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Thread: how to identify a key signature

  1. #1
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    how to identify a time signature

    Hi when people identify a song example Eric Clapton - River of tears is in 3/4. which part of the song (or timbre) should we identify the time signature to be for the song...as one song has many timbres playing in it.
    Last edited by nercv; 04-06-2008 at 05:40 AM.

  2. #2
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    Quote Originally Posted by nercv
    Hi when people identify a song example Eric Clapton - River of tears is in 3/4. which part of the song (or timbre) should we identify the key signature to be for the song...as one song has many timbres playing in it.
    You mean identify the key, not "key signature" - subtle difference, I'll come to that.

    The final chord of the song should be the key chord (unless it fades out, in which case it might not be). This is also likely to be the opening chord, but that's less certain. If both opening and final chords are the same, that's almost certainly the key chord.
    Then you just need to identity the root note, and whether it's major or minor.

    You can check the answer by listening for other chords, such as the IV and V of the key.

    Bear in mind that a chorus or bridge (middle section) of the song might be in a different key. This won't affect the overall "key signature" - which is the way we notate a key when writing it out.
    Eg, if the main key is D major (or B minor) you would use a 2-sharp key signature. If the bridge went to (say) A major, you would probably just use accidentals in the music (extra sharp signs against notes when necessary). (Sometimes it makes more sense to use a new key signature, if a lot of accidentals would be required. It's all about economy of writing, and ease of reading.)

    Of course, you can look up the chords on the internet - which helps a great deal .

    River of Tears

    (The metre is more like a slow 12/8 than 3/4, IMO. Maybe 12/4? If you prefer to feel it as 3/4, regard each bar below as 4 bars of 3/4.)

    INTRO (& verse)

    |C / / / |F / / / / |Dm7 / / / |Gsus4 / G / | (repeat)

    CHORUS

    |Am7 / / / |D7 / / / |Gsus4 / G / |F / / / |F / / / |


    The last F goes back to C for the next verse (or instrumental). And at the very end of the song it finishes on a C chord - and the last melody note he sings is a C; and you can definitely hear the finality, the resolution, at that point.
    So the key is clearly C - and it's major. (Keys are not always as easy to identity as this )

    Confirmation - if you need it - comes from the other chords in the intro/verse: F is the IV of C, Dm7 is the ii, G is the V. So far, so conventional! Couldn't be clearer.

    In the chorus, however, we get a chord that doesn't belong: D7. This has an F# in it. If we were going to be literal about the rules of key, this might confuse us. ("So is it key of C after all? D7 belongs to the key of G!")
    However, this is another extremely common conventional device known as a "secondary dominant". Adding D7 (before G, as here) gives more forward momentum to the move towards the V chord (G). D7 is the V of G, which is V of C. So D7 is "V/V" (secondary dominant).
    We could even interpret the Am7 as ii of G. Am7-D7-G does the same thing in key of G as Dm7-G7-C does in key of C. But because Am7 is also in the key of C, it acts as a kind of "pivot chord" - sneaking us into this temporary move to a G tonal centre.
    But the G starts with a sus4, so it sounds more like it's heading back for the key of C - which is confirmed by the following F.

    So it would be wrong to say the chorus section is in the key of G (ending on a bVII, F). It's still key of C major, just with the V of G (D7) being added.

    So - the "key signature" - if you were going to write the song in standard notation - would be blank (C major).
    Last edited by JonR; 04-05-2008 at 08:35 AM.

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    meter

    Hi sorry..that i may have little knowledge about music theory..but what i meant is not the chord but the 3/4...1 2 3 1 2 3...Im a little confuse that people say that the song "river of tears" is in 3/4...because there are lots of instruments playing in one song...so..each instrument part has a different roles...in it's own meter signature and tempo....so when we say the "Oh the song is played in 4/4 or 3/4!" i don't know if they meant the main single instrument to be playing in 3/4 or the background single instrument to be in 3/4.....

