How can you determine what key a song is in?


How can you determine what key a song is in?

In: 1

Listen to the notes that it uses and then see what scale uses those notes.

For example, if the song uses mostly A, B, C#, D#, E, F#, and G#, then it would be in E major.

Listen and determine what specific notes are being used.

Depending on the notes and the patterns they are being used in, you can make strong guesses as to what key a song is in, and then you can verify looking (or just knowing) what scales (i.e. keys) use those notes. Determining whether a song is [intended to be] major or minor is going to depend on what the inherent tonic is (the first note of whatever scale you’re using).

So if you hear the notes C, D, E, F, G, A, and B, you might think the key is C major. Which wouldn’t be wrong, But then you also might notice that A was the very first note you heard, and that the melody seems to center around going back to A. So the song may have been intended to be in A minor.

Western music is founded on a fundamental idea: establish a “tonal centre”, which can call “home”. Then take the listener away from home, which creates a sense of tension. Play with that tension, and then resolve things by returning home.

Not *every* piece of music follows this formula, because someone might want to break away from the norm. But it’s common enough to be the norm that someone breaks away from.

So listen for the song establishing a tonal centre at the beginning and returning to it at the end. Be aware that the writer might actually shift the tonal centre during the song, changing the notion of where “home” is; often this is one step up.

So, when you figure out what the home is, you’ve got your root note. Now look for a 3rd, and see whether the 3rd is a major (4 semitones above the root) or minor 3rd (3 semitones above).