shred like rango #1: A-Major
because it’s possible to transpose songs from one key signature to another it might lead you to assume that key signatures are relative, and you’d be right. you can always shift the entire tonal body of a song up or down in pitch and retain the same relative melodic structure, which is to say the relationships between the chords and melodic elements retains the same intervalic distance from each other.
guitarists take advantage of this all of the time, and it speaks to the versatility of the instrument. they use a simple device called a capo, or cleverly change the tunings of their strings in order to change the key signature of songs. i do this all of the time, and as matter of practice keep my guitar tuned 1/2 step down and frequently drop the E string all the way down to D (think Dobro Love, The Turk) for dramatic effect and easy pedal tones, making me effectively playing in D-flat.
however, it also happens that these keys are absolute. the key of A-major has a very discrete and absolute resonance stemming from the primary tone we’ve discovered and named A, which vibrates somewhere in the vicinity of 440Hz. human musicians, for thousands of years, have been collectively trying to settle in on the precise frequency of these tones, and it’s fun to imagine some harmonic convergence thousands of years hence when we finally crack the riddle of the <actual> absolute frequency values of each of the tones of the diatonic scale (the one scale, (TM)), the stuff of science fiction, legend and religion. it may be paradoxically impossible to write in decimal notation if it is in fact not an even integral of Herz, and thus impossible for computers to measure precisely using digital measurement systems. and i suspect that it is not a perfect ratio since Herz is a human scalar measure (but there are interesting implications either way). so in the recording industry, calibrating machines, we’ve settled on the value of 440Hz but concert pitch in parts of europe is 442-443Hz. the range for this tone across cultures is fairly wide, varying with a tolerance of ~15Hz.
i’m going to share some of my insights about each of the named tones over a series of posts, but i’m not going to drill into each of them at the same depth. we’ll focus our lens on a single tone and chords that emanate from it. it’s the composer’s job to explore how the chords built from these root tones make us feel, but there is an undeniable sense of optimism that stems from songs built in A-major, the first and most logical chord to examine.
quoting the wiki:
According to Christian Friedrich Daniel Schubart, A major is a key suitable for “declarations of innocent love, … hope of seeing one’s beloved again when parting; youthful cheerfulness and trust in God.
in my recent experience, it was the key MikeWhite Presents used for a forthcoming collaboration with Jenni French. for me it feels like sky blue. it’s the chord in Otis Redding’s Sitting on the Dock of the Bay that is the anchor of hope (exercise to the reader: go listen to the song and find that chord with your ears. if you do it on my take, bonus since it’s tuned down a half-step, but no points if used the video because you didn’t use your ears). there’s something about A-major, it can give you a lot of hope, somehow, and i know i couldn’t possibly be more vague, but i encourage you to seek out and find an A-major somewhere and get up in there.
that’s what we’re gong to around here as i develop my guitar syllabus. i suffer from a mood disorder called bipolar that has caused a ringing in my ears, and that ringing has matured into an absolute tone. it’s not tinnitus, it’s aleph, and we’re just going to ride the wave, right at the crest, roughly 440 times per second. you can slide around, but if you trough out, you won’t be in a-major any more \m/.
it’s a beautiful thing, really. you should find an a-major near you and give it a big ‘ol hug .
if you try to understand the key of A-major from the wiki, you’ll probably just fall asleep or find a sandwich to call your own without ever hearing it. but if you want to try to stay awake (and i know you do) you can learn some really cryptic stuff about A-major here starting in the second paragraph, which i find hilarious:
“Its relative minor is F-sharp minor and its parallel minor is A minor. The key of A major is the only key where a Neapolitan sixth chord on requires both a flat and a natural accidental.”
^^^ you, going for a sandwich because how obscure is that.
if you wanna really get down with A major, drill on it, and explore it at depth, one on one, we can do that. in fact, you can even have your sandwich: