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How to discern the key of a song

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(@rum-runner)
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Anyone know the best way, when you are listening to a song say on a CD, to figure out what key it is in?

Regards,

Mike

"Growing Older But Not UP!"


   
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(@blackzerogsh)
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Someitmes, if you find out what the first chord is that's played in the song, it is usually that chord/key. For example, All Along the Watchtower's first acoustic chord is a Bm, putting the song in they key of B (correct me if i'm wrong)


   
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(@improvgtrplyr)
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Someitmes, if you find out what the first chord is that's played in the song, it is usually that chord/key. For example, All Along the Watchtower's first acoustic chord is a Bm, putting the song in they key of B (correct me if i'm wrong)

sounds like a good way to go...it's rare you'll have songs where that won't work. drift away by doby grey starts with a B but the song is in the key of E.

you can also play all the notes down the low E string till you find the natural sounding note. :D


   
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(@noel-iu)
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Its usually the first chord... but thats hard to tell at first hear...
If you have your guitar play a Minor Pentatonic... and see if it matches...
It will match somewhere on the fretboard... so, follow the Pentatonic to the Base and get the Key
That's what I do... hope it don't seem too complicate

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(@chuckster)
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Again correct me if I'm wrong but I was taught strike the low E string fretting each position along the fret board each time. Sooner or later you will come across a note that sounds "right" for the song you are listening to. All of the others will sound wrong. This right note will give you the key of the song. I find this tends to work quite well but some songs are easier than others. It's one of those things that takes practice to develop your ear.

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(@fretsource)
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Blackzeroqsh wrote:
Someitmes, if you find out what the first chord is that's played in the song, it is usually that chord/key.
That's right - Especially on the first strong downbeat of the song. And the last chord of a song is even more likely to be the key chord. Also the last note of a song's vocal melody is very likely to be the key note too. Check whether the major or minor chord built on that note sounds most right - and that's your key.

But there are exceptions, so, if you're not sure, try to listen for the appearance of the key chord, with its characteristic 'back home' feeling throughout the song, especially at the ends of verses and choruses. Watch out for songs that change key - or maybe don't even have a proper key.


   
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(@fleaaaaaa)
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Really? Don't have a key? Explain

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(@improvgtrplyr)
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no key?....yes please explain and if you could give an example that'd help too


   
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(@noteboat)
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I think the active word is 'proper' key. Many songs either modulate, or have chords that are borrowed from a parallel key, so the set of chords isn't formed from just one diatonic scale.

An example of that would be "Dock of the Bay" - it's in one key, but the chords aren't... they borrow from parallel major keys no matter where they fall. If you play it in C, you'll find you're using D, E, and A instead of Dm, Em, and Am - and you'll use B instead of Bº.

Modulation is common, too. Most pop/rock tunes keep it simple, maybe modulating to a parallel harmonic minor... like using E7 in a tune that goes between C and Am. Jazz tunes are more likely to show modulation to entirely new keys, like Miles Davis' "So What", which moves from D Dorian to Eb Dorian (key signatures C and Db), or Coletrane's "Giant Steps" which leaps from key to key - but keeps a sense of 'key' by always using a V-I or ii-V-I progression in each new key.

There are also songs that lack keys entirely, which are called atonal music. Most of those are classical pieces, since atonal techniques tend to be more 'experimental' than a rock/pop listener's ears will put up with. There are lots of examples: Webern, Berg, Schoenberg, Varese, Bartok, Copland, Liszt, Stravinsky... plenty of composers have played with atonality. A few metal bands have tried it too, like Morbid Angel, and you'll also find atonality in free jazz, like Ornette Coleman's stuff.

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(@improvgtrplyr)
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NoteBoat

is there a specific example from Ornette Coleman?....i know the name from Miles Davis albums


   
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(@noteboat)
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The best starting point for Coleman is probably the album "The Shape of Jazz to Come"

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(@rocker)
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great explanation noteboat, i was wondering about that also 8)

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(@simonhome-co-uk)
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From a lead guitar point of view I always do it by ear. Theory is only there as a suggestionaidgeneric template, if what your ear decides is different from what theory says is the key, then all the better.


   
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(@rum-runner)
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Topic starter  

As noel suggested, I have tried playing a pentatonic pattern in different positions over a song auntil i found a place where it sounded right, then I had the key. I worked fairly well for me. I suppose I was on the right track; I was just wonderingif there was a quicker way. I gues that's right, and as you develo[p your ear it gets easier.

Thanks for the input.

Regards,

Mike

"Growing Older But Not UP!"


   
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(@martin-6)
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I use the E string technique, and it's developed so quickly that it only takes me 2-3 seconds to find the right note! :D


   
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