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Having Trouble Soloing Over F# and A Chords?


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I'm in the middle of writing a piece and one part moves between F# and A power chords, and moves to B on every 8th measure. I figured G Major would be the right choice for soloing because of the F# but it just doesn't work. I found C Major works quite well, but i don't understand how because there is no F# in C Major :S Also i figured that would mean the relative A Minor Pentatonic would work too but it's not even close. F# Pentatonic works perfectly though. It's all very confusing, can somebody tell me how they would approach this? Am i missing something very obvious?

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I'm in the middle of writing a piece and one part moves between F# and A power chords, and moves to B on every 8th measure. I figured G Major would be the right choice for soloing because of the F# but it just doesn't work. I found C Major works quite well, but i don't understand how because there is no F# in C Major :S Also i figured that would mean the relative A Minor Pentatonic would work too but it's not even close. F# Pentatonic works perfectly though. It's all very confusing, can somebody tell me how they would approach this? Am i missing something very obvious?

 

You need to figure out what tonality your song is. Is F# the "home" chord, or is it A? Or B?

Your choice of G major is probably the worst one; F# powerchord would be a powerchord on the leading tone of the scale. Not only does that powerchord not exist in G Major (because of C#), having your song alternate between the leading tone and the supertonic chords (F# and A in G major) of the key is a very awkward compositional choice (unless you're doing some kind of tension coda, but I doubt it's your intention).

 

C major doesn't work because again, F# powerchord has a C# in it. C Lydian would be closer, but again, you need a C# not a C.

 

Ditto for A minor. The relative mode doesn't matter; the scale choice itself is wrong, so none of the relative modes (A minor, B locrian, D dorian, E phrygian, etc.) will work either.

 

F# minor works both as a scale and tonally in your song. You alternate between F# and A (i and III chords) and occasionally hit B (iv). Having a i chord in there is a dead giveaway for what scale you should use for easiest harmony. F# minor (and minor pentatonic, which is the same without certain degrees) works well. For solos and color, Dorian works better.

 

For jazzier soloing methods a la modal jazz, treat every chord as an opportunity for a new scale instead of one scale for the whole shebang.

 

Minor 7 chords work with Dorian, major 7 chords are nice with lydian. Those are two basic starters, if you do some reading on improvisation you'll find more things people have found to work according to their tastes.

 

 

The term "color" being used to describe anything musical causes my eye to twitch uncontrollably and I always picture the person saying it wearing a knitted beret/beanie, cardigan, scarf and hipster glasses.

 

That being said, Moseph's suggestion is also valid.

 

Color is a common word used in describing harmony. It isn't reserved for know-it-alls. :P

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I'm confused as to why it's F# Dorian that works. I must not be grasping modes properly, i thought if you are in the key of F# then the Dorian mode of that key should be G# because that's the second degree of the F# Maj scale?

I'm using this chart for the time being until i have things better memorised https://fenixnest.net/_Support/Images/Music/Circle5ths/Circle5ths_Modal.jpg

It says that F# Dorian belongs in the key of E, but i've tried E and it doesn't work either. I am confusion.

 

I've tried F# Minor and it works but not with the whole piece itself since everything sounds very upbeat.

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Modes are basically asking you to shift your hand to the next note in the original key while retaining the intervals of the original key, and use that as your "new" key, so F# Dorian is E major starting on F#. (Personally, I found it confusing too that "F# Dorian Mode" means it's the Dorian mode in which you start on F#, rather than the Dorian mode of F#, which starts on G#.)

 

f-sharp-dorian-mode-on-treble-clef.png

 

Notice how its four sharps are F#, G#, C#, and D#, which implies the Ionian mode (or original key) is E major.

 

It would help though if you showed us the actual piece.

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I'm confused as to why it's F# Dorian that works. I must not be grasping modes properly, i thought if you are in the key of F# then the Dorian mode of that key should be G# because that's the second degree of the F# Maj scale?

I'm using this chart for the time being until i have things better memorised https://fenixnest.net/_Support/Images/Music/Circle5ths/Circle5ths_Modal.jpg

It says that F# Dorian belongs in the key of E, but i've tried E and it doesn't work either. I am confusion.

 

I've tried F# Minor and it works but not with the whole piece itself since everything sounds very upbeat.

 

By themselves, power chords are just dyads and have no major or minor tonality. 

 

When your F# comes, you can play basically any F# mode over it. However, I'd recommend modes that are of a minor key since the entire progression is in F# minor as that appears to be your tonal center. So, F# Aeolian, Phrygian and Dorian for example will all work perfectly. 

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Modes are basically asking you to shift your hand to the next note in the original key while retaining the intervals of the original key, and use that as your "new" key, so F# Dorian is E major starting on F#. (Personally, I found it confusing too that "F# Dorian Mode" means it's the Dorian mode in which you start on F#, rather than the Dorian mode of F#, which starts on G#.)

