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This might be a stupid question but started learning Music theory just now and went making Chord Progressions in a key.

What I don’t understand is the difference between Key and Scale ?

Let’s say a song is written in key of C major Which gives us chords as -

1) CMajor

2) Dminor

3) Eminor

4) Fmajor

5) Gmajor

6) Aminor

7) B diminished

My questions are -

1) So what I understand is , If we are playing in Key of CMajor , we can play only these chords with Whatever Roman Numeral Chord Progression. And if we have to shift the key, we have to go according to circle of Fifth and that will be Gmajor Key next. Is that correct ?

2) If we are playing in Key of C Major and lets say a solo comes , so the solo will be on a C Major scale or its relative minor A minor Scale but not any other scale?

3) If we are playing in a key, we still play the Open chords in a guitar on first 4 frets , then what’s the point of learning all the Patterns and creating chords on lets say Fifth Fret with Amajor Scale ? Are those patterns only for playing Lead ? And we can play simple open chords for Rhythm?

4) When we say We play in a key , that means we can freely use the open chords? Even if we are playing In key of A Major whose pattern 1 root starts on fifth fret of guitar ?

I am confused of all these question and I am an absolute beginner in music theory.

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    There are too many different questions contained here for one cohesive answer. – Tim Apr 1 at 20:16
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I will try my best to answer your questions.

1) So what I understand is , If we are playing in Key of CMajor , we can play only these chords with Whatever Roman Numeral Chord Progression. And if we have to shift the key, we have to go according to circle of Fifth and that will be Gmajor Key next. Is that correct ?

A1) To your first question/statement "If we are playing in Key of CMajor , we can play only these chords with Whatever Roman Numeral Chord Progression" I am not sure what to say. It is somewhat true in the sense that if you play something not in the list you will have "accidentals" that are NOT in key. However, this is not forbidden. You are not required to stick only to these chords. But deviations from them have to smoothly voice lead back into the key. Here are a couple counter examples. In Rhythm Changes the basic chords are I --> VI7 --> ii-7 --> V7. Notice that the 6 chord which is usually minor is major here. It provides a leading tone to the ii-7. You could say that the key changed momentarily or that one should treat the key as minor in the ii-7 but you don't need to. In fact many songs based on these changes do not have an out of key note in the melody yet use the VI7 instead of the vi-7. This brings me to my second counter example. One frequently uses cycle extensions to "lead into" chords that are in key. And example might be I --> iii-7 --> III7 --> vi-7 --> VI7 --> ii-7 --> V7 --> I. The iii and the vi chords are played "in key" then changed to be a dom 7th for the next chord in sequence until you get to the classic ii-->V-->I. You can apply this as often or as little as desired. Formally speaking you might say the key changed with every occurrence of this device. You can also think of these as "passing chords" containing accidentals. As an aside chord progression and song don't always belong to a fixed key. We sometimes vamp back and forth between chords that sound good together but have no relation based on key signature or analysis using a fixed key. As for your second statement in this question "And if we have to shift the key, we have to go according to circle of Fifth and that will be Gmajor Key next" the answer is NO. You do not have to change key by a 5th. In fact the most common device I know going back to before classical music is to change to the 4th. For example from the key of C to the key of F. In fact you can change key from any starting point to any other key! There is a great book called Modulations by Reger that outlines just about every possible key change with a smooth chord progression. This is quite advanced.

2) If we are playing in Key of C Major and lets say a solo comes , so the solo will be on a C Major scale or its relative minor A minor Scale but not any other scale?

A2) For this most part this is a safe bet, a good starting point. You can move away from the key in your solo but you'd be wise to respect the structure of the song. Keys come in comparable sets that share a tetra chord, no surprise these are related by a 5th. For example the keys of F, C, and G (the IV, I, and V in the key of C) all overlap. This means you can deviate from one to the other and com back smoothly. Going much further from the key in many cases licks based on the minor blues scale sound fine even in a major key. This is a common occurrence in Rock and Jazz. So in fact you don't need to stay in key or on the major scale of the key but your musical ideas should respect the key. As you learn more you will come across all sorts of formulaic methods for soloing. Not worth discussing here since you are just starting.

