A beginner bassist's foray into the unknown

Coursera – FoMT Week 1 / Video 2 extra: Keys

There were a few concepts introduced in the 2nd video for Week 1 of Fundamentals of Music Theory that I wanted to expand on a little, for the sake of beginners who hear these words and don’t know what they mean. Some came from the video, and others from my own rambling about the video. As this is a bass-centric site, some of this information might be bass-specific. 


I think that I only have a basic understanding of what a key is. Right now, I think of it as the root note for most of a song. There might be more to it than that, because a lot is written about keys, and the Idiot’s Guide has a chapter called Major and Minor Keys, but I’m not too far into this end of theory yet.

Here are some notes that I pulled from the indexes though:

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Music Theory:

  1. When a piece of music is based on a particular musical scale, we say that music is in the “key” of that scale. For example, a song based around the C Major scale is in the key of C Major. A song based around the B-flat Major scale is in the key of B-flat Major. (That sounds easy enough, until different parts start using different scales!)
  2. There are 15 major keys. They’re named C Major, C-sharp Major, D-flat Major, D Major, etc. It looks like every note on the fretboard has a major scale associated with it, which can also be used as a key.
  3. There are 15 minor keys as well. A minor, A-sharp minor, B-flat minor, etc. My assumption is that playing notes from a minor scale starting on any of the notes on the fretboard puts that piece/section in that key.
  4. When we assign a key signature to a piece of music, its assumed that all the following notes will correspond to that particular key.
  5. We can play outside of the key. Some musical styles regularly do this to achieve their sound.
  6. Notes that aren’t in the key are called accidentals or chromatic notes.
  7. Changing keys in a song is called modulating. We can modulate to any key, but the most common modulations are up a 1/2 step or up a 4th or 5th. (I think I get it – I think modulation is what’s used in a chord progression – that blues progression of I-IV-V is probably an example of this.)

1-2 key_signatures_chart

Bass Guitar for Dummies gives us the following tidbit, in reference to moveable scale patterns, although keys are mentioned in several places in the book:

Any of your patterns (except for the open E and A scales described in the preceding section) will work in all keys, so only one question remains: How do you find a certain key when someone asks you, for example, to play in C? Because your patterns can be transposed to any key, all you have to do is nail the root (in this case, C) with the proper finger of the left hand (usually the middle finger for the major patterns, and the index finger for the minor patterns), and you’re in position.

This basically means that if we know the key/root of a piece, we can apply a major or minor scale pattern and be able to play along notes that mesh or harmonize with what’s being played. As bassists, we’d probably focus on the chord tones and cool rhythms using the notes from that key.


One response

  1. Pingback: Coursera – Fundamentals of Music Theory Week 1 | Ugly Bass Face

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