  4. #4
    Registered User Malcolm's Avatar
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    The "beat" is 3/4, as you say 1 2 3 1 2 3 aka waltz time.
    Every instrument follows this same 3/4 time signature (beat). And most songs do not have several beats, they establish one and normally keep it through out the entire song.

    Think of it this way. It's a waltz 1 2 3 . 1 2 3 . 1 2 3 the dancers use this beat as their guide, if the drums were using 4/4 while everyone else was using 3/4 the dancers would be confused as to which beat to follow. So every instrument follows the same time signature.

    If this did not answer your question, rephrase it and come back.
    Last edited by Malcolm; 04-05-2008 at 01:52 PM.

  5. #5
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by nercv
    Hi sorry..that i may have little knowledge about music theory..but what i meant is not the chord but the 3/4...1 2 3 1 2 3...Im a little confuse that people say that the song "river of tears" is in 3/4...because there are lots of instruments playing in one song...so..each instrument part has a different roles...in it's own meter signature and tempo....so when we say the "Oh the song is played in 4/4 or 3/4!" i don't know if they meant the main single instrument to be playing in 3/4 or the background single instrument to be in 3/4.....

    OK... you mean metre (meter) or time (time signature).
    (Hope the lesson in key recognition was useful anyway... )

    There are two main thing to listen for:

    PULSE:
    Imagine walking to the beat. Is it slow or fast? In this case, it's r-e-a-l-l-y---s-l-o-w....

    METRE:
    Next, how are the beats organised, are some more prominent than others? Do they fall into regular groups, a pattern?
    Listen for the drums (if there are any, and there are here). You should be able to hear stressed beats, that fall into a pattern.
    Count the stressed beat as "1", and count all the beats before the next stressed one.
    Tip: Beat "1" (the downbeat) can usually be counted from the very first beat of the song, but sometimes there's a "pick-up" - a note or groups of notes before the first downbeat. Still, the downbeat should be obvious - all the instruments will probably hit it together.
    In a 4/4 bar, the bass drum will usually hit beats 1 and 3, the snare will hit 2 and 4. (Beats 3 and 4 will often sound a little different from 1 and 2, which is how you differentiate between 2/4 and 4/4. But generally, rock is written in 4/4, never in 2/4)
    In 3/4, the bass will hit "1", and the snare will hit either 2 or 3 or both - or perhaps a syncopate beat in between (common in jazz 3/4).
    Another tip is that beat "1" usually coincides with a chord change, so listen for those as well. How many beats between chord changes?

    SUB-DIVISIONS OF BEATS:
    Lastly listen for any notes in between the beats. If they are half the beat in length, that confirms the lower (2nd) number of the time sig as "4".
    If you can 3 equal subdivisions of the beat (triplets, "One-and-a"), then the lower number of the time sig should be "8", and you should count up all the 3rds of a beat within one bar.
    So a two-beat bar with triplet subdivisions will be "6/8" time. (This is because we don't have a notation symbol for a 3rd of a beat, so have to count it as an 8th note. So you get three 8th notes per beat. Mathematically illogical, but we learn to live with it... )


    OK, so in the case of this song, here's how it pans out:
    Code:
    |C
    |1_______x_______x_______2_______x_______x_______3_______x_______x_______4_______x_______x_______|
                                   It's three months to the river
    
    |F
    |1_______x_______x_______2_______x_______x_______3_______x_______x_______4_______x_______x_______|
                                                that would carry me away
    The difficulty representing it like this is that it's very slow, and the vocal is very ad lib, with no definite rhythm.
    But listen for the backing:
    Each "x" above is some sort of light percusion (a shaker I think);
    You can hear a brush snare on beats 2 and 4, and bass drum on 1 and 3;
    The chords change on beat 1.
    These three things together suggest a very slow 12/8 meter (12 "x"s in each bar, divided into 4 beats of 3 parts each.).

    However, at times - because the tempo is so slow - you can hear the "x" sub-beats are further divided, into "swing 16ths". IOW, the space between each 8th note ("x") doesn't divide exactly in half.

