~ key center for a song ~

defining diatonic
defining diatonic
key signatures

borrowing pitches

modulation around the cycle of 5th's

12 key centers ~ minor

A E B F# Gb Db Ab Eb Bb F C G D

12 key centers ~ major

C G D A E B F# Gb Db Ab Eb Bb F

 

'... each of the 12 pitches centers a fully functioning palette of musical colors ...'

A
B
C
D
E
F
G
H
I
J
K
L
M

In a nutshell. So a key center is really just a fancy theory term that organizes pitches for creating our songs. As songs are mostly in major or minor, our most common key center is built up with the pitches of the pairing of the diatonic major / natural minor scale. This grouping also comes to us as the combined major / Ionian and the minor / Aeolian mode. In theory chart form using letters and numbers, a modern key center can often look like this, thinking 'C' major. Example 1.

major ~ minor
diatonic scale
modes
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 mior 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

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 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.

12
lick ~ melody
scale ~ arpeggio ~ chord
modern 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 the one pitch 'C', is designated as that songs key center. Once selected, this pitch creates the center 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.

diatonic

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.

closed loop

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. All of these scales reconfigure into arpeggios, whose pitches are then segmented up and stacked into chords.

scales
modes
arpeggios
chords

Musical styles and composing. As guitarists, our chosen 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.

style
composing
electronics
palette
capo
open tunings
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 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. An open tuning flips all this on its own head and more :)

keys of songs

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.

the words
mojo
time
mojo

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.

jazz it up
vocals
instrumentation
arrangement
orchestration

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. It's 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 distances become our musical intervals.

musical intervals

Tonal destination. Key centers are also our tonal destinations and the dominant chord is generally how we 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, by creating tension and its release, in this work is described as the 'aural predictability' of the music.

tonal gravity
sense of pull
aural predictability

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.

number of pitches
musical style
crossover

What we get within one key center ~ a palette of the diatonic colors through and through. So in most Americana songs we choose one pitch of our 12 to be the tonic pitch (One) of our song. What do we get? Well we get it all really, for composing most of what we hear on the radio at any given moment on any given day give or take some. Well, surely we get the now ancient basis and balance of the core major and minor pairings in melody and harmony with the exact same group of pitches. So the whole theory tamale from one pitch is our chosen key center to write songs? Yep, pretty much.

So ...

diatonic colors poster
Americana songs
12
composing
the ancient basis
major / minor
melody
harmony
whole tamale

Seven select pitches? Check.

The five blue notes? Check.

Seven modes? Check.

Seven arpeggios? Check.

Seven chords? Check.

Chord color tones? Check.

Seven 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.

7 pitches
5 blue notes
7 modes
7 arpeggios
7 chords
chord color tones
7th chord arpeggios
1 pivot chord
~ three major three minor ~

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. Example 2a.

arpeggios

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.

relative keys
parallel keys

Cool? Any of the colors available will work really. The modes are often a common parallel as in this last idea; in that G natural minor = G Aeolian mode. So nothing too heavy here really, just yet another theory term that we'll bump into sooner or later and might get us thinking about new possibilities for composing our musical arts.

~ organizing key centers ~

For the advancing reader. For those readers here ready for more, 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.

a mobile of form
 

'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 of fifth's. This arrangement of the letter names organizes the pitches thinking diatonic major scales and their key centers. Note the location of our core letter names; A through G. The letter 'C' sits at the 12 o'clock position as its seven pitches need no accidentals, the addition of sharps or flats, to create the diatonic major scale formula. Example 4.

ancient format
cycle of 5th's and 4th's
accidentals
diatonic scale formula

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

loops
intervals
chromatic

Cool so far?

