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Posts: 2
Reply with quote  #1 
Since each key has only one Dominant 7 chord; what key would one say a blues with all 7 chords is in? I believe Ted addressed this somewhere in the literature out there, but can't seem to find it. Any thoughts on this or where to find Ted's explanation would be appreciated.

Posts: 332
Reply with quote  #2 
There is sometimes confusion because the word "dominant" can mean the 5th scale degree (including the chord built on that scale degree) versus a kind of chord characterized by having a major 3 and a flat 7.

Let me explain:

One meaning for dominant is that it's another name for V, the fifth scale degree.  In the key of C, the fifth note of the major scale is G, so G is the dominant.  And a seventh chord built on that scale degree that uses only notes from the scale - no altered notes, will be a dominant 7th chord.  So if we build a 7th chord on G using notes from the C major scale, we get G7 = G dominant 7, which contains the notes G B D F.  In this meaning, "dominant" is another name for V, just like "tonic" is another name for I and "supertonic" is another name for II.

Another meaning is for dominant seventh, and the meaning most commonly used in jazz, is a chord with a root, 3rd, 5th, and b7th.  So A7 contains the notes A C# E G.  It's called a "dominant 7th" to differentiate it from other kinds of 7th chords like m7, maj7, etc.  And a dominant 7th can be altered with a #5, b5, etc.  And it can have chord tones omitted, like no root or no 5th.  But the most important tones that characterize the dominant 7th are the 3 and the b7, so they usually are not omitted.  Well, you can omit the 3 and have root, 5th and b7th.  This second meaning is the quality of the chord, which is based on the chord tones it uses.

In terms of this second meaning, we can place dominant 7th chords on any scale degree, not only on V.  And since there are 12 scale degrees, you can build a dominant 7th chord on any one of them.  But if you want it to sound like a blues, you better be very careful because to sound like a blues, the I IV and V chords need to be emphasized in a particular order.  There are tons of variations and substitutions that can be made, and Ted shows a bunch in his book Chord Chemistry, but there is a certain blues sound that is inherent in the style.  So if you go too crazy putting 7th chords on any root willy nilly, you will might very well lose that blues feeling.

Also, knowing what key something is in can get complicated if you are just using your brain.  The best thing is to use your ears.  What tone or chord feels like home?  What note or chord would the thing sound finished with?  That is the key.  That is the tonal center.  Often it is clear to the ears as well as the brain.  But it can get tricky.

Posts: 332
Reply with quote  #3 
Maybe I didn't answer your question.

Let's say you have a basic blues that goes: D7 G7 D7 D7 G7 G7 D7 D7 A7 G7 D7 A7

What key is it in?  D?  G?  A?

It's in the key of D.  Why?  Because it fits the pattern I IV I I IV IV I I V IV I V.  Which is a stock traditional blues pattern.

Now Ted played blues with much more sophisticated chords but they can, for the most part, be understood as applying substitution concepts to the basic blues.  The ending can deviate a lot however from standard blues, with all kinds of extended turnarounds possible.

But always you look to see how the chords fit to some standard pattern of roman numerals and you can determine the key.  Often a blues starts with I and ends with chords leading to a V that brings you back around to the top with I again.

Hope that helps.

Posts: 2
Reply with quote  #4 
Thanks for your thoughtful reply. That's helps.

Posts: 1,763
Reply with quote  #5 
The key of a blues is an interesting subject, and Ted discussed this more than once.
He actually wanted to write a book about "New Key Signatures" which would include some unusual combinations of sharps, flats, naturals, and other symbols.
One of the ideas was to have a key for a blues or a dominant 7. 
For example, for a blues in A we generally still give it 3 sharps. But that doesn't make much sense if the "home" chord is an A7 (with a G-natural as the b7).
Ted thought it should be indicated some other way, maybe 2 sharps?


Posts: 23
Reply with quote  #6 
Yes blues is another beast. In fact, Dick Grove taught blues harmony after normal harmony. Traditional harmony for Dick was 2-5-1 based and ended with harmony 5 (and if you have never seen Dick's treatment of harmony, you should find the books), and then went on to harmony 6 which was about Blues and then modal harmony.

He broke down harmony into 5 styles:


I unfortunately never got to harmony 7, and would love to find the book somewhere.

He taught specifically that the blues was a modified major scale:


and the reason blues is unique is that the blues scale is not subject to the natural resolutions of the major and minor 7 note scales.

I could go on, and I know this isn't about Ted per se, but I wanted to hopefully bring another angle into the blues discussion.

Cuban ethnomusicology

Posts: 453
Reply with quote  #7 
Regarding the "key" -

It may help not to confuse "Key" with the idea of a tonal center.  With an "A blues" or an "A minor blues" the tonal center is where you feel "home" is as far as sound. Ted often spoke of a 'resting place' emotionally.   Key signatures are more focused on notation then tonality.  If they weren't, we wouldn't have E minor written with a key signature of G major, for example.  Tradition trumps logic at times.

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