how do i tell what key im in?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by mindflow, Nov 23, 2005.

  1. mindflow


    Oct 31, 2004
    so ive been playing for years but have never really mastered music theory. my question is how do i know what key a song is in? lets say i have a note progression the goes B, G , D, E on the bass, can i tell what key the song is in simply off of that or is it all dependant on the guitar is doing as well? is there a simple trick to telling this?
  2. dhadleyray

    dhadleyray Guest

    Dec 7, 2004
    Those notes spell a G major triad with a sixth. If you know the notes in your chords you kinda know where the key center is. A simplified explanation, but it's not difficult... You'll get it, I'm sure! :)
  3. Ask the keyboard player!

    *BA DUM TSS*
  4. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Columbia SC
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    It depends on what you're playing. Pop stuff, singer/songwriter stuff, Bulgarian DeathPolka - alla that (and so much more) is kinda dependant on the "harmonic vocabulary" of whoever is writing the song. And if the only chords they know are Dm6, Abmaj and Gmaj7 (oh and B7b9#9b13), then they write a song around that harmony.

    Sort of the thing to look for is -where does the song or the harmony try to go? Where does it feel "at rest"? Most functional harmony tends to feel most "at home" with the tonic chord, which generally is the key signature.

    Your note progression doesn't really tell us anything. As DBay said, it does spell a major sixth chord in third inversion or a minor 7th chord in second inversion. But that's only one way to look at it. Those notes would work over a progression that went
    Gmaj D7 E-7
    B- E- B- E-
    B-7b5 Cmaj D- E-

    There's just no way to tell without hearing what else is going on.

    If you're trying to find out what chords will work, pretty much anything you can HEAR will work. You just got to figure out what you are hearing . And then play that.
  5. mindflow


    Oct 31, 2004
    thanks for the help
  6. dhadleyray

    dhadleyray Guest

    Dec 7, 2004
    A much better explanation than mine! :hyper:
  7. Mark Wilson

    Mark Wilson Supporting Member

    Jan 12, 2005
    Toronto, Ontario
    Endorsing Artist: Elixir® Strings
  8. Hookus


    Oct 2, 2005
    Austin, TX
    And remember just because you are plaing over a G maj chord for example, really tells you nothing about what key you are in. It could be any key that contains a G.

    The chord progression, not the note progression on the bass will clue you to the key. Playing in key, and playing over a chord are two different things. You need to select the appropriate scale and mode based on the chord, and the chord will be selected from the key.
  9. usually the "Home" Ed Fuqua mentioned is the last chord of the song (though not always).
  10. djcruse


    Jun 3, 2002
    Norwood, MA
    How about E minor 7?
  11. Depends if those are major, minor, or dim chords too. That could be in the key of C, D, Em, and on and on. I don't know how to explain it, but a C functioning as a tonic in key of C sounds different than a C functioning as a subdominant (IV) in a song. You hear the difference in the chord progression around it, where it goes from the C, where it came from to get to C, etc.

  12. westland

    westland Supporting Member

    :confused: First time I'd heard that one :D
  13. malthumb


    Mar 25, 2001
    The Motor City

    That's because no one has ever played it and lived to tell about it.

  14. Hookus


    Oct 2, 2005
    Austin, TX
    This exactly demonstrates my point. The notes you are playing on bass do not signifya key themselves, you must look at the entire chord progression.
  15. Mohawk Freak

    Mohawk Freak

    Mar 8, 2002
    To make matters worse, the key that you are playing in may not even be represented by a chord in the progression.

    For example, if you have a two chord vamp using Fmaj7 and G7 (Fmaj and Gdom7) then the key would actualy be Cmaj because those chords are harmonised from the 4th and5th degrees of the parent Cmaj scale. This would also apply to the major triads too: F and G (There's a song that illustrates th'is perfectly, I think it's the Beatles' "Love Me Do". It's a 4, 5 progression but I think in G not C)

    To make matters worse, something you think is an obvious key may not be at all. For example a 12 bar blues is generally though of as a 1, 4, 5 progression. Now you can play over it as a 1, 4, 5 but if you play the 7th extension of the chords (for example in the key of G: Gmaj7, Cmaj7 and D7) then the last chord sounds BAD in that context! You'll discover that the progression really sounds better using ALL maj7 chords rather than using the dominant 7 chord last. This effectively makes it a 1, 1, 1 progression with the key changing from G to C to D.

    Arse!!! :rolleyes:
  16. Hookus


    Oct 2, 2005
    Austin, TX
    Well, sort of.

    Think about it this way, worry less about the key, and more about the chords you are playing over. Play the Mixolydian over 7th chords, for example, or Aeolian over minor chords.
  17. ryco


    Apr 24, 2005
    ...or look at the dang key signature
  18. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Columbia SC
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    Well, no. If I'm hearing a D7 and the key signature is no sharps and no flats, just looking at "the dang key signature" ain't gonna tell you ****.
  19. ryco


    Apr 24, 2005
    "That was a joke, son." Sorry Ed. I'm in total agreement with your answer as posted in msg #4, sir.

    Maybe I should :shudder shudder: start using smilies.

    Although accidentals can be a good tip as to what key or direction a piece is heading. Like you said - use your ears and it'll come together.
  20. bannedwit


    May 9, 2005
    Buffalo, NY
    They dont mess around in Bulgerian Death Polka do they?

    Anyways, dont forget that songs change keys sometimes. I was always lucky enough to join bands which change keys all the time during a song. I hate it!

    Anyways, maybe try playing along with the guitar players chords. Start with paper and disect the chords and see what notes are being used and stuff like that. I usually start off making basslines by playing the root for the first couple days we are making the song unless they make a song around a bass line I wrote ;) . I wait for the drummer to get a set pattern or work with him to jam something out and get the chords from our keys player and guitarist. I go home and do my research and bring it to practice the next day. From there, more complex bassliens are created.

    It takes years to be able to do this by ears alone! I sure as hell cant.

    Don't forget that if you play a stale note that just sounds yucky then the right one is just a half step away. hehe. Trial and error.