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.

loops
intervals
chromatic
A
Bb
B
C
C#
D
Eb
E
F
F#
G
Ab
A

Sharps and flats together? Yes agreed a rather weird looking chromatic scale. Really not the best theory way to letter pitches out. Exclusively using one or the other is the norm in written music and then there's the Omnibook. Written so that melody aligns with chord changes and original key center but no key signature in the score. And then there's the blues notes. So? Know both sharps and flats and be just flexible yet knowlegeable enough to sort things out?

Omnibook
 

Running ideas. The 'running' of an idea through some sort of filter, such as the two just described, is simply a way advancing folks practice or shed a motif they dig. Ever hear to "run that idea through the 12 keys" from an experienced artist you admire? And while mostly a jazz thing, all can surely benefit. It is amazing how even just working an idea through the cycle a time or two will broaden our horizons, show us areas we need to strengthen both in theory and on the fingerboard and oftens generate new ideas that might get the same 'running' sorts of treatment.

melodic filters

Running changes. 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 perfoming. For the process of running the changes includes all of what we as musicans do; exercise our physical chops and our mental connection to our hands and heart thus the whole of the process of improvisation.

with a metronome
through the changes
melodic ideas
sequences
improvisation

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

arpeggios
turnaround
backpedal

Revolutioned the music. There's a legend in the literature about how our Americana jazz dramatically evolved in the early 40's through this process of 'running the changes.' Saxophonist Charlie Parker said that while he was warming up before a performance and running the changes to the then new song "Cherokee", 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 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.

wiki ~ Charlie Parker

Life beyond the triad. So this is a natural process; moving beyond the triad. 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 and range of musical styles. Oh ... and the C major 7 / One chord's #15 is diatonic?

styles / triads
add the 7th in blues
upper structure
~ 12 relative key centers ~
'12 unique pitches root 12 relative pairs of major / minor keys as based on the ancient diatonic scale formula ... '
1 ~ 1 ~ 1/2 ~ 1 ~ 1 ~ 1 ~ 1/2

'Built right in.' Turns out that this ancient scale interval formula gets built right into the piano keyboard using what might be the easiest series of pitches to find on a keyboard. Imagine that. Maybe that's what the theory does; illuminate the method of the inital madness of confusion and thought when we each first venture in its mysteries and magics of organization. For right before our very eyes ...vwala and behold for those that can and choose to see ... 'every picture tells a story don't it.'

an ancient musical scale

Overview. 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.

arpeggios
triads

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. When we borrow a pitch, it'll have a sharp or flat attached and will jump right out on a written page of music.

sharps and flats
key signature
cogitate
accidental
written music

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

major perspective

The key centers C major and A minor are also among the most common for composition and performance. From songs for children's and folk songs right through to the compositions by the 'Duke' himself, the C major scale sets the mood. Examine the basic theory of the spelling out its pitches, arpeggios and triads in the following chart. Example 6a.

composition
performance
scale~arpeggio~chord
Roman numerals
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 is there a 'five movable shapes puzzle' for the key center of C major / A natural minor ? Of course, top of the list, core keys for the open chord style chords for children's songs and the folk styles. 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 thing form the root.

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. One sharp in the signature, our diatonic formula requires the half step leading tone motion from Seven to close the octave. Compare the pitches of C and G major by the diatonic scale's interval formula. Example 7.

interval
perfect fifth
leading tone
Seven
major key perspective
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. Each right hand 5th click to the clock adds us a sharp as we go around and each time it is the 7th that needs to be raised by half step. Method to the madness? Music and math? Same numerical theory different key? Absolutely. Here's a full charting of the pitches and basic sound. Example 7a.

set in stone piano keys
tonic
5th's
7th
music and math
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 "Greenseelves" is G major / E minor? Every chart I've seen uses these key centers.

wiki ~ Elizabethan Era
"Greensleeves"
 

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 its the Seventh scale degree that adds the new accidental. Compare the pitches of G and D major by the diatonic scale's interval formula. 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.

additive theory
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. 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 its the Seventh scale degree that adds the new accidental. Compare the pitches of D and A major by the diatonic scale's interval formula. Example 9.

perfect intervals
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 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 and we find the E major and C# minor grouping. Four sharps in the signature, and yet again its 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.

