iv
v
VI
VII
viii

'Eb' major / 'C' minor.

Key centers of Bb major ~ G minor. Now right around the 10 o'clock click, we find 'Bb' with its two flats. 'Bb' is oftentimes, along with 'C', a 'jump' key, so named for the musical style of the 1940's that came out of Kansas City. 'Bb' is also very a common jazz key for the 12 bar blues, in any tempo really. Are there rockin' 'jump 12 bar blues' in 'Bb?' For sure. Some now classic and early rock-a-billy is in 'Bb'; Chuck Berry recorded his essential "Johnny B. Goode" in 'Bb', as is its live cover by the Grateful Dead. This 12 bar rockin' blues in 'Bb' is one of the songs that started it all.

The key center of 'G' minor, is for all string players, as one might well imagine, just very very important. For just like 'C' minor, which precedes in the cycle, the 'G' minor pentatonic group of pitches is just one note shy of a true blues scale.

And with its pitches tuned up near to 'A' = 432 cycles per second, they'll go all the way back through our collective histories to our banjo days.

So folks have been hearing these pitches, tuned original tuned pitches, so as such gets a lot of work in Americana as the same few pitches go all the way back.

'G'- is also a fairly common reggae key, with its comfortable 3rd position barre chords and scale shapes. Even up the octave near the 15th fret is, with practice, accessible on any modern sort of electric guitar to help climax a ride.

Examine the pitches of 'Bb' evolving from 'Eb', again the half step positions define the diatonic. Example 16.

wiki ~ Kansas City jazz
wiki ~ Chuck Berry
wiki ~ "Johnny B. Goode"
wiki ~ Grateful Dead
wiki ~ reggae music
scale degrees
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
diatonic scale formula
.
1
1
1/2
1
1
1
1/2
Eb major
Eb
F
G
Ab
Bb
C
D
Eb
Bb major
Bb
C
D
Eb
F
G
A
Bb

Here we pick up 'A' natural, the leading tone for 'Bb' major. Now with two flats, examine the pitches of 'Bb' major and 'G' minor in the following chart. Ex. 16a.

1 ~ 8
a one octave span
scale degrees
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
Bb major
Bb
C
D
Eb
F
G
A
Bb
1 ~ 15
a two octave span
arpeggio degrees
1
3
5
7
9
11
13
15
Bb arpeggio
Bb
D
F
A
C
Eb
G
Bb
triads
Bb D F
C Eb G
D F A
Eb G Bb
F A C
G Bb D
A C Eb
Bb D F
chord quality
I
ii
iii
IV
V
vi
vii
VIII
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
1 ~ 8
a one octave span
scale degrees
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
G minor
G
A
Bb
C
D
Eb
F
G
1 ~ 15
a two octave span
arpeggio degrees
1
3
5
7
9
11
13
15
G - arpeggio
G
Bb
D
F
A
C
Eb
G
triads
G Bb D
A C Eb
Bb D F
C Eb G
D F A
Eb G Bb
F A C
G Bb D
chord quality
i
ii
III
iv
v
VI
VII
viii

'Bb' major / 'G' minor. The fret location of this last idea is right in the blues and butter of movable shape five.

Key centers of F major ~ D minor. Right at the penultimate position of 11 o'clock, we find 'F' with its one flat. 'F' is common as a key center. It is a gospel key, earthy and with a good range of pitches for voices. It transposes well for horns and on guitar, its pitches run nicely from the first fret right on up the octave.

The key center of 'D' minor is as one might well imagine, very very important. While the open triad / chord for 'D' minor works fine as a tonic chord, we often find it as the Four chord in 'A' minor.

Examine the pitches of 'F' evolving from 'Bb', again the half step positions define diatonic. Example 17.

scale degrees
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
diatonic scale formula
.
1
1
1/2
1
1
1
1/2
Bb major
Bb
C
D
Eb
F
G
A
Bb
F major
F
G
A
Bb
C
D
E
F

Here we pick up 'E' natural, the leading tone for 'F' major. Now with one flat, examine the pitches of 'F' major and its paired relative 'D' minor in the following chart. Ex. 17a.

1 ~ 8
a one octave span
scale degrees
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
F major scale
F
G
A
Bb
C
D
E
F
1 ~ 15
a two octave span
arpeggio degrees
1
3
5
7
9
11
13
15
F arpeggio
F
A
C
E
G
Bb
D
F
triads
F A C
G Bb D
A C E
Bb D F
C E G
D F A
E G Bb
F A C
chord quality
I
ii
iii
IV
V
vi
vii
VIII
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
1 ~ 8
a one octave span
scale degrees
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
D minor scale
D
E
F
G
A
Bb
C
D
1 ~ 15
a two octave span
arpeggio degrees
1
3
5
7
9
11
13
15
D - arpeggio
D
F
A
C
E
G
Bb
D
triads
D F A
E G Bb
F A C
G Bb D
A C E
Bb D F
C E G
D F A
chord quality
i
ii
III
iv
v
VI
VII
viii

'F' major / 'D' minor.

