What is the best way to identify correctly if a song is in C major scale or A minor scale, because notes are all the same?

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What is the best way to identify correctly if a song is in C major scale or A minor scale, because notes are all the same?

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Tonal center. What feels like home base.

If a piece resolves to C most of the time it’s probably in C. If it goes back to Am it’s probably Am.

Example of a chord progression:

C C C G Am C is in C.
Am Am Am F C Am is in Am.

If you’re listening to the song, then the melody should give you a good idea. There is typically a strong sense of what the “home” note is.

If you’re simply looking at a chord progression, then there might not be a straightforward way – although many songs tend to resolve to the I chord so that might be a clue.

They have the same notes but their position is different. So, the first note, which we call the root, changes. This root note is like “home” which is to say that we want to resolve to.

Furthermore, a scale allows us to build the chords and completely different chords are constructed between the two keys.

This gives a happy or upbeat feel to major keys and a sad or solemn feel to minor keys.

a not-technical hint would be, does the song sound bright and happy, or sad. Minor keys sound more ‘sad.’

ELI5 answer: does it sound happy, or sad? Happy will be C major, sad will be A minor.

For a song in C, you would hear more major chords like C major, F major, and G major. If it was in A minor, the 4 and 5 would be D minor and E minor instead.

I mean, it kind of sounds like you have the sheet music for the piece in question (as how else would you know that the “notes are all the same” (i.e. no sharps or flats). In that situation, it should be pretty easy to find the tonic note; if it’s an A, the piece is in A minor, if it’s C then the piece is in C major.

Besides the happy/sad answer, I’ll give an example of a song for each:

“My Girl” by the Temptations is in C Major

“Midna’s Lament” from LoZ: Twilight Princess, is mostly in A Minor.

Everyone else has answered it well, but I’d like to add that the notes are only the same if it’s A natural minor. There is also harmonic and melodic minor scale, which have a raised 7th note, or raised 6th and 7th.

So a piece in A minor could be identified by the use of F# and/or G#. Neither of these are likely to be in a piece in C major (though it’s not impossible).

An easy way is to check the last note. It’s common for a song to end on the key (so a song in C major would end on a C note or C major chord)

I’m a bass singer in a church choir; I also play guitar fairly well, and fool around on an electric bass. With training and experience, you get a sense of what the root of a given chord is, in large part in the context of the piece of music as a whole. The most common four chords in the key of C would be C F G Am, but the most common four chords in a song in Am would be Am Dm E C.

It’s great that you’re asking questions! This one would usually be phrased just a little differently … instead of saying “C major scale” or “A minor scale,” you might ask

Is this song in the key of C major or the key of A minor? Or more simply,

Is this song in C major or A minor?

There’s no need to mention scales, because you’re asking about a song, not scales.

If a guitarist played you a scale, and asked if it was major or minor, *then* it would be appropriate for you to say “that was a major (or minor) scale.”

You didn’t say anything wrong – far from it. And the last thing I’d want to do is discourage you as you’re beginning a wonderful journey.

In a way, it’s like learning a new language; it takes a little while before the appropriate grammar becomes intuitive. Keep asking questions, and it will all come naturally in no time.