 

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 grouping. Five sharps in the signature, and yet again its 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 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
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 about 6 o'clock and we find the two 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. A whopper of a signature. We can go on beyond six, C# major would have seven yes ? Yet its enharmonic equivalent Db has five b's, way more civilized. 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 classics. Example 11.

classical classics in C# minor
 

So either way, 6#'s or b'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 ... do composers ever 'scheme' keys together based on some theory nonsense? That would all indeed seem 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 the diagram. Example 11a.

written notation
 

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 its 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 say. Whatever is easiest to read is probably easiest to read and best for success when someone reads our music.

enharmonic

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 ? 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. Example 12.

minor tonality
 

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

So now six sharps in the signature, and yet again its the Seventh scale degree 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. Never seen super rare even in theory. Well at least E# is now F, that helps mucho. Well let's go through Gb major / Eb minor following our same process for creating their diatonic scale, arpeggio and spelling out their triads.

spelling chords

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.

Db
 

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? Learn one here if need be. ~ HERE ~

 

Key centers of Ab major ~ F minor. Now right around the 8 o'clock click, we find Ab with its four flats. While not uncommon as a key center, it is the Four chord of Eb major, quite a common jazz key as it puts the transposing horn players in very comfortable realms of pitches. The key center of F minor is fairly common throughout the literature. 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. Examine the pitches of Ab evolving from Db, again the half step positions 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.

borrowing pitches
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 which lays 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 some 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.

thinking chromatically
a chromatic evolution
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.

borrowing pitches
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 jump 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 a 'jump 12 bar blues' in Bb? For sure. Some now classic and early rock-a-billy is in Bb; Chuck Berry recorded his "Johnny B. Goode" in Bb as is its live cover by the Grateful Dead.

The key center of G minor is as one might well imagine, very very important. Like C minor which precedes in the cycle, G minor pentatonic is one note shy of a true blues scale and as such gets a lot of work in Americana. 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 climax a ride.

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

jump blues
climax a ride
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 Eb major and C minor in the following chart. Ex. 16a.

borrowing pitches
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. Now 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 a good range of pitches for voices. Transposes well for horns and on guitar runs 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, we often find it more as the Four chord in A minor. Also, as D is the second degree of C major, we diatonically build the Dorian mode on Two, so the modal writing that features Dorian is often written with the pitches of D natural minor.

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

a gospel song
modes
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. Example 17a.

relatives
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 C major / A minor. 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 how to conjure it up from scratch. And that is what we music theorists love to do.

relatives

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 is about the nature of the story to be told and the style of music in we we tell it. And of course the writer or 'teller' gets final say. And then there's the capo :)

capo

Folk guitar keys. Folks songs and also children's songs, end up in keys of the open position chords. Mostly three chords and the truth, the melody is sung by the artist not instrumentally sounded out. Transposition and or a capo makes all this negotiable into other key centers.

open chords
transposition
three chords and the truth

Bluegrass and country guitar keys. 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.

minor 2nd

Blues guitar 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, E from the open position moves right up to the 12 fret octave. Very common for blues and rockers. G blues is common. A blues puts us right at the 5th fret. Up an octave for the same shape to the 17th fret, the tippy top for Strats.

Rock guitar 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.

Pop guitar keys. 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 adjust to the voice, simple.

the voice

Jazz guitar keys. All 12 keys are in play in jazz. While sharp keys are cool, the flat keys favor the horns. 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.

borrowing pitches
jazz blues / substitution
"I'd love to knock an audience cold with one note, but what do you do for the rest of the evening?"
Eric Clapton
Footnotes:
(1)Duffin, Ross W. How Equal Temperament Ruined Harmony, p.32. USA W.W.Norton and Company, NY, New York. 2007.