Key determination? Please help!

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by volker, Feb 7, 2004.

  1. Hello everybody!

    I need help! How do I determine a song's key? Is it dependent on the chord the song starts with? What would be the following examples' key (listed are the chords of each song) ?

    1.) A min C maj F maj D min E maj

    2.) A min G maj C maj D maj

    3.) C maj A maj E min

    4.) C maj G maj A min E maj

    5.) D min A min A# maj F maj

    6.) C min D# maj A# maj

    7.) D min A# maj G min F maj A min C maj

    8.) F# min A maj E maj

    I'd be grateful for any useful advice!

    volker :)
  2. RicPlaya


    Apr 22, 2003
    Whitmoretucky MI
    I heard the majority of the time it's the last note of the song.
  3. Lewk


    Oct 19, 2003
    Yeah i usually use the last note of the song, then play major/minor scales over the top to see what it is. of course, if theres a big key change, this kinda steps on that theory, but for most popular music it works pretty god.

    oh hay riccy duder hows it goin :bassist: :bassist:
  4. Thanks very much for replying, guys! Just to make sure I understand what you mean: For example, The Beatles' "Let It Be" ends with C major, so that's also the song's key?
  5. stephanie


    Nov 14, 2000
    Scranton, PA
    While looking at the last note of a song is a good trick in determining the key (I particular use this trick when finding out the key in a piece of sheet music), it may not always be the case. You have to look at the big picture and use your ear. Learn your chords. Learn your scales. Look for familiar chord progressions. Listen to what the other instruments are playing...
  6. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    You need to know the function of a chord to determine the key. So, for example, there is only one dominant chord in each major key, which functions as the V chord. So if you see a dominant 7th and it is a major piece then you can easily determine the key - the I chord.

    Also in a major key tune, you know that any minor chords must be the II or the VI chord and that can help you determine the key, by a process of elimination.

    Where there is no functional harmony it can be impossible to determine the key without actually hearing the tune - and even then it may be ambiguous.
  7. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    Saying "the last chord" maybe a bit misleading... although as Steph says it is a good trick.

    I'd say, as has been said here before many times by many others more experienced than myself, that the resting chord is what determines the key centre.

    If the song moves towards and rests on a certain chord, being minor, major or 7th, that chord denotes the key centre.

    Listen to a blues pregression, the whole prgression is built around that movement back to the tonic, which happens to be a dominant 7th chord... that feel, that movement is what you're listening for to determine the key centre.
  8. Richard Lindsey

    Richard Lindsey

    Mar 25, 2000
    Metro NYC
    True as far as it goes, and it's a good starting point, but your example assumes that everything's diatonic. In much music, even fairly simple stuff, that isn't so. There's indeed only one "naturally occurring" 7 chord in a major key, but that doesn't mean it's the only 7 you'll encounter in that key. V7 of IV, V7 of V7, V7 of vi, and even V7 of V7 of V7 are fairly common. And you often encounter minors other than ii or vi, such as a bvii7 acting as part of a ii-V leading to the IV.
  9. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    Speed.. like a dozen transatlantic flights without ever getting off the plane...
  10. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    Well that was why I was saying that function is crucial - I was only giving a few simple examples after that - I wasn't saying that's the only way or that every tune is like that!!