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What Are Keys in Music: What You Need to Know and How to Find the Key of a Song

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Music theory can be an intimidating subject for those just starting out, but understanding the basics of keys in music is essential for any musician. Keys are the foundation of a musical composition, as they provide structure and order to harmonies, melodies and progressions. In this article, we’ll explore what keys are in music and how they can be used to create beautiful songs.

Things You Should Know: What is a Key?

A key is the tonal center of a piece of music. It has two components; the major or minor scale and the chord progression that follows it. Keys were first introduced in classical music as a way to create a formal structure for composition and improvisation. In modern music, keys are used to create moods and characterize different genres.

What’s a Key Signature?

A key signature is a set of sharps or flats that appear at the beginning of a musical piece and indicate what key it is in. This helps musicians understand how to play the correct notes in relation to one another. For example, if you see three sharps at the start of a piece then you know it’s in A major or F# minor.

Relative Keys

Relative keys are major or minor keys that have all of their notes in common with each other, but start on different notes within their scales. For example, C major and A minor are relative keys because they share all seven notes (C D E F G A B).

Major Key

In music, the term “major” refers to the overall sound or tonality that a key has.

A major key is characterized by having a “bright” and “happy” overall sound. The tonic chord of a major key is also a major chord so all the perfect cadences in that key will share that “happy and bright” overall sound.

For audio examples of a major key, it goes without saying you should listen to music in a major key to really familiarize yourself with the sound.

Here are some examples you can listen to.

Brown Eyed Girl – Van Morrison

This song has only one chord progression that’s centered around only one key which is G major. This particular key is great for guitarists and bass players because so many open strings can be used when playing.

Try learning this bass line as a way of training your ears to hear a song’s key.

Minor Key

In contrast to a major key, a minor key will have a much darker and sadder overall sound. You could think of a major and minor key as existing at different points on a spectrum of emotional mood in music for this very reason.

A lot of heavy rock music, classical music and softer pop music such as ballads are often written in minor keys because the darker and more introspective emotional quality of a minor key (and the minor scale that’s used in minor keys) works really well.

The tonic chord of a minor key is the a minor chord and you should train your ears to hear a minor key in much the same way as you did when learning to hear a major key.

Try learning some songs in minor keys. This will really help you grasp the minor tonality.

Here’s an example to get you going.

Rhiannon – Fleetwood Mac

The music theory behind this song is quite simple. Whilst this song does have the odd major chord, the overall tonality here is minor which means this song is in a minor key.

You can tell from the dark and moody quality the song has.

Major or Minor Key?

If you can’t tell which key a piece of music is in then it’s worth doing some transcribing to figure it out. To do this, you will need some knowledge of music theory, key signatures and chords.

You should also listen to the chord that the music resolves to. This means looking at every chord in the song and placing them all in musical context rather than just viewing them in isolation.

How to Find the Key of a Song using scale notes: Method 1

Finding the key of a song using scale notes is an effective way to quickly identify what key a piece or song belongs to. To do this, you must first understand the concept of scales and how they work within each key.

Scales are ordered sequences of notes that create it’s melodic structure and give each key its unique tonality. By understanding which notes are apart of a particular scale, you can then determine what type of key it belongs to.

An Example With The C Major Scale

The first method is to analyze all the notes played in a melody, bass line, riff or song and see which scale they fit into.

For example, if a bass line contains the notes C, D, E, F, G, A, B and C then we can see that these are the notes of the C major scale and, for this reason, the music will be in the key of C major.

This method has it’s limits, however. These notes could also mean that the music is in the relative minor key of A minor. The problem with looking just at the notes is that they are being viewed out of musical context.

To properly understand which key a piece of music is in we need to listen to it and see hear for ourselves what the relationship between the notes played is.

How do chords resolve? What’s the relationship between chords and melody like? These are the kinds of questions we need to ask ourselves.

Let’s look now at some more advanced methods for finding the key of a piece of music.