 

f-sharp-dorian-mode-on-treble-clef.png

 

Notice how its four sharps are F#, G#, C#, and D#, which implies the Ionian mode (or original key) is E major.

 

It would help though if you showed us the actual piece.

Ah yes i think i was getting something confused there. I understand now how to figure out my selection of possible modes. I've discovered that E Maj actually works very well over what i have, so would that mean it's likely the key is actually in E? I don't know why it wasn't sounding right before, i must have been playing something wrong. My next section goes B, F#, A, E, B, so E Maj is looking like the likely key, right?

I would send it but it's in a Guitar Pro file, not a DAW. The main parts are really just the F#, A, F#, E - F#, A, F#, B and then B, F#, A, E. The bassline plays the same as the rhythm so it's nothing that requires a lot of thought. My brain just sucks.

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You're misunderstanding what a key is.

 

A key has nothing to do with your scale. Absolutely *nothing*. You can have a key center with *any* scale or mode (some need modifications when a dominant is needed).

 

A key is defined by your tonal center. This is the "home" note, the tonic. It's what your song can end on to sound complete, and any time you need a tension-resolution in your key, you have a dominant chord lead to it (it's the major chord a perfect fourth down/perfect fifth up from the tonic. C is dominant to F, F is dominant to Bb, etc. in F# minor, the dominant is C# major). When you are in a major or minor key, it usually implies that the tonality is colored with major or minor inflections (for major, ionian, lydian, mixolydian, for minor, aeolian, dorian, phrygian). These inflections, I believe (someone correct me), are distinguished by the 3rd degree of the scale and whether it is a major or minor third above the tonic.

 

If your song is in F# minor, you can use Aeolian, you can use Dorian, you can use Phrygian. Whatever works, however you compose the song. But just because you're using the Dorian mode doesn't make your song magically in E major. You need to tonicize E major (with a dominant a B major) if you want to be in E major. If you're using F# as your home note, you're in F#. (That being said, without ever using C# major or minor, your tonality is ambiguous and fuzzy at best).

 

If you don't know what song your key is in, I suggest you make a decision. Decide what key you're in. Say "I want this song to be in F# minor." Then work towards that.

 

All of this theory stuff is useless unless you think critically about your composition (the only reason theory exists is to think critically) and make conscious decisions about it. If you don't know you're in a key at any given point, you're never going to know what to do without picking random scales, and you're not going to able to change keys or switch modes reliably at all.

 

Most importantly, you're not going to be able to grasp advice on your composition if you don't understand what you're doing. To your defense, this isn't stuff you can really learn in a forum post anyway; it takes analysis and practice.

 

I'd suggest posting the score or MIDI, that way someone can identify what it is you're doing and help you understand it.

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Is F# Dorian not the same as C# Minor? I was checking online and they seem to be the exact same scale on the guitar neck?


I'm finding it a bit tricky to understand. So if my verse section is revolving around the F# (which it is) then that's my key. But my chorus section starts on B and moves to F#, A, E, B (every 4 bars), so would that mean i'm in the key of B? Now i couldn't use B Major because there is an A# in that scale and my chord progression doesn't have that. However B Natural Minor has all the required notes. Did i figure that out correctly?

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Even though F# Dorian is the Dorian mode in which you start on F# (i.e., of E Major), and C# Minor can be called the relative minor of E Major, they use the same notes and note intervals (but not the same note "window", so to speak). What I mean is, C# Minor is also the Aeolian mode in which you start on C# (i.e., of E Major), just in terms of an actual key. See below.

 

https://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Music_Theory/Modes

 

Overall:

Ionian of E Major: E Major (original key)

e-major-scale-on-treble-clef.png

 

Dorian of E Major: F# Dorian ("window" shifted to the second note, F#)

f-sharp-dorian-mode-on-treble-clef.png

[...]

Aeolian of E Major: C# Aeolian ("window" shifted to the sixth note, C#)

c-sharp-aeolian-mode-on-treble-clef.png

 

C# Minor (see how the notes match up with C# Aeolian?):

c-sharp-minor-scale-treble-clef.png

 

Locrian of E Major: D# Locrian ("window" shifted to the seventh note, D#)

d-sharp-locrian-mode-on-treble-clef.png

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Yes, the tonic ("home note") is F# in F# Dorian, since if you use that mode, you are still using the sharps in E Major, but continually going back to F# as your home note. If for some reason you start on F# at first, and then continually go back to E, you are essentially playing in E Major still.

