Music Theory Made Easy | Relative Keys & Tonics

Music Theory Made Easy!

There are a lot of music producers that don’t know much about music theory. I don’t think that is a bad thing, because I am one of them. I can’t hear tones and tell you there frequency ( pitch ). I can’t recite scales or chord progressions. However, thank goodness it is 2015, the internet exists and their are people out there that can help!

Today I mainly want to talk about Relative keys. What they are and how to use them. More specifically how us non-musicians can use this knowledge when searching for samples in our sample packs. In that process we will also talk a bit about Tonics as well, but that is only supplementary to our focus.

Music Theory Vocabulary 101:


In music theory, the key of a piece is the tonic note and chord which gives a subjective sense of arrival and rest. Other notes and chords in the piece create varying degrees of tension, resolved when the tonic note and/or chord returns. The key may be major or minor, although major is assumed in a phrase like “this piece is in C.” Popular songs are usually in a key. – WIKI

Relative Keys

In music, relative keys are the major and minor scales that have the same key signatures. A pair of major and minor scales sharing the same key signature are said to be in a relative relationship.[1] Therelative minor of a particular major key, or the relative major of a minor key, is the key which has the same key signature but a different tonic; this is as opposed to parallel minor or major, which shares the same tonic. – WIKI


In music, the tonic is the first scale degree of a diatonic scale and the tonal center or final resolution tone.[4]The triad formed on the tonic note, the tonic chord, is thus the most significant chord. More generally, the tonic is the pitch upon which all other pitches of a piece are hierarchically referenced. Scales are named after their tonics, thus the tonic of the scale of C is the note C. – WIKI

Working with Sample Packs

Using sample packs is quite common and can be a ton of fun. Using a bit of music theory can help expand your tools from each pack.

Sample packs, these days, come marked with the “key” of the track. For example, EPIC BASS F-major 140bpm. The F-major in this title marks the key as it relates to the tonic. You should expect the first note of the loop to be an F, or a variation of an F-major chord. You can also expect that all the notes to follow in the loops to fall somewhere on the F-major scale – F, G, A, Bflat, C, D, E.

Usually, you don’t want to use a whole loop, although their is plenty of president for it 😉 So, you can chop and screw any samples that are marked F-major. This is great and fun and maybe why glitch hop and dubstep all sound like a bunch of different song ideas chopped up and put into one 😉

This is where relative keys come into play!

What if you run out of F-major loops? Relative Keys, bro! The relative key for F-major is D-minor. That may have just doubled your usable sample / loop count. BOOM!

What that means is that the D-minor loops use all the same notes as the F-major loops. So, grabbing a bit of that D-minor won’t be an issue, theoretically speaking. The great thing is that every key has a relative key. Check the chart below!

To be on the safe side make sure you are always come back to that F-major on the one count, if your track is going to be in the key of F-major that is. That could be every 1, 2, 4, 8, 16.. bars.

Now go, go my son. Chop and screw two differently labeled samples to your hearts content without worry.. as long as they are relative keys!!!

Relative Keys Music Theory

Relative Keys | Music Theory

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Author: Joshua Casper

Joshua Casper is an Artist, Musician, and Blogger.

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