3) If we are playing in a key, we still play the Open chords in a guitar on first 4 frets , then what’s the point of learning all the Patterns and creating chords on lets say Fifth Fret with Amajor Scale ? Are those patterns only for playing Lead ? And we can play simple open chords for Rhythm?

A3) This is a different question altogether. Everything is important. The open string chord patterns are very important but so are the movable ones. They are not just for soloing. You cannot play all 12 keys with open string chord voicings only, and part of the value of the other chord patterns is the alternate voicing (different order of notes create different harmony). You definitely want to learn all you can here to be a great rhythm player.

4) When we say We play in a key , that means we can freely use the open chords? Even if we are playing In key of A Major whose pattern 1 root starts on fifth fret of guitar ?

A4) This question is not coherent or clear to me. I cannot understand what you are asking. First of all there are keys for which NONE OF THE OPEN CHORDS WORK. So your first statement is not true. I am also not quite sure what your second statement means. The pattern of A major starts on the fifth fret. This is not true, unless you are referring to a specific method book and I don't know that notation. The A major scale starts on the open A string in most books. But if you are referring to the standard major scale starting in the second finger on the low E string then, yes you can still play the open A chord as rhythm. There is no reason why you need to be in the same position when soloing as you are when playing rhythm. In fact there are several ways to play each chord and each has a corresponding scale pattern in the same position. This is sometimes referred to as the C-A-G-E-D system.

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  • Isn't that Jack black's music project – ggcg Apr 2 at 16:46
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You're approaching music theory from the wrong direction. Take a real piece of music - take LOTS of pieces of music - and see what they actually do. You'll find that some songs do confine themselves to the notes and chords of a single scale, but many don't.

C, Am, F, C. The 'four chord trick' behind a lot of simple pop songs of the 50s and 60s.

C7, F7, G7, C7. The chords of a simple Blues - basis of a whole lot more songs. Note the non-scale notes included in those chords. But it's still definitely a Blues in C.

And I could quote many more examples that use many more non-diatonic chords while still being 'In C'.

Your theory book has listed the chords that may be formed from the C major scale. All very neat and tidy. I expect it also has a 'circle of 5ths' diagram. Yes, G major is harmonically close to C major. But those aren't the ONLY chords that get used in a song 'in C major'. And G major isn't the ONLY key we can visit. The book's attempt to lay things out systematically should not be mistaken for a set of rules. Look at some real songs!

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I suggest learning the formula for building a scale from the chromatic scale and working through that exercise a few times. Then it may help to memorize the notes on each string starting at the nut and naming each note up to the 12th fret. After this is accomplished, it may help you to download a page of guitar neck diagrams from the internet, print it out, and fill in the scale notes across the neck. Hopefully this can help you see a number of different places that you can play a scale. After that, you may choose to study moveable chords, where you'll realize that scales and chords can be played in several different positions on the neck, but it involves learning at least five moveable chord fingering forms and five different scale fingering patterns. At that point you may start to see how scales and keys are related to each other. You've got your work cut out for you. Best of luck.

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Your question asks 4 different things and it's actually quite time consuming to answer. There are already some good answers here. I wanted to focus on one thing:

2) If we are playing in Key of C Major and lets say a solo comes , so the solo will be on a C Major scale or its relative minor A minor Scale but not any other scale?

This depends mostly on the genre you're playing. A genre like jazz follows diatonic conventions of keys and scales quite well, although they can modulate frequently. Other genres like rock and blues tend to throw music theory out of the window. Blues is major and minor at the same time and the harmony uses a lot of accidentals.

When soloing, harmony is king. Your solos should work nicely with the chord you're playing over. I find that soloing is not as simple as music theory makes you think, especially in songs that are not 100% diatonic.

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