• Ask Dr. Pokey: “Why Are There 24 Keys In Music?”

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    If you’re interested in finding out why there are 24 keys in music, then you’re on the right page.

    There are so many answers to questions bothering on the number of keys in music. While some say it’s 12, other insist it’s 15, etc.

    But in this lesson, you’ll understand why there are 24 keys in music and the best way to start this lesson is with the definition of a key. With a proper understanding of what a key is, it’s easier to understand why the number of keys is said to be 24.

    Let’s get started!

    The Concept Of Key — Defined

    A key can be likened to a musical environment that is produced by “the establishment of a particular note as a key center [or key]” by a collection of eight notes.

    So, the establishment of a particular note as a key center produces a key.

    But a good way to get started is the separation of the concept of notes from the concept of key. Although a vast majority of people associate both terms together, they are different from each other.

    The Concept Of 12 Notes

    Although there are so many note spellings, there are 12 notes:

    With sharp (#) notes:

    With flat (b) notes:

    We’re limited to 12 notes and this is because C#:

    …and Db:

    …are considered to be equal and that’s because when they are played, there is no perceptible difference in pitch between them.

    So, irrespective of the multiple spellings, the number of notes is limited to 12 unique notes.

    Two Unique Key Types

    It takes a collection of eight notes to establish a particular note as a key or key center. All the white notes on the piano from C to C:

    …is a classic example of eight notes coming together to establish a given note (which is C in this case):

    …as a key or key center.

    Beyond the establishment of a key is the understanding of the two unique key types:

    The major key

    The minor key

    The major key represents any of the following — happiness, light, day, laughter, etc.; while the minor key (with a contrasting character) represents the following: sadness, darkness, night, tears. etc.

    Submission: Although it’s possible to use the major key to express sadness, the feeling of sadness can easily be expressed in the minor key.

    Alright, now that we’ve refreshed our minds on the concept of key (two unique key types) and how it differs from notes (twelve unique notes), let’s go into our main discussion which bothers on why there are 24 keys in music.

    Ask Dr. Pokey: “Why Are There 24 Keys In Music?”

    Before I tell you why there are 24 keys in music, it’s important for you to note these two points:

    Point #1 – These 12 unique notes in tonal music. Although it’s possible to have more than twelve spellings, there aren’t more or less than twelve notes.

    Point #2 – There are also two key types: the major and minor key. Although the terms augmented and diminished are used in music, they are NOT key types. There are only major and minor keys.

    Knowing fully well that there are 12 notes and 2 key types, here’s how the 24 keys are derived:

    The 12 notes we’re already familiar with can only become keys when they established as keys and there are two key types.

    The establishment of 12 notes as major keys produces 12 major keys, while the establishment of 12 notes as minor keys produces 12 minor keys.

    If you do the math: 12 major keys + 12 minor keys = 24 keys.

    Every note can either be established as a major key or a minor key (irrespective of how it is spelled). For example, the C-note:

    …can either be established as the key of C major:

    …or the key of C minor:

    If I choose to spell C:

    …as B#:

    The establishment of B# as a key would still produce the key of B# major and the key of B# minor which are equivalent to the key of C major and the key of C minor.

    “Take Note Of The Following 12 Major Keys…”

    Below are the major keys that are commonly used in music for the past 400 years and the common spellings are given.

    C major:

    Db major:

    D major:

    Eb major:

    E major:

    F major:

    F# major:

    …or Gb major:

    G major:

    Ab major:

    A major:

    Bb major:

    B major:

    Attention: To learn more about this, I recommend our 500+ page course: The “Official Guide To Piano Playing.” Click here for more information.

    “Take Note Of The Following 12 Minor Keys…”

    Below are the minor keys that are commonly used in music for the past 400 years and the common spellings are given.

    C minor:

    C# minor:

    D minor:

    Eb minor:

    …Or D# minor:

    E minor:

    F minor:

    F# minor:

    G minor:

    G# minor:

    A minor:

    Bb minor:

    B minor:

    “Why Are There 24 Keys In Music?”

    There are 24 keys in music because there are 12 notes and 2 key types. The 12 notes eventually produce 12 major keys and 12 minor keys and altogether we have 24 keys in music.

    Final Words

    Now that you’ve seen why there are 24 keys in music, it’s not wrong to say “there are 12 major keys” or “there are 12 minor keys”. So, you can say there are 12 keys, provided you make it clear the key type you’re talking about: major or minor.

    But when you’re talking about the total number of keys we have in tonal music, there are only 24 of them.

    Keep up the great work.

    The following two tabs change content below.
    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.

    Attention: To learn more about this, I recommend our 500+ page course: The "Official Guide To Piano Playing." Click here for more information.




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    { 1 comment… read it below or add one }

    1 Edmond Edems

    Thanks Dr.Pokey

    Reply

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