 

Nabeel happened to say this as well (correct me if I'm wrong):

 

If your song is in F# minor, you can use Aeolian, you can use Dorian, you can use Phrygian. Whatever works, however you compose the song. But just because you're using the Dorian mode doesn't make your song magically in E major. You need to tonicize E major (with a dominant a B major) if you want to be in E major. If you're using F# as your home note, you're in F#. (That being said, without ever using C# major or minor, your tonality is ambiguous and fuzzy at best).

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Tell me, what key is this song in?

 

It's not a trick question; in fact if you can't answer this question, you've got a lot of ear training and basic theory (101) work to do before trying to start understanding how to work with modes and other things like that. This stuff builds on foundations; if you skip the basics, the advanced stuff just seems like voodoo.

 

Here's my response to your (correct) response, in white text.

 

It is in D minor, yes. You should have gathered that much just by listening to it. Now for the advanced part. It uses the D dorian mode (the chord progression goes D minor -> E minor (which has a B, not in D natural minor/aeolian, which has a Bb) -> F major -> E minor.

 

[i -> ii -> III -> ii]

 

In other words, we took the D aeolian scale and raised the 6th degree (Bb) a half step (to B ) in order to have ii (E minor) instead of ii^o (E diminished).

 

You'll also notice then, in the second 4 bars (remember to count "1 2 3, 1 2 3, 1 2 3, etc." it's a fast 3/4), it starts with a Bb major chord. Why use a Bb now when we used B before? It's like we switched to Aeolian to get that nice major chord that's a third down. Is that a thing?

 

Yeah, it is actually. That's the main strength of Aeolian, is that minor 6th degree, that Bb, which builds a major chord. So Kondo switched to Aeolian here to make the chord progression move more harmonically. It "feels good" to go to that chord, it's also conveniently a half step from the dominant, lots of nice stuff. People even borrow from it in a major key (like using Ab major in the key of C major.)

 

Whether using Aeolian or Dorian, it's really obvious that the song is in D minor. Like I said, your choice of scale/mode doesn't affect the key. At all. It's irrelevant.

 

If you want a concrete way to prove it's in D minor, there is the presence of A major, its dominant, which leads to D minor. The whole song is built around that relationship, and so the whole song is in D minor. Notice how in that proof, we didn't mention anything about the notes of any scales. The scales don't matter. The dominant to tonic relationship defines the key of the song and nothing else (well there are others, but not in the Song of Storms).

 



Nabeel happened to say this as well (correct me if I'm wrong):

 

I'm going to correct you because you don't know how to quote someone

 

clearly

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When you're looking for the key of the song, you're looking for the note that sounds like it could resolve everything. As if you could end there.

 

There are more concrete ways of finding it, but they can't be used without practice on the proper materials. In plain english, you have to learn by listening to really boring classical melodies that sound lame and for old people etc. There isn't much cool prog stuff that is easy enough to be as easy to study from.

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Period_(music)

 

For starters, period structured melodies present these concepts of resolution, dominant, tonic, etc. really well. 

(ignore beyond :52)

 

This is a 16 bar tune that repeats. (Total 32 bars, up to :52). The 8th measure (starting :14) is the half point of the melody, what we call a half cadence. A half cadence ends on the dominant chord, which is like the big "what's next?" chord of any key. The melody then starts again, but this time ends differently in the next two measure (:24). This the final point of the melody, which is the actual cadence (here it's a "perfect cadence" or "perfect authentic cadence"). An actual cadence goes from the dominant chord to the tonic chord.

 

So try this on your guitar, in the 7th and 8th measure (at :12), play a low D. You should feel that it agrees with the song's harmony (because it does, he's playing a D major chord if you watch his hands). In the 15th measure, play D, then a G for the 16th. You'll notice it sounds very much like an "ending", even though you're just playing two notes. That's because those two notes are the dominant and tonic respectively. (G is 1, D is 5, if you count in G A B C D E F#). Also notice how his left hand literally plays "D4, D3, G3" going from the 15th to 16th measures.

 

Now I want you to do a similar thing that I told you to do for this song: 

 

It's in A minor, so to start off right away I'll give you the notes "E" and "A" to try them out. It's the same measure division (it's in 6/8, so "1 and a 2 and a", each one of those words is an eighth note). You can try figuring out for yourself using the same approach what key it changes to at :26 (watch his hands, it'll help a lot). Find the dominant and tonic notes, and use the measure numbers to help you, because it's all "standard form".

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Noticed from his hands that the key change was to F, making the dominant a C. I can't quite grasp how people are able to know what a note is just by hearing it though, it's easy enough when you see somebody play it :/

You could always just find it in your DAW's piano roll. :)

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I can't quite grasp how people are able to know what a note is just by hearing it though, it's easy enough when you see somebody play it :/

 

Not many have "absolute pitch", where you can just know what it is without any reference. One of my teacher's was like that, I could show him any tune at all on YouTube and he'd be able to whistle it, play it on guitar, etc. perfectly after just hearing it once.

 

You can train yourself to be pretty accurate though. Like, I can often tell what key a rock or metal song is in without having to play along because I'm so used to hearing the different types of guitar tuning that I can usually tell what it is based on how low the open notes on the low strings are. Over time, you recognize scales, intervals etc.

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Noticed from his hands that the key change was to F, making the dominant a C. I can't quite grasp how people are able to know what a note is just by hearing it though, it's easy enough when you see somebody play it :/

 

What you have to do is listen to how it sounds. Listen to how E sounds in relation to A, and then notice that C in relation to F sounds the same way. Music is about relationships and context. It doesn't matter so much that it changed to a specific key (F) so much that it *did* change (regardless of what specifically it changed to) and that your ear is able to register said change.

 

The thought process should go like so:

 

"I hear E (major) in relation to A (minor) as a dominant to tonic relationship (because E is a fourth down from A). I now hear the same kind of relationship with two different notes that are not E and A. I also notice that the new tonic chord sounds major. Therefore, it has changed to a major key, the key is what that new tonic is."

 

Being able to correctly identify that he changed to F major is something you did through both hearing (it *sounded* like the new tonic) and analysis (reading the score, or in your case, the piano notes he was fingering). You can't study music or do ear training without the latter part. It's an important step, so if you're wondering how to get out of that, stop wondering and embrace it. "Reading" music (whether notation, tabs, or watching the notes people play) is just as important to developing the ear. You have to internalize how the notes are functioning in order to recognize constructs as "oh this has a specific sound or color, it must be that [insert music theory explanation] trick I learned from that one song".

So in the case then of identifying keys and seeing dominant tonic relationships, you just have to do it a lot, and listen (and read) examples of melodies/songs in order to internalize it the same way.

 

To give an example, I know exactly how to identify when a song changes key to its relative minor just by hearing it. It wasn't hard to learn how to do that, I just noticed it had a particular sound, and so when a certain song did it, I worked it out on my keyboard (the "reading"), said "oh, it's changing to relative minor by doing V/vi -> vi (so in C major, that's E major to A minor, which is, yes, a chord that doesn't belong, called a secondary dominant, used for the purpose of moving to a new key).

 

And now, whenever I hear it in a song, I can say out loud "that song just went from V/vi to vi." Similarly, you are developing the same mental framework, just doing it for "that song just went from V to i (or I)".

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What you have to do is listen to how it sounds. Listen to how E sounds in relation to A, and then notice that C in relation to F sounds the same way. Music is about relationships and context. It doesn't matter so much that it changed to a specific key (F) so much that it *did* change (regardless of what specifically it changed to) and that your ear is able to register said change.

 

The thought process should go like so:

 

"I hear E (major) in relation to A (minor) as a dominant to tonic relationship (because E is a fourth down from A). I now hear the same kind of relationship with two different notes that are not E and A. I also notice that the new tonic chord sounds major. Therefore, it has changed to a major key, the key is what that new tonic is."

 

Being able to correctly identify that he changed to F major is something you did through both hearing (it *sounded* like the new tonic) and analysis (reading the score, or in your case, the piano notes he was fingering). You can't study music or do ear training without the latter part. It's an important step, so if you're wondering how to get out of that, stop wondering and embrace it. "Reading" music (whether notation, tabs, or watching the notes people play) is just as important to developing the ear. You have to internalize how the notes are functioning in order to recognize constructs as "oh this has a specific sound or color, it must be that [insert music theory explanation] trick I learned from that one song".

So in the case then of identifying keys and seeing dominant tonic relationships, you just have to do it a lot, and listen (and read) examples of melodies/songs in order to internalize it the same way.

 

To give an example, I know exactly how to identify when a song changes key to its relative minor just by hearing it. It wasn't hard to learn how to do that, I just noticed it had a particular sound, and so when a certain song did it, I worked it out on my keyboard (the "reading"), said "oh, it's changing to relative minor by doing V/vi -> vi (so in C major, that's E major to A minor, which is, yes, a chord that doesn't belong, called a secondary dominant, used for the purpose of moving to a new key).

 

And now, whenever I hear it in a song, I can say out loud "that song just went from V/vi to vi." Similarly, you are developing the same mental framework, just doing it for "that song just went from V to i (or I)".

 

I understand that, i remember the relationship between intervals because of certain songs their used in (learned that in college). For example, a I-V sounds like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, I-III sounds like Kumbaya, I-IV is Here Comes the Bride etc. What i was getting at was just being able to know the key itself by hearing it. Listening to a note and being able to say "that's an F#". Is there any technique to learning that or is it really just a case of familiarising yourself passively over a long time just by working with a lot of music?

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