    This might be why some people would prefer to notate it as 3/4 - each "x" becoming a quarter-note beat, and each line above becoming 4 bars, not one.
    (We needn't take the swing factor - which would be uneven 8th notes in 3/4 - into account. If we were going to be pedantic about the triplet subdivision, we'd call it 9/8 (3 x 3/8) but that's a too-precise indication that gives the wrong signal about the relaxed feel.)

    Still, there's clearly a difference (marked by the snare "offbeats") between one set of 3 shaker-pulses and the next. This suggests we should at least link the 3s in pairs. Maybe notate it as 6/4 or - if we're going to follow the "harmonic rhythm" (rate of chord change) - 12/4?
    This would certainly help us notate his vocal, which (if we go for 12/8) would fall into very small note values that would be quite hard to read, especially as they don't much coincide with the beats.

    The DIS-advantage of 3/4 (or 6/4 or 12/4) is that it might make the feel look faster than it is. If we imagine walking with a step on each "x" above, that's somewhat fast! Quite the wrong feel.

    (Sorry this makes the process sound hugely complicated - but this is indeed a tricky meter to analyse: groups of 3 beats, falling into groups of 4 (per chord), but each beat itself seemingly subdivided into 3.)

  6. #6
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Malcolm
    The "beat" is 3/4, as you say 1 2 3 1 2 3 aka waltz time.
    Every instrument follows this same 3/4 time signature (beat). And most songs do not have several beats, they establish one and normally keep it through out the entire song.

    Think of it this way. It's a waltz 1 2 3 . 1 2 3 . 1 2 3 the dancers use this beat as their guide, if the drums were using 4/4 while everyone else was using 3/4 the dancers would be confused as to which beat to follow. So every instrument follows the same time signature.

    If this did not answer your question, rephrase it and come back.
    This is not IMO a waltz. Can you imagine waltzing to it?
    The "3/4" bars fall into clear pairs (even 4s), so it has to be either 6/4 or 12/4.
    And there's an argument for 12/8 too (it does have a kind of slow blues feel).

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    Quote Originally Posted by JonR
    So it would be wrong to say the chorus section is in the key of G
    I disagree. It is very common for rock songs to modulate to another key between verse and chorus, and this here is a perfect example. It has a ii-V-I in the new key (G), and then stays with the G for 2 bars, that is not a modulation? The F is a transitional or shared chord between G (shared because mixo is usually preferred to major in rock) and C.

  8. #8
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    ......because there are lots of instruments playing in one song...so..each instrument part has a different roles...in it's own meter signature and tempo....so when we say the "Oh the song is played in 4/4 or 3/4!" i don't know if they meant the main single instrument to be playing in 3/4 or the background single instrument to be in 3/4....
    The OP asked about each instrument having it's own time signature. The answers he is getting keep dealing with the nitty gritty of what time signature. That is not the issue.

    I think he is concerned with -- Would each instrument follow a different time signature? And if so how does he decide what one to provide. That needs to be cleared up so he can move on.

    Jon's answer deals with how to determin what the time signature is. I do not think we ever got around to answering his OP ----- all instruments follow the same signature.
    Last edited by Malcolm; 04-05-2008 at 05:00 PM.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by jessmanca
    I disagree. It is very common for rock songs to modulate to another key between verse and chorus, and this here is a perfect example. It has a ii-V-I in the new key (G), and then stays with the G for 2 bars, that is not a modulation? The F is a transitional or shared chord between G (shared because mixo is usually preferred to major in rock) and C.
    Have you listened to it?
    I'd agree on the face of it it looks like a ii-V-I in G major (that's what I first thought when I saw the chords, before I listened), but on the track the G (as I said) has a sus4 (although not a 7th I can hear), which clearly suggests - to my ears - that's it's become the V of the original key; partly because these two bars (Gsus4-G) are the same as in the verse. I don't get a sense of modulation at that point, just a tonicization. (Try putting a maj7 on the G chord, it sounds quite wrong.)
    IMO, the D7 is a classic secondary dominant. The Am7 is the ii of G as well as vi of C, but that doesn't make it a key change.