Finding the Key of a Song Using Chords Example: Method 2

Finding the key of a song using chords is an effective way to quickly identify what key a song is in. To do this, you must first understand the concept of chord progressions and how they work within a given key. Chord progressions are ordered sequences of notes that create the foundation for each key.

By understanding this pattern, you can then easily identify which chords are used in any given piece or song by looking at its accompanying chord progression.

Sharp Key Signatures

When determining what notes are in a certain key and whether that key is a sharp key or a flat key, there are some really useful bits of music theory you can learn which make this easy.

First of all, you should learn the musical alphabet. This is the series of notes that goes A, B, C, D, E, F, G and back to A.

Why is this relevant? Well, each key must have one instance of every letter. So when we come to look at the notes of a key like G major we have G, A, B, C, D, E and the next note is either F# or Gb. But, we’ve already have some kind of G in this major scale (the very first note of the scale) so the last one must be an F of some kind which is why it’s F#.

Whenever we’re forced to have sharp notes like this then the key becomes a sharp key.

Flat Key Signatures

Now let’s look at how this works for flat keys. Let’s use the F major scale as an example.

First, we start by building the F major scale which will give us the notes of the key of F major. The notes in the key of F major are F, G, A, Bb, C, D, E and F.

Why is the Bb not an A#? For the same reason as the F# in our above example in G major. Remember our rule.

Each scale must contain one instance of every note in the musical alphabet. We’ve already have some kind of A in the scale of F major (the third note of the scale) which means the fourth has to be a B of some kind so it becomes Bb.

Finding the Key of a Song Using Notes: Method 3

The third method for finding out what key a song is in involves identifying which notes form its melody. This requires paying close attention to how certain notes interact with each other both melodically and harmonically as well as understanding what type of scale or chord progression it follows.

By doing so and comparing those notes to known scales or chord progressions associated with different keys, you can then figure out which key it belongs to.

Finding the Key of a Song Using Software: Method 4

Using software to determine a song’s key is simple and effective. The most common method is to use an audio analyzer that can take an audio signal, analyze it, and assign it to a particular key. This process involves identifying the root note of the song and then matching it with one of the diatonic scales in order to determine which key the song is in.

Chords in a Key

Chords are essential components of any given key. Each key contains its own set of chords that create a unique harmonic pattern for any given piece or song. To identify what chords are in a key, you must first understand the concept of scales and chord progressions.

Scales are ordered sequences of notes that create the foundation for each key. By understanding this pattern, you can then identify which chords are used in any given key by looking at its accompanying chord progression.

Common Modulations

Modulation is another important musical concept that allows musicians to move from one key to another during the course of a song or piece of music. Common modulations include transposition (taking all notes from one key and playing them in another without changing their order) and modulation using intervals (taking certain intervals from one key and playing them in another without changing their order).

Both techniques allow musicians to transition between two different keys while still maintaining some elements from both keys throughout the song or piece of music.

The Relation of Relative Major and Minor Keys

The relationship between relative major and minor keys is essential for understanding how music works. Relative major and minor keys share many similarities as they contain similar scales, chord progressions, and note patterns.

Knowing how relative major/minor keys relate to each other allows musicians greater freedom when composing songs as they are able to transition between two different keys quickly and easily by simply moving up or down three semitones on either side of the circle of fifths (five sharps for relative major; five flats for relative minor).

How Do You Find the Key of a Song With Sharps and Flats?

Finding the key of a song with sharps and flats can be tricky but is essential for understanding the structure and composition of any piece or song. The major keys that contain sharps are located up five semitones (five sharps) on either side of the circle of fifths; these keys often have a bright and cheerful sound.

Minor keys, on the other hand, are located down five semitones (five flats) on either side of the circle of fifths; they usually have a darker or more melancholic feel. Identifying what notes are in a key with sharps and flats is fairly straightforward.

Major scales consist of seven different notes (including sharps/flats) while minor scales contain six different notes (again including sharps/flats). By memorizing these patterns, you will be able to quickly identify what notes are in any given key with sharps or flats.