And back to the top we go and find 'C' major / 'A' minor at our 12:00 position. A most remarkable thing about going through this information from stem to stern, is that while one might not have it all memorized in one pass, there's a chance if we ever need the info of a 'remote' key center, or any key center for that matter, we'll know where to find it or even better, know how to conjure its letter pitches up from scratch, what we music theorists love to do, conjure it up from scratch, start off grooves right out of thin air, have a way to hear a music and find a way into its structure, or not, as the case might be.

Key centers and musical styles. There's just lots of factors to consider in determining why a certain key center is chosen for a song. And while all are valid from some perspective, a big chunk of this 'deciding' is about the nature of the story to be told, and the style of music in we decide tell it. And of course the writer or 'teller' gets final say. And then there's the capo :)

Folk keys. Folks songs, and also children's songs, end up in keys of the open position chords. Mostly two or three chords and the truth, the melody is usually sung by the artist and not instrumentally sounded out. Transposition and or a capo makes all this negotiable into other key centers. Most important in all this is the singer's choice of keys to interpret the melody pitches and lyrics of the story.

Bluegrass and country keys. A lot of this music favors the 'sharp' keys. So, the 'G / E' minor pairing is a clear favorite. 'C' and 'A' minor, 'D' / 'B' minor. 'E' is a common key here too for country. Most important in all this is the singer's choice of keys.

wiki ~ bluegrass

Blues keys. Blues keys start with 'E', as the open chord and blues scale shape is core Americana. Very close to the open 'G' from the earlier banjo days, and 'E' from the open position moves right up to the 12 fret octave position, where all repeats anew. Very very very common for blues and rockers. Blues songs in 'G' blues is common. Blues in 'A' blues puts us right at the 5th fret. Both super cruise right up an octave for the exact same shape to the 15th or 17th frets respectively, right near the tippy top for Strat's, Tele's and les Paul's.

Rock keys. Anything blues is going to be rock too. Country rock adds more of the diatonic into the mix and their keys as well. Mostly sticking to the clockwise sharp side keys of the cycle? Yep. Most important in all this is the singer's choice of keys. 'E' prolly tops the list.

Pop keys. Rarely ever an intrumental song, there's really no favorite keys in pop music as much is determined by the voice that is going to sing the lines. Whatever key is best for the singer is cool. With all the electronic gear potentials these days; transposers, tuners, tweekers et all, different keys in producing pop music is not anyone's problem really, unless the range of the voice conflicts. If so, just adjust to the voice, simple. Nine out of ten times, most important in all this is the singer's range of pitches, their vocal 'range.'

wiki ~ singing
wiki ~ singing

Jazz keys. All 12 keys, both major and minor, are potentially in play in creating jazz. And this is one of the aspects that jazz artists / players love about their jazz musics. Everything is in play all the time, pitches, arpeggios, chords, substitutions, time, variations and forward motion techniques and ... we get to make it up as we go along. Pretty nice art form huh ?

And while sharp keys are cool, especially for string players, the flat keys favor the horns. For they are built in selected keys. Horns built in 'Bb' include trumpet, tenor saxophone and clarinet. Alto sax is built in 'Eb.' These are transposing instruments.

There's also a much stronger potential to borrow bits of different keys into one song. Two or three key centers in a jazz tune is not uncommon. In jazz blues, the high degree of chord substitution available opens up all kinds of borrowing of pitches and bits of keys, however momentary in the actual music. Most important in all this is the singer's choice of keys or the horn player's, as a lot of jazz is instrumental music

Review and quiz. We use a key center with its own unique set of pitches to organize a song for performance. Very common on the bandstand to add 'what key' into what the band is going to play next. Once the key is known, and we mix in a style and groove, we probably have enough to get started. Count it off and figure the rest out as we go :)

We think of key centers and their unique key signature to help write a song down in music notation, which really is just a paper road map for the song. Other players can then recreate this song from its map. Our standard notation of today, roughly 1000 years old with various evolutions, is the written paper 'recording' of the song to pass along to friends, colleagues, future generations of artists.

Thanks to equal temper tuning, we get twelve equally unique and independent letter named pitches. And while we can expand this number by adding another octave or two, the basic theory of the 12 letter names always remains the same.

That we can create any lick or melody, any scale, arpeggio or chord, equally from each of the 12 pitches, is the magic of the modern way we tune our pitches, to build up our theories and create key centers of varied tonalities, and the tonal gravity of a 'central, key center pitch', to tell of our journeys in life through stories in song.

 

"Leap ... and the net will open."
wiki ~ Charlotte Fox