Key of ??


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    Avatarfiddle camp

    Howdy! I’m new to this and hopeful this website will have me playing fiddle with much less frustration than I’ve experienced in the past. I’m lost on this, though: “Let’s play this in the key of ___”. I hear it at jams, I hear it on lessons. What exactly does that mean? Where you start on the fretboard? I realize it’s elementary but I find it rather confusing.

    Andrea in beautiful northern Wisconsin 🙂

    John (BGD)John (BGD)

    Hi Andrea, and welcome to the site! The key of the tune is important, because it indicates the scales you will be using to jam with. You can visit here for my video on practicing the seven most-common major scales:

    When you are playing a standard fiddle tune, it is going to be in the key you learned it 99% of the time. Calling the key, in this case, is just for the benefit of the rhythm strummers.

    However, sometimes you have learned the song in a certain key and someone wants you to play it in a different key. Usually this is because the vocalist can’t sing it there, or the banjo player forgot to bring her capo. You must then mentally adjust to the new key. Or, maybe you don’t know the tune and are just trying to jam along. In these cases, understanding how to play scales is very important.

    So, let’s say that someone says, “Let’s play this song in the key of C.” What do you do? Well, you recall your C scale, and position your fingers so that you are only playing seven notes that are on the C scale. Within those seven notes, only the first, third and fifth notes (C,E, and G) will harmonize with the chord, and so you want to start and end all of your phrases with one of those notes. The second, fourth, sixth, and seventh notes (D, F, A, and B) are transition notes, and should be used as small steps as you transition between the first, third and fifth. Don’t stay on these notes for very long, because they don’t harmonize with the chord. Move quickly to the first, third, or fifth and hang out there instead. Simple, huh? 🙂

    Well, just as soon as you have figured out your finger positions for the scale, and decided which notes are the first, third and fifth notes of that scale, the rhythm instruments suddenly change the chord. Now what? Fortunately, that chord change was probably very predictable. Here is how it works:

    When you are in a certain key, consider that to be the root chord. The other chords in the song are most likely the 4th and 5th chord from the root chord. This means that if you are in the key of C, the other chords of the song are probably going to be F and G. If you are in the key of A, the 4th and 5th chords are going to be D and E. So, you will actually need to be ready with 3 different scales, to account for the probable chord changes.

    Good luck! I do plan to make some jamming help videos for beginners.

    Great ScottGreat Scott

    This is for Andrea from beautiful Northern Wisconsin.

    Hi Andrea, and welcome! 🙂

    I have enclosed these links to help you get a better understanding of how Keys in music work. There are a number of violin/fiddle -type web sites out there, with BluegrassDaddy being THE best, however —- the three that I have enclosed here for you to look at are also very good. Choose what you want to look at when you get to their youtube homepages, which I have also included here for you.

    Karen Ramirez — Is a piano / keyboard tutor, but all these things she teaches can be transferred to the fiddle. Keys in music are universal! I would highly recommend you watch all of her tutorials, as this will give a better understanding of the rudiments of music. Karen is an excellent teacher, by the way.

    violintutorpro — Michael Sanchez — Violin tutor

    The Michael Sanchez videos go into the topic of keys a little deeper in regard to finger placement when playing particular keys.

    ProfessorV —- (Todd Ehle) — One of the best violin tutors out there.

    Red Desert Violn —- Lora Staples — also very good tutor for violin. Heaps of free video tutorials.

    I would also recommend you picking up a book on the rudiments of music. This sort of book will put topics such as keys and chords and a whole heap of other stuff into perspective and help you understand music theory a lot better. I can not recommend any particular title myself, off hand; however, perhaps John or someone here on the forum can suggest a good one for you. I have heard that some of the Suzuki books are good, however, I have never tried them.

    I hope these videos will help give you a better idea of keys etc.

    Best of luck,

    Scott 🙂


    I’d would agree that Karen Ramirez has some of the easiest to understand lessons on youtube on chords and scales. Also, watch manodolin chords videos (there are a lot of them) because the mando is tuned the same as a fiddle and the lessons apply to the fiddle. Since I play the piano a little, I find it helps me to remeber the scales and the 1,4,5 chords for each key after I have played them on the piano. After a few weeks you just remember. If you look at the chords shown in the tabs that John provides you can see what he is talking about when he says the 1,4,5 chords in D or in A for example. Takes a while to get it but with me, and I’m older, it takes just looking at it every day for a while. To me, learning to change keys was not easy. G to D is easy, just move over a string and the fingering is the same but knowing a song in G and then at a jam they say A took a while. Happens to me mostly when I am with folks playing old gospel bluegrass tunes. The classic fiddle tunes are usually played the way John teaches them.

    Avatarfiddle camp

    I wanted to pop in and say thank you! Life got a little crazy the past week and a half, but I appreciate the help. Also, last weekend we had a mountain bike race nearby. One of my favorite local musicians was out there playing, and a friend was singing. I showed up after work to enjoy the music and friends, and they told me to go get my instruments (I have a few). It turned out that I actually played, just a little bit, but in front of people. I usually close myself in a room and I feel I have a very long way to go, but I did play along with the guidance of that local musician. It was *so* much fun!!! I need to focus on learning what finger positions translate to notes, so I can speak the same language as those guys when we jam. Like, C, F sharp, E, etc. I think those resources are on here, if I recall 🙂

    Great ScottGreat Scott

    Hi Ridesabike2! Wow! That is awesome that you got to play your music — and in front of other people! Well done! See? Alls it took was a little coaxing, and then you had so much fun! That’s what it’s all about — steppin’ out and having fun and really enjoying yourself! I bet you can’t wait to do it again!

    In regard to you wanting to learn finger positions = notes etc. I will shortly be posting a couple of links in the “General Help” section that will include finger charts etc. I am making a separate post in that section for these links because I feel it may reach more people who want to learn the finger charts etc, rather than posting those links here in my reply. So keep an eye on the “General Help” section. I hope they help you.

    In the meantime, keep ROCKIN’ and having fun! 🙂

    Best regards,


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