How do you find the key?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by nikofthehill, Jun 8, 2002.

  1. nikofthehill


    Jul 30, 2001
    san jose, CA
    If you are listening to a song, how do you figure out what key it is in? Is there a better way than trial and error?
  2. tummage


    Apr 23, 2002
    New Orleans, La
    With time and experience you will be able to tell keys and progression out the air w/out having to even touch a bass. But remember I said with time. Only a very few humans are blessed with perfect pitch, and the ability or knowledge to use it. The rest of us do it the hard way at first.

    Suggestion-- Find out all you can about the Solfege method -I hope I spelled that right. It is basically the Do Ray Me song. After you find one note, you can sing up or down to the next in the series until they're all nailed down.

    It also takes some knowledge of the number system.
    which to be brief is any major scale. The first note is one, 2nd is two -get the idea.
    Once familiar with this system you can recognize progressions. ex. I, VI, IIm, V.

    Oh and not to upset you, but the first note of every song is not neccessarily the key of the song.
    In fact, there are some songs where the key of a song is (x) but you never play (x) in the song.
    How's that for fun.

    Please someone more eloquent than I help this poor beleagered soul. I feel as though I have confused him and myself.
  3. nikofthehill


    Jul 30, 2001
    san jose, CA
    thanks tummage
    i think i understood your post, so don't worry about the confusion. i was just wondering if there was an easier way?
  4. mflaherty

    mflaherty Supporting Member

    Oct 9, 2001
    When I was ten my parents got me a guitar for Christmas. It came with an instruction book written by a guy named Jerry Oddo. One of the first paragraphs in the book stated something to the effect that the first note of the melody and the first chord of the song don't always tell you the key, but the last note of the melody and the last chord of the song usually do. Jerry was talking about simple folk songs, but I have since found it to be true for most kinds of popular music.
  5. Brad Barker

    Brad Barker Supporting Member

    Apr 13, 2001
    berkeley, ca
    bryan beller wrote an interesting (and useful!) article in bass player awhile ago titled "the poor man's perfect pitch"

    he wrote a note and gave one or two songs that had an easily identifiable example of that note. he even gave examples of intervals.

    you can take that concept further.

    eg-the minor 7th: the major riff in tool's "stinkfist" (E...D)

    minor 3rd: first two notes of the "higher ground" riff

    E: the beginning of "Purple Haze"

    hope that helps any!
  6. cassanova


    Sep 4, 2000
    learn this, it also has something to do with key signatures.

    circle of 5ths
  7. supergreg


    Jan 20, 2002
    Yes, definitely learn this. Its a bit confusing at first so dont get discouraged.
  8. Deckered


    Jun 9, 2002
    You really have to listen for the tone of the song. If the song sounds bluesy or distressed, you're probably talking about a minor key. If the song is more upbeat, its probably centered on a major key. This doesn't always hold true, but i think the best way to begin to figure out keys by ear is to figure out the differences between the tones or moods of the different keys.
  9. beermonkey


    Sep 26, 2001
    Seattle, WA
    That wacky Beller guy... :D

    I have done this for years for hearing different intervals when writing out or figuring out stuff. A fifth is the Imperial theme from the old Parkay/butter commercials... (dut dut dut daahh!!)
  10. Deckered


    Jun 9, 2002
    Yeah, and a major third would be the first two chords of nirvana's lithium
  11. Brad Barker

    Brad Barker Supporting Member

    Apr 13, 2001
    berkeley, ca
    your using the word "imperial" reminded me of this...

    since i play lots of arpeggios and inversions (good exercises when creativity is a bit low...), i can identify them fairly well...

    so i was able to pick out darth vader's theme! very cool.

    it's just an inversion of Dm (with 5th under the root). all of the notes AFAIK are either D, F, or A.

    (well, assuming that it is in the key of D. i don't have any of the movies so i have to kinda guess to the best of my ability...but this is what this thread is about, eh? ironic if it's in, like, F# or something :D )