How to Determine the Key of a song?

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How to Determine the Key of a song?

Postby bucketorain » Sat Feb 09, 2008 4:03 pm

How do you determine what key a song is in...

as an example from this site So Many Roads has the chords F C G Em then Am D B7 Em C G Fmaj7

How would i tell what key this is in?

I ask because i wanted to transpose a song to a different key for singing purposes.
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Postby strumminsix » Sat Feb 09, 2008 5:40 pm

As far as transposing it just intervals.

I'm generic with key. I usually follow the golden rule of look for 2 majors 1 full step apart. You know those are the 4th and 5th.
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Postby bucketorain » Sat Feb 09, 2008 6:09 pm

strumminsix wrote:As far as transposing it just intervals.

I'm generic with key. I usually follow the golden rule of look for 2 majors 1 full step apart. You know those are the 4th and 5th.


say what? lol...tbh, i am self taught some of this lingo is over my head...i understand intervals and majors, so what key would the above songe be in, F?
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Postby strumminsix » Sat Feb 09, 2008 7:02 pm

bucketorain wrote:
strumminsix wrote:As far as transposing it just intervals.

I'm generic with key. I usually follow the golden rule of look for 2 majors 1 full step apart. You know those are the 4th and 5th.


say what? lol...tbh, i am self taught some of this lingo is over my head...i understand intervals and majors, so what key would the above songe be in, F?


You should get some theory books or take a class. I've been reading on theory for years and still don't get it but I'm getting better every day!!!

What I wrote above was very basic but I'll help start you off...

Moving a one fret up or down is a half-step. 2 frets = full step.

So what I look for are 2 major chords that are 1 step apart.

Here are the chords: F C G Em

F & G are on step apart. I assume that they are the 4th and 5th of the key. There forefore C would be the root and the key. I test that by looking at other chords (in this case Em) and it works!

101:
Notes in the major scale:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
C D E F G A B C

Move into intervals between notes:
whole-whole-half-whole-whole-whole-half

Move into chords:
C Dm Em F G Am Bdim C

Move that into theory:
I ii iii IV V iv viii- VIII

Note that the upper and lower case??
That identifies major and minor!

Chords based on C scale: 1C 2D 3E 4F 5G 6A 7B 8C

Major chords: 1-3-5 === C E G
Minor chords: 1-b3-5 === C Eb G
etc....

These sites will help:
http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Music_Theory/Chords
http://en.wikiversity.org/wiki/Music_Theory_I
http://www.guitarsite.com/chords3.htm
http://www.guitarchordsmagic.com/guitar ... ory-4.html
http://www.digital-daydreams.com/theory ... .php?id=12
http://www.angelfire.com/music5/theory/
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Postby Scary Pete » Sun Feb 10, 2008 7:49 am

great post dude i need to learn this is a lot better i barely knew most of what you said just in this post.
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Re: How to Determine the Key of a song?

Postby BlobWeird » Sun Feb 10, 2008 9:38 am

bucketorain wrote:How do you determine what key a song is in...

as an example from this site So Many Roads has the chords F C G Em then Am D B7 Em C G Fmaj7

How would i tell what key this is in?

I ask because i wanted to transpose a song to a different key for singing purposes.


Transposing is really simple. If you have a song with the chords A D and E lets say. and this is in the key of A. To move this to the key of F you just figure out how many steps it is from A to F. Which in this case it would be two whole steps or 4 half steps. So then you just put that number to D and E as well. Move all the chords 4 frets. And thats it. The key changes but the chord changes technically stay the same.
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Postby wisedyes » Sun Feb 10, 2008 11:24 am

A good rule of thumb for determining what key you are in is the following. If you have a dominant seventh chord occur, you can generally be sure that it is a V7 chord that is going to resolve back to the I ( or i minor ) chord next. So, for example, if the seventh chord is B7; that is the V& chord of E Major ( or E minor ). More often than not, the next chord is the I chord and thus the key.

HOWEVER, keep in mind that many songs cycle through more than one key throughout the whole thing, so the key can change. But the V7 back to I rule is a pretty good one, works the overwhelming majority of the time.
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Postby dpmphoto » Sun Feb 10, 2008 11:44 am

If you need help in this area try the chord wheel its like 15 bucks, or the incredible scale finder for 6 with a chart to help you out, both are in regular music size format and great for novice to pro
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Postby Rev_Roach » Sun Feb 10, 2008 1:24 pm

wisedyes wrote:A good rule of thumb for determining what key you are in is the following. If you have a dominant seventh chord occur, you can generally be sure that it is a V7 chord that is going to resolve back to the I ( or i minor ) chord next. So, for example, if the seventh chord is B7; that is the V& chord of E Major ( or E minor ). More often than not, the next chord is the I chord and thus the key.