Overview of the Chords

Chords are essential components of any given key with sharps or flats. Each key contains its own set of chords that create a unique harmonic pattern for any given piece or song. To identify what chords are in a particular key with sharps or flats, you must first understand the concept of scales and chord progressions.

Scales are ordered sequences of notes that create the foundation for each key; by understanding this pattern, you can then identify which chords are used in any given key by looking at its accompanying chord progression.

Since major and minor keys have their own unique patterns, it’s important to pay attention to both when looking for specific chords within those keys.

Notes played

When looking at notes within keys containing sharp/flat notes, it’s important to take into account not only what type of scale you’re working with (major or minor), but also how those note patterns interact with one another within each respective key.

This will help you better understand how songs composed in particular keys tend to sound differently from one another and will give you greater insight into how music works overall.

Finding a Song’s Key FAQs

Here are some common questions on the topic of keys in music.

How Do You Know if a Song is Major or Minor?

Knowing whether a song is major or minor can help you determine its overall sound and character. It’s quite easy to distinguish between the two, as major keys tend to have a brighter, more upbeat feel while minor keys are often darker and more melancholic.

One way to identify which key a piece or song is in is to look for certain notes and how they interact with one another.

Major scales consist of seven different notes (including sharps/flats) while minor scales contain six different notes (again including sharps/flats). By recognizing these patterns, you will be able to quickly identify what type of key a particular piece or song belongs to.

Music Modes

Music modes are scales constructed on the basis of eight specific pitches; they are used in many pieces throughout all genres of music. Each mode has its own unique tonal characteristics that make it distinct from the others; this makes them useful for helping you determine if any given piece or song is major or minor.

To identify what mode a certain melody follows, it’s important to pay close attention both to how certain notes interact with each other melodically and how it follows certain chords in order to create its unique sound.

How Do You Know What Notes are in a Key?

When talking about music, the term “key” refers to the group of notes that form the basis of a piece of music. Knowing what notes are in a key is essential for understanding how a song is composed and how it can be performed. To identify what notes are in a key, you must first understand the concept of scales.

A scale is an ordered sequence of notes that create the foundation for any given key. Each scale has its own unique pattern and sound, which helps to define the overall tone and mood of the piece. For example, major keys typically have a bright and cheerful sound while minor keys tend to have a darker and more melancholic feel.

Once you know what type of scale you are working with (major or minor), you can then identify what notes are in that particular key by looking at its pattern. Major scales consist of seven different notes (including sharps/flats) while minor scales contain six different notes (again including sharps/flats).

By memorizing these patterns, you will be able to quickly identify what notes are in any given key.

Types of Modulation

Modulation is another important concept when it comes to understanding keys in music. Modulation involves changing from one key to another during the course of a song or piece of music.

This can be done either by changing individual chords or by using techniques such as transposition or modulation using intervals. Transposition involves taking all the notes from one key and playing them in another key without changing their order or pitch relative to each other.

This technique allows musicians to change from one key to another without having to learn new chords or melodies. Modulation using intervals involves taking certain intervals from one key and playing them in another key without changing their order or pitch relative to each other.

This technique allows musicians to move between two different keys while still maintaining some elements from both keys throughout the song or piece of music.

Transposition

Transposition is an important concept when it comes to understanding keys in music because it allows musicians to take all the notes from one key and play them in another without having to learn new chords or melodies.

This technique allows musicians not only move between two different keys but also maintain some elements from both keys throughout the song or piece of music, creating interesting harmonic progressions and textures that would otherwise be impossible without transposition.

Transposition Using Intervals

Transposition using intervals is similar to regular transposition except instead of taking all the notes from one key and playing them in another, only certain intervals are taken from one key and played in another without changing their order or pitch relative to each other.

This technique allows musicians not only to move between two different keys but also to maintain some elements from both keys throughout the song or piece of music, creating interesting harmonic progressions and textures that would otherwise be impossible without transposing using intervals .


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