Each musical key is like an ecosystem

In music, each key (or tonal center) is like an ecosystem. It’s really amazing when you begin to understand music like this.

What I mean is that each major and minor key has a set of components that are found “in nature,” as I like to think about it. Each one has a set of chords, intervals and sounds that are unique to it and provide it with its characteristic sound. (ital.)

For a moment, picture a scene from nature. A desert for instance. Well, what’s in a desert? Sand, rocks, certain animals, an array of succulent plants and cactus, etc. All these elements sustain and support each other. It’s a complete environment with a unique characteristic. You couldn’t take something from a different ecosystem, like a whale, and expect it to survive for very long in a desert. That wouldn’t work.

Musical keys are just like that. C major, for example, has a unique set of chords that function in a unique way. In C, G is the dominant chord. It leads you home; back to C. However, the C Mixolydian mode (another ecosystem) doesn’t have a G chord in it. It has G minor instead. A gentler sound than a dominant V chord. A desert with a watering hole.

One cool thing about music is that yes, you can mix and match ecosystems. Juxtapose them. Take elements from one and put them in another. Once you know what you’re doing, this will open up new worlds of expression for you.

But for now, start viewing each key as an ecosystem. Then, when you play a piece in that key, you’ll better understand just how those elements are used in a way that makes the song sound the way it does. A whole new way to experience music!

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