• Exposed: A Lesson On How To Establish Or Contradict A Key

    in Experienced players,Piano,Theory

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    If you’re interested in learning how to establish or contradict a key, then you’re on the right page.

    But before we go into the wider scheme of things, let’s define a key and refresh our minds on all the keys on the keyboard.

    “What Is A Key?”

    A musical key can be likened to an environment that is created by the establishment of any given note as the key center or tonal center.

    There are twelve notes on the piano:

    …and any of these notes can become a key when established as a tonal center. The establishment of a note as a key requires eight different components: tonic, supertonic, mediant, subdominant, dominant, submediant, subtonic, and, octave.

    The establishment of the note C as a key:

    …requires eight components:

    C is the tonic

    D is the supertonic

    E is the mediant

    F is the subdominant

    G is the dominant

    A is the submediant

    B is the subtonic

    C is the octave

    Altogether, here’s the key of C major:

    Every other major key on the keyboard consists of a collection of eight components. Check them out below:

    C major:

    Db major:

    D major:

    Eb major:

    E major:

    F major:

    Gb major:

    G major:

    Ab major:

    A major:

    Bb major:

    B major:

    The Harmonic Approach To The Establishment Of A Key

    In any key, the most important chord is the chord of the first tone or the 1-chord (which is technically known as the tonic chord). In the key of C major:

    …where the first tone is C:

    The C major triad:

    …C major seventh:

    …or the C major ninth chord:

    …are all suitable options for the tonic chord or 1-chord.

    The 1-chord resonates with the key and is the most stable chord in the key. However, it is established by the dominant chord (aka – “the 5-chord”). Therefore, when the 1-chord is preceded by the 5-chord, a key is harmonically established.

    Due to the fact that chord movement from the 5-chord to the 1-chord is known as the 5-1 chord progression, we can say that a key is harmonically established by the 5-1 chord progression.

    The key of C major:

    …can be harmonically established by the movement from the 5-chord (which is the G dominant seventh chord):

    …to the 1-chord (which is the C major triad):

    In the same vein, the key of Ab major:

    …can be harmonically established by the movement from the 5-chord (which is the Eb dominant seventh chord):

    …to the 1-chord (which is the Ab major triad):

    So, a key can basically be established by the dominant chord (aka – “the 5-chord”) because when it is played, the only chord it leads to is the 1-chord.

    “Now That You’ve Learned How To Establish A Key…”

    Endeavor to establish a key by consciously playing the 5-chord before the 1-chord.

    To establish the key of E major:

    …it is important that the B dominant seventh chord:

    …is played before the E major triad:

    The Harmonic Approach To The Contradiction Of A Key

    To contradict a prevalent key, implies the establishment of a new key. For example, if the prevalent key is C major:

    …the key of C major can be contradicted by the establishment of a new key; which can either be foreign or related to the prevalent key.

    To contradict the prevalent key, the dominant chord (aka – “the 5-chord”) of the new key should be played. Playing the dominant chord of the new key creates an anticipation for the tonic chord (aka – “the 1-chord”). For example, if the prevalent key is A major:

    …it can be contradicted by the 5-chord of the new key. Let’s say the new key is F major:

    The key of A major can only be contradicted by the 5-chord in the key of F major (which is the C dominant ninth chord):

    So, the C dominant ninth chord:

    …contradicts the key of A major:

    …and creates an anticipation for the tonic chord in the key of F major (which is the F major ninth chord):

    Final Words

    The establishment and contradiction of a key can be harmonically approached using the 5-chord or dominant chord and that’s why the dominant chord is one of the most important chords in music; second only to the 1-chord.

    In a subsequent lesson, we’ll be covering the concept of modulation.

    See you then.

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    Hello, I'm Chuku Onyemachi (aka - "Dr. Pokey") - a musicologist, pianist, author, clinician and Nigerian. Inspired by my role model Jermaine Griggs, I started teaching musicians in my neighborhood in April 2005. Today, I'm privileged to work as a music consultant and content creator with HearandPlay Music Group sharing my wealth of knowledge with thousands of musicians across the world.

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