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I was wondering when we want to ask someone about a piece of music , I could say what the scale of that music is or the tonality of that. Which one is true

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    Hesam, welcome to this forum. We try to be helpful but your question is rather broad and not very clear. Can you give an example of how you would use each term to describe a piece of music? – ggcg May 26 '20 at 19:13
  • Thank you , I mean when you want to talk about a piece , for example one of ed Sheeran songs , you say that this piece is written in X tonality or scale? – Hesam May 26 '20 at 20:34
  • is there a tonality without a key? – Albrecht Hügli May 27 '20 at 8:00
  • Definitely not , but what do you mean? – Hesam May 27 '20 at 8:10
  • @AlbrechtHügli "is there a tonality without a key" - yes, in the sense that 'tonality' (in one of the meanings of the word) is a general concept describing the 'tonal palette' or 'harmonic palette' of a piece of music, and 'keys' are ways to specify certain types of tonality. You can't successfully describe all types of tonality using keys. – topo Reinstate Monica May 27 '20 at 9:34
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Maybe think of it with an analogy.

A painter's palette has lots of mixed colors but un-arranged on the palette in no particular order.

Put the colors in a specific order on the canvas and you get the gradations of a sunset or a rainbow.

When talking about a picture's palette it refers to the un-arranged colors of the palette. Like a monochrome palette.

In music a tonality is like a painter's palette. It's a set of notes in no particular order.

If all those tones are put in a particular order - a step wise order for a full octave - you have a scale. It's a particular melodic treatment of the tones in a tonality.

In music you say a composition is in a tonality. That's the music palette.

Key is a specific kind of tonality using the major/minor system. You can have other tonalities beside the major/minor system. Blues and modal are two common types. So, music could be in tonalities like the key of D minor or a blues in B flat or a folk tune in C Mixolydian.

As a hierarchy...

  • Tonal music: the music has some tonal center
    • Specific tonality: key, mode, etc. the palette of tones
      • scales may or may not be a melodic feature used in the music
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  • Thank you Michael . Your comparison was really helpful , but I didn't got the last paragraph ."key is a specific kind of tonality ", what do you mean? – Hesam May 27 '20 at 8:30
  • Key signatures define the composition root and also mode of it . – Hesam May 27 '20 at 8:32
  • @Hesam No, key signatures can't define a mode - any key signature could apply to any one of 7 diatonic modes, for example. They don't define a root either. A simple example is that the key signature for C Ionian could be the same as A Aeolian. – topo Reinstate Monica May 27 '20 at 9:40
  • But in major and minor modes , if you add a half step to last sharp it gives you the name of the tonality s root and its major name , while if you come down 2 while step from n scale with flat you have its minor – Hesam May 27 '20 at 11:42
  • @Hesam, you can do many alterations with sharps and flats to change a tonality - like lower scale degree ^2 in a minor key signature to get Phrygian. Those are simply changes at the tonality level. The point is to call that a tonality not a scale. The matter here is only about using the right word to get the hierarchical category right. It's kind of hair-splitting, but that is the nature of your question: being picky about terminology. – Michael Curtis May 27 '20 at 13:49
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Tonality is the key of a piece. It has a bit to do with scale notes, but that's all.

There are often times in any piece where diatonic notes won't do the job, so talking in terms of a 'scale' is pointless.

Saying somethng is in, say, C major, doesn't automatically mean that the only notes in there will be C D E F G A and B. Music doesn't work like that.

We learn initially that it actually does, but that's to simplify things for beginners. Unfortunately, that piece of info. seems to stick - which is where we are here.

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    key is a way to describe tonality, but not the only way - and perhaps not always a very complete way? One obvious example, often repeated here, is blues - there isn't a 'key' you can state that, by itself, indicates blues tonality. – topo Reinstate Monica May 26 '20 at 19:38
  • @topoReinstateMonica - not really. When I'm playing blues with others, there HAS to be a specified key. You're either playing blues in A or you're not. Don't really see where the discrepancy is. Blues is no different from any other music, key (or tonality) wise. There has to be a key that everyone is in. Tell me that blues in A hasn't got A as the root note. – Tim May 26 '20 at 20:17
  • Thx , it was helpful – Hesam May 26 '20 at 20:30
  • Well, my remark about the limitations of 'keys' is more about the limited choice of 'minor or major', rather than the idea of having a root note. If your piece is bluesy, saying your piece is a 'blues in A' is actually likely to be a much better description of its tonality than simply specifying a key - which only gives you the choice of "A major" or "A minor". – topo Reinstate Monica May 26 '20 at 21:52

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