• The Two Most Important Components Of A Key

    in Chords & Progressions,Music & Children,Piano,Theory

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    If you’re interested in learning about the two most important components of a key, this lesson is for you.

    It is very important for every musician irrespective of style, experience, and level, to understand these two components and the relationship between them in tonal music.

    Although the term key is commonly used among musicians, we’re starting out this lesson by reviewing the concept of key for the sake of the few who are not familiar with it.

    A Review On The Concept Of Key

    The term key is used to describe an environment created by eight notes, with the goal of establishing a particular note as the tonic.

    Attention: The tonic is the technical name used by music scholars to describe the principal tone in a key (aka – “tonal center”), which is always the first note at the scale level of tonal organization.

    There are twelve musical notes:

    …seven white notes (aka – “naturals”):

    …and five black notes (aka – “accidentals”):

    An assembly of eight notes (out of the twelve), creates a tonal music environment known as a key. For example, all the white notes on the keyboard from C to C:

    …creates the key environment known as the key of C major, while all the white notes on the keyboard from A to A:

    …creates the the key of A minor.

    Attention: The terms major and minor are used to qualify the character of a key. Qualities like light and happiness are attributed to the major key, while the minor key is usually associated with the nocturnal, the ghostly, and so on.

    Let’s round up this review by exploring the eight components of a key.

    The Eight Components Of A Key

    Every key (be it a major or minor key) has eight components and there are technical names for each of the components.

    “Check Them Out…”

    The first component is the tonic.

    The second component is the supertonic.

    The third component is the mediant.

    The fourth component is the subdominant.

    The fifth component is the dominant.

    The sixth component is the submediant.

    The seventh component is the subtonic.

    The eighth component is the octave.

    Suffice it to say that there’s not key without all of these components. In other words, these components are so vital that no key is complete without any of them.

    Now that we’ve reviewed the concept of key and also seen the importance of its components, let’s take our discussion to the next level by exploring the two most important components of a key.

    The Two Most Important Components Of A Key

    The two most important components of a key are the tonic and the dominant. Let’s breakdown these components.

    The Tonic

    The first and most important note in a key is the tonic. In the key below:

    …the first note is Bb:

    …which by virtue of its position as the first note in the key, is the most important note – the tonic.

    The tonic is the key center and literally the center of attraction in every key – whether major or minor. Every other note gravitates towards it.

    The letter name of any given key is derived from its tonic. The tonic in the key below:

    …is E:

    …consequently, it’s the key of E.

    You can spot the tonic in any given key because of its conspicuous position as the first note in a key. So, always keep an eye on the first degree in the key because it’s the center of attraction.

    The Dominant

    The dominant is the fifth degree in a key and the next component of a key in terms of importance. The dominant in the key of C major:

    …is G:

    …which is the fifth tone of the C natural major scale.

    The dominant is an important tone for a variety of reasons and here are two of them:

    There are three stable tones in a key – the first, third and fifth tones of the scale – and the dominant (the fifth tone) happens to be one of them.

    The chord of the fifth degree (aka – “the dominant chord“) has the strongest affinity for the first degree (aka – “the tonic chord“). Consequently, the dominant chord is used to establish or contradict a key and is usually used in the change of key (aka – “modulation”).

    In a nutshell, the importance of the dominant CANNOT be over-emphasized. Believe it or not, no key is complete without the dominant because the establishment of a key depends on it.

    Final Words

    Having seen the importance of the tonic and dominant, I’m sure your eyes have been opened to the connection they have and how they establish a key.

    Make it a habit to focus on the two most important components of a key – the tonic and the dominant.

    Thank you for the time invested in reading this blog.

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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 the head of education, music consultant, and chief content creator with HearandPlay Music Group sharing my wealth of knowledge with hundreds of 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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