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Thread: How does the listener (subconsciously) know what scale a melody is being played in?

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    How does the listener (subconsciously) know what scale a melody is being played in?

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    I made a simple melody in FL studio that was in C Major. The melody consisted of two phrases both of which started on D. The only difference between the two is the second phrase ended on C (the tonic of C major). The only problem is, it didnít feel resolved ending on the tonic like I thought it would. When I changed the last note of the tonic to a D it sounded resolved even though D is not the tonic of C Major. After looking further into it, I realized that all the notes I used were also in D Dorian as well as C Major. So, my question is what defines a melody as being in a certain key to the listener? What makes the listener want to hear notes in a certain scale within a melody or resolve on the tonic of a certain scale?

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    If the emphasis is on the D then it will feel more like Dorian than C major. Repetition and things like moving from the Dominant of Dorian to the Tonic of Dorian will emphasize that tonal center also, since we are so used to that IV-I resolution
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    Quote Originally Posted by YoungCapone View Post
    So, my question is what defines a melody as being in a certain key to the listener?
    What makes you think the listener determines what key the melody is in?

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    Yeah , the notes determine the key, not the listener.

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    Music has a number of similarities to language, and just as language has its grammar, so does music.

    The most significant thing though, is that they are both oral expressions of oral traditions with oral origins, where, in the case of music, 'oral' includes voice, but also the sound of things being hit, scraped or blown.

    Grammar is the way in which we attempt to impose a framework over these traditions so that we can understand how and why they work. Humans seem to have an innate ability to string vocal sounds together (i.e. words) in a way that others will understand and can respond to, even though in different regions the words will be different and strung together in different ways.

    Similarly, humans can consistently favour a set of musical pitches where these pitches have a particular relationship with each other. Like language, the pitches and their relationships will vary according to region and culture. These do not need to be explicitly taught, but are often passed on through oral traditions.

    Whether the notes or the listener determines the key is an interesting question. A sequence of notes and their relationship to each other will allow the listener to establish a key. But it's not always so clear cut.

    As an illustration, I have been driving along, listening to music at a comparatively low level. I will recognise one song as it competes with the ambient road and engine noise. The next song will come on, and because I don't recognise it immediately and my mind is still accustomed to the previous song, I sometimes hear it as if it was in the key of the previous song. Thus I listen to it in a key quite different to that in which it was written.

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    Quote Originally Posted by gecko zzed View Post

    Whether the notes or the listener determines the key is an interesting question. A sequence of notes and their relationship to each other will allow the listener to establish a key. But it's not always so clear cut.


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    Is it the notes, the listener, the player, the writter or the ROAD? That's deep man.The road determines the key. Yeah, that's dope.

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    Without any support from chordal elements, the listener (if they actually even notice) cannot tell the key. It's a melody and often they're written so the clue is really strong but it's not certain, because all the melody contains is a range of notes that fit into more than one system. For instance - if your melody uses every available note in the scale you had in your head, then it could also be in the relative minor and still be correct. The movement and travel within the melody suggests the key but cannot define it. Add just one harmony line and the key locks in and that harmony line could make it extremely different from the melody only key.

    They actually do this with traditional hymns in church music. Those old hymns with the tune everyone knows from growing up. For a couple of verses all is normal, then the organist changes and puts in a different set of chords that change everything, despite the melody carrying on as normal. A clever technique and pretty amazing on a big organ when suddenly we're in minors, diminished's and odd suspensions - then, back to that old Major key again.

    Most of us use experience to produce keys from a single melody line - but those notes could be any of the 7 modes - unusual but perfectly possible, and probably disturbing if it really was one of the less comfy ones.

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