HOWEVER, keep in mind that many songs cycle through more than one key throughout the whole thing, so the key can change. But the V7 back to I rule is a pretty good one, works the overwhelming majority of the time.


Unfortunately this example does not fall under that overwhelmbing majority. This song is indeed in F major, and the sequence: Am D B7 Em C G Fmaj7 contains a number of chromatics (notes outside of the scale, sometimes called accidentals). There are enough chromatics here that one might argue it is a brief change of key, but I think its simpler to consider the entirety of the song in F, especially since even the chorus returns to an F chord (Fmaj7).

Code: Select all

F major scale: F G A Bb C D E F

B7: B D# F# A   B D# F# chromatic
Em: E G B       B chromatic
G: G B D        B chromatic



IMO, the best way to tell the key of a song is by finding the chord that it resolves to, that makes it sound "finished." A simple example of this is a I-IV-V song like Good Lovin. Try playing it and stopping on any chord other than G and it will sound clearly incomplete. Strum that G, and you resolve it. Another benefit of this method is that it requires no theory knowledge whatsoever.[/code]
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Re: How to Determine the Key of a song?

Postby cunamara » Sun Feb 10, 2008 4:32 pm

bucketorain wrote:How do you determine what key a song is in...

as an example from this site So Many Roads has the chords F C G Em then Am D B7 Em C G Fmaj7

How would i tell what key this is in?


I hope I can explain this without making it confusing.

First, you tell what key a song is in by looking at the chord relationships. Major keys all have the same pattern of chords. The chords in any key are named one through seven using Roman numerals for easy reference. Capital numerals designate major chords, lower case designate minor chords:

I ii iii IV V vi vii

So you see the pattern: major, minor, minor, major, major, minor; and then a special case is the vii chord which is diminished (meaning it has a minor third, like a minor chord, but also a flatted fifth).

What key has C, Em, F and G in it? The key of C. C is the I chord, Em is the iii chord, F is the IV chord and G is the V chord:

C Dm Em F G Am Bdim

So the verse is in key of or tonality of C. A song can start or end on a chord other than C and still be in that tonality.

The chorus has a different key tonality, but it's confusing at first glance because there is a chord that doesn't fit. I'll get to that in a minute. So, in the chorus we have Am D B7 Em C G Fmaj7. Looking at the preponderance of the chords, most of them are in the key of G: Am, D, C and G:

G Am Bm C D Em F#dim

You see that it's the same pattern of major and minor chords as in the verse in the key of C?

Now what confuses is the B7- it doesn't belong in the key of G. However, in jazz it is very common to take the iii chord- which is Bm in the key of G- and to make it a dominant chord (B7). That's the simple way to think about it and is what Jerry has done here. This little move occurs in a number of Jerry tunes ("To Lay Me Down," for example).

You can just play over it in the key of G and there's only one note that's likely to clash at all: B7 has a D# instead of a D natural. If you want, you can emphasize the D# to make it stand out, otherwise playing the D natural will just be a blue note. Either is fine, it just depends on the sound and feeling you are trying to make.

Now, not having sat down with a recording of the song and the tabs, I am not sure if that Fmaj7 is correct, nor the Esus -> E cadence transcribed at the end of a different chorus. Both are Jerryesque things to do and they very well be could be correct. They sound fine when I play them. All that is happening there is a resolution back into the key of C for the next verse: Fmaj7 is the IV chord of the key of C, remember (and E major does the same thing in the Key of C that B7 does in the key of G).

The song ends in G during the "So many roads to ease my soul" (G D C) "outro." If it sounds evocative of "Knocking On Heaven's Door" that's because it's harmonically the same thing- G D Am in the case of Dylan's song. Am is the "relative minor" of C major.

Transposing has been covered by others, it's a straight mathematical relationship. Every chord is just changed by the same number of intervals.

Hope this helps rather than making it more confusing.
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Postby mttourpro » Mon Feb 11, 2008 6:23 pm

IMO, the best way to tell the key of a song is by finding the chord that it resolves to, that makes it sound "finished."

couldn't have said it better myself...
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Postby jjbankhead » Sun Mar 16, 2008 9:48 am

strumminsix wrote:
bucketorain wrote:
strumminsix wrote:As far as transposing it just intervals.

I'm generic with key. I usually follow the golden rule of look for 2 majors 1 full step apart. You know those are the 4th and 5th.


say what? lol...tbh, i am self taught some of this lingo is over my head...i understand intervals and majors, so what key would the above songe be in, F?


