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.