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How to id the key from a chord chart.

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by baddarryl, Apr 21, 2010.

  1. baddarryl

    baddarryl Supporting Member

    Oct 26, 2008
    Cape Fear!
    Hi All. I know how to id from a key signature, but what about a chord sheet with no key sig? I know in general many songs begin and end with the root, but this rule is not set in stone. Considering that sharps/flats can be thrown in is there any foolproof way to do this? I am starting to use the Nashville Numbers System so that I can jump keys on the fly if need be, but I want to make sure I am using the degrees of the correct scale for this.
  2. Pat C.

    Pat C. Supporting Member

    Jan 1, 2005
    Tuscaloosa, AL, USA
    You have to look at the way the chords are functioning in the song. What are the chords, how do they progress and resolve, how does the melody interact, etc. Do you have a specific song you're currently trying to work out?
  3. First, yes generic Nashville numbering is great, Having your fake chord generic helps when you have different vocalists.

    Ways to tell the key from fake chord or lead sheet music.
    1. If all verses end with the same chord that's your key 99% of the time.

    2. The first chord used in the verse will not always indicate the key. However, if both the first chord and the last chord in the verse are the same you can bet the farm on that being the key -- for that verse.

    Another way.....
    3. Copy all the chords to a sheet of paper, put them in alphabetical order, cross out all duplications. OK what's left take that to your handy dandy key/scale chart and see if all those chords fit into one key. If so that's your key.
    Here is a handy dandy key chart. http://www.ezfolk.com/uke/Tutorials/1four5/music-theory/key-chord-chart/key-chord-chart.html Scroll the screen down a half page.

    If that has not identified the key then.......
    4. Listen to the song and sound your G string one fret at a time. When what is happening in the song and what you are doing come together - sound good together you've found the tonal center, Look down and see what note that happened on - that's your key. Be aware Key of C and Am have the same notes and the same chords, if the progression revolves around the major chords your key is C if the chords revolve around the minor chords your key is Am.

    If you still have not identified the key .......
    5. Ask one of the band members what key the song is in.
  4. acid bass

    acid bass Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2010
    I'm making some assumptions, mainly based on your signature. Also, I'm not schooled in music (aka; I don't have a degree in music), but I learned how to make theory work for me. So this may not be technically pure or "correct", but you may find it useful.

    1) 90% of church songs are in G. Another 9% are in E. 1% encompasses every other key, although much of the time the worship leader will use a capo so they can continue using G-chord fingerings.

    2) Based on my experience playing for churches or church groups, they have usually at least indicated the major and minor chords. Most church music stays within the I-IV-V-vi variety.

    3) Narrow in on the major chords. More than likely two of them are only one step apart (eg, Bb, C). These are the IV and V. That should do it.

    4) In terms of changing on the fly, the most common key change you will hear is to raise the song up a whole step. In fact, I can't think of a time I've ever done anything besides that when playing for a church.

    Hopefully that gets you up & running. Again, I'm not a music scholar in the technical sense so I apologize to those of you who are rankled by my unbridled "commoner" technique.
  5. baddarryl

    baddarryl Supporting Member

    Oct 26, 2008
    Cape Fear!
    Yes guys most of this music is church stuff. Here is the scenario: often the mp3 that we practice to is in one key, the chord sheet in another, often the tuning is off too, then when we finally get to practice the key is determined by the singers usually. So I could start with something in mp3'd in A, the sheet in G, and finally settled on E at the last minute 5 minutes before playing live. To top it off, more often than not the arrangement gets changed on the spot too. Due to this I have become dependent on the chord sheets which at first helped, but now has become a crutch to me. Especially the way the arrangements change. I am trying to get the chord progressions into the NN System so I can play regardless of key from memory. Often the only practice we ever get is 90 minutes before going live on Sunday morning, so I want to show up more prepared.
  6. baddarryl

    baddarryl Supporting Member

    Oct 26, 2008
    Cape Fear!
    And yes the beginning and ending chords generally are working so far. I have NN five songs tonight and that has worked so far.
  7. ExaltBass

    ExaltBass Gold Supporting Member

    Sep 28, 2006
    Twin Cities, MN
    I usually look at the ending chord in the song... unless the song modulates or doesn't resolve, it is usually an indicator of the key.
  8. StyleOverShow

    StyleOverShow Still Playing After All These Years Gold Supporting Member

    May 3, 2008
    Hillsdale, Portland
    You got to listen to it. Some blues tunes, Cry Me A River, is modal during the verse and goes to a major key (with a Bb-A turnaround).

    Follow the melody too.
  9. Minotauros


    Nov 23, 2009
    I'm not familiar with the Nashville Numbers System yet (maybe I am but don't know it by the name, must look it up), so I don't know if my answer anywhere near adresses your question. If not I apologize.

    What I do is look at the majority of the chords and see what scale they fall into. Whether that's right or wrong I don't know, but when I've done that, and then gone to some "authority" to verify, I've found I was right.

    If a song is predominately Am Em G Dm F, it's key is C:

    If a song is predominately Am Em Bm D F#, it's key is G:

    If there's a non-scale chord in the song, it's just a passing or momentary key change, according to my former teacher.

    It's just what works for me.
  10. Febs

    Febs Supporting Member

    May 7, 2007
    Philadelphia, PA

    Should be a B diminished triad.

    Should be an F# diminished triad.
  11. Minotauros


    Nov 23, 2009
    It's still vii of the scale.
  12. JTE

    JTE Supporting Member

    Mar 12, 2008
    Central Illinois, USA
  13. blakelock


    Dec 16, 2009
    that's what i call...jump in and swim! i'm in a similar situation and i like to be as prepared as possible. i can only suggest that when you practice in the initial key, try to formulate bass lines that are easily transposed by sliding the pattern up or down (no open strings).

    as far as determining the key...what i do is listen to the song once or twice without playing along. try to "hear" what portions of the song "resolve" (that'll be the key root). then, just play along at those "resolved" times to find the key. if you jam the whole time, it can be difficult to find the key.
  14. baddarryl

    baddarryl Supporting Member

    Oct 26, 2008
    Cape Fear!
    Thanks friends.

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