    It's a subtle difference perhaps (and a debatable point), but if this is a key change, then wouldn't any secondary dominant amount to a key change?
    How would the use of D7 need to be different for you to interpret it as a secondary dominant? (Interested in your perspective.)

  10. #10
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Malcolm
    The OP asked about each instrument having it's own time signature. The answers he is getting keep dealing with the nitty gritty of what time signature. That is not the issue.
    True - perhaps I got carried away, but hopefully the detail I gave on the drums makes the issue clearer.)
    Quote Originally Posted by Malcolm
    I think he is concerned with -- Would each instrument follow a different time signature?

    Jon's answer deals with how to determin what the time signature is. I do not think we ever got around to answering his OP ----- all instruments follow the same signature.
    Quite.
    Perhaps this is a misunderstanding about the difference between "metre" (time sig) and rhythm/rhythmic patterns, etc.
    Just as there is only one key in a song (at a time), while each instrument plays different notes, so there is only one metre, although each instrument might play different rhythms within it.


    nercv, are you still there? Am I (are we) making any sense?

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    Quote Originally Posted by JonR
    Have you listened to it?
    I'd agree on the face of it it looks like a ii-V-I in G major (that's what I first thought when I saw the chords, before I listened), but on the track the G (as I said) has a sus4 (although not a 7th I can hear), which clearly suggests - to my ears - that's it's become the V of the original key; partly because these two bars (Gsus4-G) are the same as in the verse. I don't get a sense of modulation at that point, just a tonicization. (Try putting a maj7 on the G chord, it sounds quite wrong.)
    IMO, the D7 is a classic secondary dominant. The Am7 is the ii of G as well as vi of C, but that doesn't make it a key change.

    It's a subtle difference perhaps (and a debatable point), but if this is a key change, then wouldn't any secondary dominant amount to a key change?
    How would the use of D7 need to be different for you to interpret it as a secondary dominant? (Interested in your perspective.)
    No I haven't heard it, but I don't see how the G having a sus4 would change it's function. It is clearly a delayed 7-3 resolution from the D7 to the G chord, the sus4 is simply added as a stylistic effect... not to imply the key of C. Of course the Maj7 would sound wrong.. this is blues-rock, even the tonic would use a flatted 7th.

    To interpret it as a secondary dominant, I'd still have to hear C as the tonic. As in the chord progression: C D7 G7 C. In the chorus there is no C chord.

    If the last chord was a C chord I'd agree with you, but since it's F I believe it is transitioning back into the home key. We went from using an F# to tonicize G, to an F natural to show very strongly, "we are leaving that key behind now."

    I suppose if listening to it changes your interpretation that much I will have to listen to it. What is the melody?

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    meter signature

    Quote Originally Posted by JonR
    True - perhaps I got carried away, but hopefully the detail I gave on the drums makes the issue clearer.)
    Quite.
    Perhaps this is a misunderstanding about the difference between "metre" (time sig) and rhythm/rhythmic patterns, etc.
    Just as there is only one key in a song (at a time), while each instrument plays different notes, so there is only one metre, although each instrument might play different rhythms within it.


    nercv, are you still there? Am I (are we) making any sense?
    Hi JonR, i gratefully appreciate your help in answering my question.. yup..i was mistakenly taken key signature for meter signature...and your post about the meter helps me. ..in the song Tracy Chapman feat. Eric Clapton - "Gimme a reason" does all the instrument play the same meter? Do the singing portion usually follow the same meter as well?

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by jessmanca
    No I haven't heard it, but I don't see how the G having a sus4 would change it's function. It is clearly a delayed 7-3 resolution from the D7 to the G chord, the sus4 is simply added as a stylistic effect... not to imply the key of C. Of course the Maj7 would sound wrong.. this is blues-rock, even the tonic would use a flatted 7th.

    To interpret it as a secondary dominant, I'd still have to hear C as the tonic. As in the chord progression: C D7 G7 C. In the chorus there is no C chord.

