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finding the key 2

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Jeb, Dec 11, 2002.

  1. Jeb


    Jul 22, 2001
    I too am looking for a quick, "down n' dirty" method for determining the key signature when it is not known. "Off to 'GI'" has been suggested as a possible source. What is GI - or is there a simple answer to the question?
  2. moley


    Sep 5, 2002
    Hampshire, UK
    GI = General Instruction = This Forum.

    As far as identifying the key goes, it's not something you can really teach someone over the internet - it's a listening thing, you can't really describe it. But, do a search, you might find some helpful material.
  3. Jeb


    Jul 22, 2001
    I was hoping that there was a quick way to determine but thought that it wouldn't be that easy. Thanks for the reply. Mother Nature's Son (your sig), I remember that as an old John Denver tune. There was some good stuff in there.
  4. moley


    Sep 5, 2002
    Hampshire, UK
    It's a Beatles tune actually, from The White Album. Maybe John Denver covered it, or maybe he just did a song with the same title.

    There is a quick way to determine the key of a piece (though, it depends on the piece). That is, once you know how to do it, it's quick to determine the key. It's just that there's no real quick way to teach someone to do it over the net.

    It comes down to being able to hear the tonal centre in your head, which is a pretty abstract thing.
  5. DougD

    DougD Bassman7654

    Sep 19, 2002
    North Las Vegas NV
    Learning what the major keys sound like helps. Once you have those in your head its not hard at all.:) Get with a keyboard or piano player, that would probably be the most help.
  6. skaboy


    Oct 16, 2001
    get a ear training book , that's how I learnt all the different key colours from the others and able to determin a key from just listening to a piece of music is a wonderful thing.

    But try and listen to the bass line or the keyboard player they usually play at least a chord or two in root position.
  7. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    There are easy ways - if the sequence has a V7 chord in it, then there is only one of these in a major key, so you then know what the key is!

    Of course this is no help if there aren't any! ;)

    There are other ways of analysing the chords in the chord sequence, determining their function and then working out what the key is - but it requires a long explanation of theory.

    It is something discussed a lot in Jazz, but if you want a more "neutral" explanation, I would recommend Gary Willis's book on "Fingerboard Harmony for Bass".

    There is a section headed "Choosing a Key Centre" which goes through all the "easy ways" to determine the key centre.
  8. Jeb


    Jul 22, 2001
    Sometimes its easier than others. And I agree its an abstract type of thing that there are definitely steps to nailing it, but no quick single method if you know what I mean. I've been playing around with some James Taylor songs (your smiling face is just a blast to play) and he does alot of stuff in E and Bmajor which both have a few sharps as you know and its not always easy for me to distinguish until I write down the notation. 'Is it D# or Eb?' is what I come up with alot of times. When I know the key sig its a pretty simple deal to nail a familiar song on the first run, but I'm in the early stages of this theory stuff. Thanks for the replys.
  9. mflaherty


    Oct 9, 2001
    Here are a few quotes with their associated links on how to find the key of a song. I hope they are helpful!


    What Key am I in?
    Here's a good test to tell what key a song is in:
    1. What is the first chord/note in the song?
    2. What is the last chord/note in the song?
    3. What is the song's most common chord/note?
    If the first chord of the song and the last chord are both C major chords, then it is safe to assume that you are playing a song in the key of C major, which is based on the C major scale. If the first and last chord of the song are two different chords, then try to count which chord is played more often.


    Nearly always, use I as the first and last chord.

    Key: The tonal "center" of a piece of music. Can be thought of as "home base" in a song, the harmonic "resting point". In written music, the key is denoted by the "key signature," just to the right of the treble clef. Often, but certainly not always, the first chord of a piece of music--and even more often the last chord of the piece--tells you the key of the piece.

    Listen to the first note and the last chord of the song. This root note of this chord will almost invariably be key of the song. Thus, if the first chord is A major, then the song is very probably in the key of A major.

    Figure out what key you are in. Sometimes this is simple but other times can be quite a challenge. Figure out if the tune is in a major or minor key. Listen carefully to the first and last chord of each chorus and see if they are the same.

    From Jamey Aebersold’s Points to Remember, taken from his “Anyone Can Improvise!” Seminars


    Look at the last chord in a tune, (or the next to the last measure) if it is major and lasts for a full bar, that is probably the key the tune is in. Especially if the first chord is similar.
  10. Jeb


    Jul 22, 2001
    Thanks for that reply, mflaherty. Great info.

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