How to Tell the Key of a Song

How to Tell the Key of a Song

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Posted April 7th, 2010 by ryseup

When a piece of music is written it is certainly written in a particular key, whether that be the key of Bb or maybe even E. By looking at the beginning of the score you can see what flats or sharps will be used and can determine then which scale has been used to write the song. A key signature is included in each and every musical piece. This information is written right after the clef (shown on the staff) and is explained with symbols stating the number of flats (b) and the number of sharps (#). As you look over the beginning of the lines of music you will recognize a grouping of flats and sharps, which are not ever used simultaneously. They will appear separately on a space or on a line of the music staff and will be placed with the specific notes that will be affected by them. For example, if the music is to played using an F#, the sharp symbol, the #, will be placed on the top line of the staff. This will tell the person that is reading the music that each time an F is played, no matter if it is on top of the staff, in the first space, or below or able the staff (indicated by the ledger lines), this note should be placed as F#. If a note that is dictated as sharp or flat by the key signature is to be played as natural, an accidental is placed before the note. For example, if an F (natural) is to be played in the key of G, an accidental has to be placed before it so it is not played as an F#. The key signature is used so that the number of sharps or flats that are used in within the music itself will be limited. With this said, the musician can tell from the start that each time the note F is played it is to be played as a #. There is no need to put the # in front of each and every F note in the sheet of music. If the signatures were not used, the music would be very hard to decipher because there would be flats and sharps scattered throughout the music, causing cluttering on the lines of music. Here are some common key signatures and the notes they affect:
  • Key of C: Includes no flats or sharps
  • Key of G: Includes one sharp (F#)
  • Key of D: Includes two sharps (C# and F#)
  • Key of A: Includes three sharps (G#, F# and C#)
  • Key of E: Includes four sharps (D#, F#, C# and G#)
  • Key of F: Includes one flat (Bb)
  • Key of Bb: Includes two flats (Eb and Bb)
  • Key of Eb: Includes three flats (Ab, Eb, and Bb)
There is also a relative minor for each key. The similarities of the relative minor and the major are nearly all the same (though started in a different place, the scales are the same) they are not thought of as the same. The note that is found a minor third down from the major (key) is considered to be the relative minor. It is also known as the sixth note in the major scale. The A note is the six note of the C major scale, for example. This means that the relative minor to the C scale is an A minor. It is extremely common for music to use a particular key’s relative minor so if you know about them it makes understanding the chord progression in a song much easier to comprehend. Below are some of the keys and their relative minors (keys):
  • The relative minor for C is A minor
  • The relative minor for D is B minor
  • The relative minor for A is F# minor
  • The relative minor for Bb is G minor
An experienced musician playing in a non-formal setting (not using written music) simply needs to know the key to a particular song to be able to play the chords and scales (melodies) for that song. Last of all, it is very common for a song to change keys before the end of the song. Musicians that are newer to the musical industry may find this very challenging. If you enjoyed this blog post, then please feel free to visit my main piano lessons blog where you will learn how to play piano, where to find piano sheet music, all about famous piano composers ... even how to make rap beats on your computer. We have it all so stop on by.
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Posted by Anonymous on Fri, 05/10/2013 - 10:58
Title
Hi
Posted by Anonymous on Thu, 05/26/2011 - 19:05
Nice
This is a very nice introduction. Thanks. There is amazing clarity of thought in the way the structure of keys has been explained.
Posted by Anonymous on Sun, 08/29/2010 - 06:59
Thanks
Nice writeup, definitely helped me with a song I was working on. I also found this cool online tool that tells you what key a song's in by the chords you give it - www.namethatkey.com It's actually pretty accurate. Thanks again
Posted by Anonymous on Tue, 08/24/2010 - 03:18