    If the last chord was a C chord I'd agree with you, but since it's F I believe it is transitioning back into the home key. We went from using an F# to tonicize G, to an F natural to show very strongly, "we are leaving that key behind now."

    I suppose if listening to it changes your interpretation that much I will have to listen to it. What is the melody?
    See (or rather hear) what you think:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kuq35UCUZ_A

    I thought exactly the same as you when I saw the sequence.
    Hearing it didn't convince me of the opposite, exactly. But it didn't sound "rested" on the G chord; despite the "resolution", G doesn't extablish itself as a new key centre, IMO.

    Here's how wiki defines the distinction:

    "The chord to which a secondary dominant progresses is a tonicized chord in that it is briefly treated as the tonic. Tonicizations longer than a phrase are modulations."
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secondary_dominant(my italics)

    The question, of course - assuming we accept that definition - is "how long is a phrase?"
    I think in this case, it may be borderline. But the song is very slow, so phrases are also long (in time) - IMO the tonicization is still no more than a phrase length.

    BTW, the melody note on the G is mainly D, with maybe passing B and E - a very free and short melodic phrase. That's another reason, I guess - maybe the main one? - why the G chord doesn't sound like a tonic.

    And it isn't what I'd call "blues-rock" in style. It's more like a gospel/soul ballad, and the melody is largely major pentatonic. A maj7 may not sound right on a tonic chord, but a b7 sounds no more appropriate (IMO!).

  14. #14
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by nercv
    Hi JonR, i gratefully appreciate your help in answering my question.. yup..i was mistakenly taken key signature for meter signature...and your post about the meter helps me. ..in the song Tracy Chapman feat. Eric Clapton - "Gimme a reason" does all the instrument play the same meter? Do the singing portion usually follow the same meter as well?
    Yes.
    Multiple time sigs (polyrhythms) simply don't occur outside advanced 20thC classical music.

    The instruments that will most clearly outline the meter are drums, bass and (to a lesser extent) chord instruments (chord changes, rather than rhythmic patterns). Vocals and lead instruments can be rhythmically quite free within that meter.
    Think of the meter as a framework, a grid, within which the instruments make their patterns.
    None of the instruments actually NEED to mark the beat or the meter clearly - but they all know where it is, and will always synchronise at certain points (usually downbeats).
    Last edited by JonR; 04-06-2008 at 09:13 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by JonR
    See (or rather hear) what you think:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kuq35UCUZ_A

    I thought exactly the same as you when I saw the sequence.
    Hearing it didn't convince me of the opposite, exactly. But it didn't sound "rested" on the G chord; despite the "resolution", G doesn't extablish itself as a new key centre, IMO.

    Here's how wiki defines the distinction:

    "The chord to which a secondary dominant progresses is a tonicized chord in that it is briefly treated as the tonic. Tonicizations longer than a phrase are modulations."
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secondary_dominant(my italics)

    The question, of course - assuming we accept that definition - is "how long is a phrase?"
    I think in this case, it may be borderline. But the song is very slow, so phrases are also long (in time) - IMO the tonicization is still no more than a phrase length.

    BTW, the melody note on the G is mainly D, with maybe passing B and E - a very free and short melodic phrase. That's another reason, I guess - maybe the main one? - why the G chord doesn't sound like a tonic.

    And it isn't what I'd call "blues-rock" in style. It's more like a gospel/soul ballad, and the melody is largely major pentatonic. A maj7 may not sound right on a tonic chord, but a b7 sounds no more appropriate (IMO!).
    Well I listened to it, I still hear it as a temporary, albeit short modulation, the G in question sounds like a I when I hear it not the V of C.

    My opinion has changed though, and now I think it could be correctly interpreted either way. I disagree with your original statement of "calling it a modulation would be wrong" though.

    Yep, it's not blues-rock, I just assumed it was since it was Clapton

    Anyway, either way could be right to me.

    This has to be Clapton's slowest song ever.

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