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MUSIC THEORY: PART 6 - RELATIVE KEYS AND CONTRASTING MUSICAL PIECES
midichords // over 2 years ago //

By Patricia Lomako

In last two posts we’ve learned a lot about chords. Now we know what triads and 7th chords are and how to construct them without creating a scale first. Also, in the previous post you’ve been introduced to intervals and “chord spelling”, which helps you to determine chords like minor, major, dominant and minor 7 flat 5. In this post we are going to learn a little bit more about composition itself rather than theory.

Let’s begin shall we? Until now you are able to compose a musical piece in only 1 scale - Major or Minor. What we will learn now however, is how you can compose a contrasting musical piece with Major and Minor scale.

I would like to introduce you to another musical term: “Relative Key”. What does this mean? Well, some of you may guess the right answer if you remember what we discussed before starting to talk about chords. We talked about scales and I mentioned that C Major only has white notes and that the same applies to A Minor. This particular case is a 100% example of a “Relative Key”.  More in general, we can define a “Relative Key” as the key that has all the same notes as the original key, but which has a different root position/root note/first note and belongs to a different quality. According to this, if you take C Major as the original key and would like to know what the “Relative Key” is, you’ll get A Minor. Perhaps you will ask: “How can I figure out which key is a relative one?” Well, based on what we’ve learned so far we can’t do it very easily, but all you need to remember for now is that a “Relative Key” will have the same amount of sharps “#” and flats “b” in the scale, simply because all notes MUST be same. All you can do for now is experiment and create different scales until you get the right one, but to make your life a bit easier, see the table below. It shows you the relative minor scale for each major scale.

Major scale

Relative Minor Key/Scale

C Major All white notes A Minor All white notes
Db Major 5 flats Bb Minor 5 flats
D Major 2 sharps B Minor 2 sharps
Eb Major 3 flats C Minor 3 flats
E Major 4 sharps C# Minor 4 sharps
F Major 1 flat D Minor 1 flat
Gb Major 6 flats Eb Minor 6 flats
G Major 1 sharp E Minor 1 sharp
Ab Major 4 flats F Minor 4 flats
A Major 3 sharps F# Minor 3 sharps
Bb Major 2 flats G Minor 2 flats
B Major 5 sharps G# Minor 5 sharps


Great, so now we know all major scales and their relative minor scales. You don’t really have to learn this form as it is just a reference. In the future you will be able to figure out relative keys very easily, but until that time, use the form.

So why do we need this information regarding relative keys? The answer is simple. If you want to change the mood of your song or simply make it sound more interesting, “Relative Key” can really help you out. Let me give you some “brain food” to think about:

  1. If your track has a sad mood and you use a Minor key for the whole song, you can change it at the end and compose your “outro” in the relative Major key.
  2. You can have your verse in the Minor key and change your chorus to a Major key or in vice versa: verses in Major key and choruses in Minor key.
  3. You can emphasize the bridge part and change the key to a relative  - only for your bridge.

Ok, these are the ideas, but how can you use it in practice? Let me show you few methods and samples:

1)  You can leave the chord pattern that you’ve composed for the verse literally the same. It does not mean you use the same chords, but only the same chord pattern. For example, if you’ve used  the 1st, 2nd, 4th and finally the 3rd chord for your progression you can apply the same numeric pattern yet starting from the 1st chord of the Minor key. If you used C Major for the verse with the chord pattern 1-2-4-3 and you want to change the chorus to a relative minor key (which is A Minor), just use the same numeric pattern for the chords but starting from the root note of the key - A.  Have a listen to the following sample:


2)  The first example is quite cool. You hear the slight difference between the different parts of the song, but it won’t be that dramatic. To make it sound more noticeable, you will need to highlight the change even more. If you created a melody for you verse (you definitely need to create a melody using either bass line, lead, vocals or simply piano -  otherwise the song will sound dull), then you can use the same melody, but once again starting from the new key and adapted to the key. All you have to do is just to move your melody up or down to the right starting point and make slight note changes so that all notes are correct. Have a listen to the audio sample or download the midi file and have look in your own DAW. For this example I’ve used the C Major scale for my verse melody and the A Minor scale for the chorus, using the same chord pattern and the same melody adapted to the key. 

Can you hear how noticeable the change is now? It is really beautiful! You can hear a happy sound in the verse and then a more emotional sound in the chorus part.

3)  There is another trick for creating a noticeable change between key’s - without using a melody. The trick I will teach you is mostly used in classical and pop music. I haven’t heard a much in EDM, but still I would like to share it with you. In last post I mentioned that you should avoid the “Dominant 7th chord” (unless you know the right way to use it). Well, now is the time to talk about it again. The “Dominant 7th” chord can be used as the last chord between your verse and your chorus, as a transition between your keys. Have a listen to the same chord progression without melody, but with a “Dominant 7th” chord.

Can you hear how the “Dominant 7th” chord captured attention? Indeed, this is exactly what this particular chord does. The change became more noticeable, simply because you gave listeners a sign that something important is going on in the song.

Great, that’s enough for today! What remains is to try this out yourself. Happy composing!
 

All posts in this series

Music Theory: Part 1 - Notes, Scales and Major Scale

Music Theory: Part 2 - Minor Scale, Scale Spelling and Composing Melodies

Music Theory: Part 3 - Chord Construction, Chord Symbols and Pattern in the Key

Music Theory: Part 4 - Pattern in the Key part 2 and 7th Chord Construction

Music Theory: Part 5 - Chord Spelling, Intervals and Creating Chord Progressions

Music Theory: Part 6 - Relative Keys and Contrasting Music Pieces

Music Theory: Part 7 - 6th Chords and Sus Chords

Music Theory: Part 8 - Composing a Chord Progression Around a Melody

Music Theory: Part 9 - Inverted Chords - Creating Smooth Chord Progressions

Music Theory: Part 10 - Discovering New Scales And How To Compose Blues

 

Patricia Lomako - also known as Patricia Blush - is a professional singer, composer, music producer and music tutor. She finished the BMus Degree in Contemporary Performance (Vocals) at the Academy of Contemporary Music (Guildford, UK) and holds a Higher Certificate in Contemporary Vocal Teaching. She composes and produces various styles of music for video's, blogs, websites, etc. She also produces electronic music (mainly pop, but influenced by and mixed with House, Deep House, Drum and Bass and Electro). Her tracks are used in playlists for retailers, restaurants, gyms around the globe. Some of her clients are: M&S, SportsDirect, KFC and Clas Ohlson. Visit her on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/officialpatricialomako You can listen to some of her tracks on her soundcloud page:  www.soundcloud.com/patriciablush

 

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