• Why There Are No Diminished And Augmented Keys

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    In today’s lesson, you’ll be learning why there are no diminished and augmented keys.

    One of the questions I asked myself at my beginner stage was why there are major and minor keys, and there no diminished and augmented keys.

    I eventually got to find out why there are no diminished and augmented after some years and I’m here to share that with you.

    But before we get into all that, let’s take a look at the concept of key.

    A Review On The Concept Of Key

    There are twelve musical notes:

    …7 are natural:

    …and 5 are accidental:

    Any of these notes can be established as a key center (or key for short.) For example, the note C:

    …can be established as a key using seven other components (D, E, F, G, A, B, and C):

    …to make it eight components:

    So, while this is C (as a note):

    …this is C (as a key):

    The key of C has the following components:

    The tonic which is C

    The supertonic which is D

    The mediant which is E

    The subdominant which is F

    The dominant which is G

    The submediant which is A

    The subtonic which is B

    The octave which is C

    “In A Nutshell…”

    A key is a tonal environment created by a collection of eight components, with the goal of establishing a note (which is known as the tonic) as the key center.

    The key of D major is a tonal environment created by these notes (eight of them):

    …with the goal of establishing D (which is the tonic in this case):

    …as the key center.

    A Short Note On The Two Main Key Types

    There are two key types – the major and the minor key.

    The term major and minor are used to describe the character of a key, which can either sound glad or sad, bright or dark, good or bad, joyful or sorrowful.

    The major key has (but is not limited to) the following qualities:

    Gladness

    Brightness

    Joy

    …while the minor key (in contrast to the major key) has (but is not limited to) the following qualities:

    Sadness

    Darkness

    Sorrow

    Most of the time, a musical piece takes up the character of the key it’s written on – whether major or minor.

    “Check Out The Major And Minor Keys On The Keyboard…”

    C major:

    …and C minor:

    Db major:

    …and C# minor:

    D major:

    …and D minor:

    Eb major:

    …and Eb minor:

    E major:

    …and E minor:

    F major:

    …and F minor:

    F# major:

    …and F# minor:

    G major:

    …and G minor:

    Ab major:

    …and G# minor:

    A major:

    …and A minor:

    Bb major:

    …and Bb minor:

    B major:

    …and B minor:

    Considering that there are major and minor key types, it’s not of place for one to ask why there are no diminished and augmented keys.

    You’ll find out in the next segment!

    One Of The Top Reasons Why There Are No Diminished And Augmented Keys

    There are a variety of reasons why there are no diminished or augmented keys in tonal music. However, we’ll be focusing on one of the top reasons, which is the instability of the tonic triad.

    But before we talk about the instability of the tonic triad, let’s briefly discuss on the tonic triad.

    “What Is A Tonic Triad?”

    The first degree of the scale is known to music scholars as the tonic. For example, in the key of C major:

    …the first degree of the scale (which is C):

    …is known as the tonic.

    The chord of the first degree of the scale (aka – “the tonic triad”) is the most important triad in any key because it is the only chord that resonates with the key. Consequently, the tonic triad is the most stable chord in the key.

    In the key of C major:

    …the tonic triad is the C major triad:

    …while the C minor triad:

    …is the tonic triad in the key of C minor:

    The Tonic Triads Of The Diminished And Augmented Key

    Due to the fact that the tonic triad of the major key is the major triad, and the tonic triad of the minor key is the minor triad, if there’s a diminished key, its tonic triad would be the diminished triad.

    In the same vein, if there’s an augmented key, then its tonic triad would be the augmented triad.

    If there’s a key of C augmented, the C augmented triad:

    …would be its tonic triad. Also, if there’s a key of C diminished, then the C diminished triad:

    …would be its tonic triad.

    The Instability Of The Diminished And Augmented Key

    The diminished and augmented triads are two unstable triads versus the major and minor triad that are stable. The stability of the major and minor triad is determined by the quality of its fifth interval.

    A closer look at the diminished and augmented triad shows unstable fifth intervals. For example, the C diminished triad:

    …consists of a diminished fifth interval (C-Gb):

    …while the C augmented triad:

    …consists of an augmented fifth interval (C-G#):

    Due to the unstable intervals found in the augmented and diminished triads, they are NOT suitable to be used as tonic triads.

    “Here’s What I Mean”

    The tonic triad is characterized with stability and that’s why a variety of songs start and end on the tonic triad – whether in the major or minor key.

    The tones of the tonic triad are stable tones and resonate with the key when played. However, that’s not the case in the augmented and diminished triads.

    The notes of the diminished and augmented triads (which are supposed to be the tonic triads in the diminished and augmented key) are active tones, consequently, are unstable.

    “There Are No Augmented And Diminished Keys…”

    One of the reasons why there are no augmented and diminished keys is because of the instability of the tonic triad in the diminished and augmented key.

    That’s why there are only two key types – the major and the minor key – and they have stable tonic triads that resonate the key when played.

    Due to the activity of the diminished and augmented triads, they cannot stand alone when played, they have the tendency of moving to stable chords (aka – “resolution”). It’s the activity of the augmented and diminished triad that makes it difficult to establish the augmented and diminished key.

    Final Words

    Now you know why there are no diminished and augmented keys, your question is answered. In a subsequent lesson, we’ll go a step further into learning about the character of the major and minor key.

    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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