Contextualizing Key Centers in Music

Contextualizing Key Centers in Music

Contextualizing Key Centers

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Contextualizing Key Centers

Q: These questions are concerning “The Fanatic’s Guide to Ear Training and Sight Reading Volume 1.

How does this work for minor keys? I realize that the natural minor keys are similar to the major key a minor 3rd higher, but I’m still confused because a minor 3rd in a major progression sounds different than a minor 3rd played over a minor progression. However, the CD only has the 12 minor keys and not the natural minors. As somewhat of any extension of this question, what about the harmonic and melodic minors as well?

When you just hear a melody with no chords (such as you might when just composing a melody in your head) how do you determine the contextualization of the key or figure out which note is the tonic?

Why do you mention that a goal may be to develop perfect pitch? There has never been a documented case of anyone learning perfect pitch as an adult. There are several people that have documented efforts to achieve perfect pitch and all have conceded that it was unsuccessful. The only people that claim to have learned it are associated with products and are probably not even real people or are just very confused. I’ve researched perfect pitch quite a bit and if you have any information I do not I would definitely appreciate hearing about it.

Thanks for your time.

A: Nice to hear from you. Contextualizing Key Centers can be tricky. First the relative minor key is down a minor 3rd from the major key not up a minor 3rd. Major and minor keys are just different types of key centers. There are actually a lot of different key centers. All the modes of Major and Melodic Minor Ascending are key centers as well as the 220 possible scales times all their possible modes so there are quite a few key centers. If you ever want to take a serious look at the possibilities take a look at the book Sonic Resource Guide. Good news is once you develop an understanding of how each note sounds in a major key it is much easier to translate this to other key center types. Many times students think initially that notes sound different in different key centers. A common misconception is that the 6th somehow sounds different in a major and minor key center. But over time you realize that the 6th sounds like the 6th in every key center. As far as working on minor key centers The Fanatic’s Guide to Ear Training and Sight Reading Volume 1. only contain exercises with major keys. Contextual Ear Training Course uses both major and minor keys and is something I commonly recommend students to use along with The Fanatic’s Guide to Ear Training and Sight Reading Volume 1 because it gives you the answer as opposed to needing to check your answers with the “one note” exercise in The Fanatic’s Guide to Ear Training and Sight Reading Volume 1. ¬†You will also find a version of Ear Training One Note where it uses both major and minor keys centers.

When I hear a melody in my head I quickly can tell which notes of a key center I am hearing. This is hearing the contextualization of the key. This develops as your ability to recognize pitches in a key center develops and also as your key retention builds. I have a book for that called Key Retention Builder which you should work on once you are working on Key Note Recognition or Ear Training Two Note Exercises.

I would also consider starting the Scale Analysis book so that you begin to at least understand how all this ear training applies to hearing chord progressions. First I would work on one chord progression a week where you spend 10 minutes a day writing out which scales would work for the chord. You can check your answers in the back of the book. As you understand this better I would also start singing through the scales which will not only help your key retention but also help your understanding of how all this ear training that you are currently doing applies to real music.

I’m personally not a big fan of perfect pitch I have about 80% ability from working with the exercises that I give in the Perfect Pitch Books. Perfect Pitch is learnable on one instrument at a time. I know many musicians that have developed perfect pitch (usually on one instrument) just naturally over the years. The internet seems to be really interested in perfect pitch for some reason with people making claims and counter claims. I find that if a person just takes one note and does the exercises in my perfect pitch book for just a few months they can identify that one pitch about 80% of the time. It usually takes someone working one to two hours a day about 2 years to develop perfect pitch on one instrument. Again I think Contextual Ear Training is much more useful for a performing musician who improvises. Also I’ve never heard of anyone doing a survey of New York City Musicians and asking them about their ability as far as perfect pitch so since no one has really done a serious research in a place where you will find the best musicians in the world. Therefore it’s not surprising that there is no research proving perfect pitch can be learned.

Also if you are also practicing with an instrument I would highly recommend you use the MetroDrone as a key generating metronome as you work through scales, arpeggios, sight reading etc… That will help you to do ear training with a good contextualization of the key even as you practice other things.

I hope this helps you understand Contextualizing Key Centers in music. Please let me know if you have further questions and keep in touch as you work through the ear training.

Best Regards,


It is also recommended that you read Bruce Arnold’s Blog at his artist site. It contains more discussion of the musical topics found in these FAQs as well as other subjects of interest. You will also find the “Music Education Genealogy Chart” located here which shows you the historic significance of the music education products found on the Muse Eek Publishing Company Website.

Contextualizing Key Centers

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