You should get some theory books or take a class. I've been reading on theory for years and still don't get it but I'm getting better every day!!!

What I wrote above was very basic but I'll help start you off...

Moving a one fret up or down is a half-step. 2 frets = full step.

So what I look for are 2 major chords that are 1 step apart.

Here are the chords: F C G Em

F & G are on step apart. I assume that they are the 4th and 5th of the key. There forefore C would be the root and the key. I test that by looking at other chords (in this case Em) and it works!

101:
Notes in the major scale:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
C D E F G A B C

Move into intervals between notes:
whole-whole-half-whole-whole-whole-half

Move into chords:
C Dm Em F G Am Bdim C

Move that into theory:
I ii iii IV V iv viii- VIII

Note that the upper and lower case??
That identifies major and minor!

Chords based on C scale: 1C 2D 3E 4F 5G 6A 7B 8C

Major chords: 1-3-5 === C E G
Minor chords: 1-b3-5 === C Eb G
etc....

These sites will help:
http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Music_Theory/Chords
http://en.wikiversity.org/wiki/Music_Theory_I
http://www.guitarsite.com/chords3.htm
http://www.guitarchordsmagic.com/guitar ... ory-4.html
http://www.digital-daydreams.com/theory ... .php?id=12
http://www.angelfire.com/music5/theory/

thank you strummin...

i know this information has been posted in and around this board in various forms but the links you put on from wiki really helped me to better understand chords not how they are built but how i can select chords/ modes for what i am playing.

now i just need to learn how to develop melodies and i will maybe be ready to play in a band
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Re: How to Determine the Key of a song?

Postby jjbankhead » Sun Mar 16, 2008 9:55 am

cunamara wrote:
bucketorain wrote:How do you determine what key a song is in...

as an example from this site So Many Roads has the chords F C G Em then Am D B7 Em C G Fmaj7

How would i tell what key this is in?


I hope I can explain this without making it confusing.

First, you tell what key a song is in by looking at the chord relationships. Major keys all have the same pattern of chords. The chords in any key are named one through seven using Roman numerals for easy reference. Capital numerals designate major chords, lower case designate minor chords:

I ii iii IV V vi vii

So you see the pattern: major, minor, minor, major, major, minor; and then a special case is the vii chord which is diminished (meaning it has a minor third, like a minor chord, but also a flatted fifth).

What key has C, Em, F and G in it? The key of C. C is the I chord, Em is the iii chord, F is the IV chord and G is the V chord:

C Dm Em F G Am Bdim

So the verse is in key of or tonality of C. A song can start or end on a chord other than C and still be in that tonality.

The chorus has a different key tonality, but it's confusing at first glance because there is a chord that doesn't fit. I'll get to that in a minute. So, in the chorus we have Am D B7 Em C G Fmaj7. Looking at the preponderance of the chords, most of them are in the key of G: Am, D, C and G:

G Am Bm C D Em F#dim

You see that it's the same pattern of major and minor chords as in the verse in the key of C?

Now what confuses is the B7- it doesn't belong in the key of G. However, in jazz it is very common to take the iii chord- which is Bm in the key of G- and to make it a dominant chord (B7). That's the simple way to think about it and is what Jerry has done here. This little move occurs in a number of Jerry tunes ("To Lay Me Down," for example).

You can just play over it in the key of G and there's only one note that's likely to clash at all: B7 has a D# instead of a D natural. If you want, you can emphasize the D# to make it stand out, otherwise playing the D natural will just be a blue note. Either is fine, it just depends on the sound and feeling you are trying to make.

Now, not having sat down with a recording of the song and the tabs, I am not sure if that Fmaj7 is correct, nor the Esus -> E cadence transcribed at the end of a different chorus. Both are Jerryesque things to do and they very well be could be correct. They sound fine when I play them. All that is happening there is a resolution back into the key of C for the next verse: Fmaj7 is the IV chord of the key of C, remember (and E major does the same thing in the Key of C that B7 does in the key of G).

The song ends in G during the "So many roads to ease my soul" (G D C) "outro." If it sounds evocative of "Knocking On Heaven's Door" that's because it's harmonically the same thing- G D Am in the case of Dylan's song. Am is the "relative minor" of C major.

Transposing has been covered by others, it's a straight mathematical relationship. Every chord is just changed by the same number of intervals.

Hope this helps rather than making it more confusing.


great info cunamara thanks for the info not confusing to me at all.

i have learned a little theory, like a foreign language it is coming to me in waves of realization.

both this and the strummin post have helped a great deal!!

thanks guys :cool:
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