Finding the Key!

Discussion in 'Fred's Barcalounge' started by Bertotti, May 28, 2019.

    Luve these musical / music theory type of thread OP questions, even the expected book and poster recommendations are helpful to someone.
    I like Hammers look at things - tryin' to explain in words . . .
    - someday I'll have a 'Eureka' moment and know what the heck he's talking' about - lol

    There are two questions posted in OP, the first is what key (?)
    piano, guitar, or "written out" as a book, poster, or like a quiz question or riddle . . . if I play a note or two or three those are in certain keys only possible for that combo only.
    That's 'bout all I got . . . worded crappy,
    'cept this is interesting . . . (works only for key signatures that contain a sharp, but could be a trick to use)

    The order of the sharps written on the staff is not arbitrary . . . for the last of the written sharps - then a half step up is the key.

    Key of (?)
    Only one sharp in written in the key signature here . . . F# is last (and only of course) sharp
    so, Ans. is the key of G major


    Half-step up from that last E# so key is . . .

    (no. 2 is a "trick" question for us first graders . . .)
    Last edited: Jun 11, 2019
    CaliforniaSlim and Wjensen like this.
  1. larryb

    larryb Gretschified

    Oct 29, 2012
    Greenville, SC
    St Anthony always helps me find them....I guess, I need to be more specific about the key I am searching for:p

    Seriously though....I find the root note and then hope for the best:oops:
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  2. manunk

    manunk Electromatic

    I'll run up and down the E string until I find the root note of one chord (preferably the first and/or last chord of the song) and go from there. If I can't find a lead progression in the minor pentatonic scale, I'll switch to of those quite often fit in and you can go from there. Also, I believe that if you look at the sheet music for the song, it will tell you the key...probably just indicating how many sharps or flats are indicated at the very beginning of the song. Let's begin with E, since most often your lowest E string is tuned to E. 4 sharps = key of E, 1 flat means F, 1 sharp means G, 3 sharps mean A, 5 sharps means B, no sharps or flats means C, 2 sharps means D. Memorizing those numbers will help you. For further info get into theory a bit by studying the chromatic, then the major scale with its formula (wwhwwwh), and how to derive a minor scale from the major scale. Bonus: the notes of the scale, all written in a line, can be your source for what chords you'll find in that key. Correction me someone if I'm wrong or oversimple.
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  3. Wjensen

    Wjensen Electromatic

    May 25, 2019
    Raleigh, NC
    +1 on the circle of 5ths. If you have the music, look at the key signature. 1 sharp is the key of G for instance.

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  4. Bertotti

    Bertotti Country Gent

    Jul 20, 2017
    South Dakota
    Nope, I do not have the music there was no particular song it was an exercise, at this point in futility, while on one of my longer drives to see if I could figure out the key of a song while driving.
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  5. Hammerhands

    Hammerhands Country Gent

    Aug 26, 2011
    There’s a lot of different scenarios for finding the key.

    The first one that came to my mind was, you are listening to a song with a guitar in your hand and want to figure out what key to noodle in.

    But you may have the song in front of you, or you may be strumming along.

    Then there is the scenario where you’re playing some type of free music.
    Last edited: Jun 12, 2019 at 9:47 AM
  6. Hammerhands

    Hammerhands Country Gent

    Aug 26, 2011
    My guitar teacher said he used to carry a pitch-pipe around with him, so he could figure out what key something was in, or what a note was.

    I think I have a recording of him pissing off a famous guitarist.

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: Jun 12, 2019 at 9:46 AM
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  7. Hammerhands

    Hammerhands Country Gent

    Aug 26, 2011
    Here’s a thing more known to piano players and classical musicians, mostly those who have perfect pitch.

    Each key has a different voice or sound to it. One pianist told me this or that key was not quite...right for a blues ballad, this other key was more blue. I think he meant it by sound and his fingering.

    I think there are a lot of reasons.

    First is fingering, some keys will be better for some types of tunes, some riffs easier to play, some chord types easier or more natural to finger. Like grab chords, you want to play those shapes. Those different fingerings effect how the chord sounds when it is played [some note is played first, some note is quieter]. That’s true for guitars, but I don’t know if I could tell if someone is on the 4th or 7th fret. I can sometimes tell if someone is playing open strings. You can tell when someone is playing high on a thick string.

    The second is the way a piano is tuned, or other instruments are tuned. It’s not exactly the same for all keys, so some things will sound different in some keys. Very subtle, but I assume if you know what to listen for you will be able to hear it. With horns, there is a lot of compromise, those things take a lot of work to play every note in tune. A saxophonist is really working to get some notes out. If you are a saxophonist, you can hear that effort.

    Also, some notes on the piano have one string, some two and some three, so where that changes is going to change the sound.

    The third thing I can think of is ghost harmonies. When you play two notes, there is a third note that is produced, the frequency of this ghost is the difference between the notes. Sometimes these ghost frequencies are harmonious with the intervals, sometimes they are discordant. They are not the exactly the same for different sets of notes. C 261.63 and G 392.00 produce a little bit sharp low C [131.63 vs. 130.81], but G 392.00 and D 587.33 produce a slightly flat G [195.33 vs. 196.00], so certain chords will sound better or will have a different character in some keys.

    Those ghost frequencies are happening between every note and all their harmonics, so what effect they have, which is extremely subtle, mostly, would be very complex. and I don’t know if you could map them all out.

    Listening for those ghost harmonies can be really dangerous. I went looking for them, heard them and then couldn’t stop hearing them for a while. Everything sounded like poo.

    Guitars are very often recorded out of tune, or can never really be in tune, so it may be something only for the realm of theory or pianos.
    Last edited: Jun 12, 2019 at 7:32 PM
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  8. pmac11

    pmac11 Country Gent

    Mar 4, 2018
    Toronto, Ontario
    So it's entirely possible that D minor IS the saddest key...

    Sent from my SM-T560NU using Tapatalk
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  9. EESmith

    EESmith Electromatic

    Jun 6, 2019
    Plymouth, IN
    Without a doubt, dm is the saddest key.

    Bertotti, I can barely read music and certainly not at the speed of the band. TABS completely frustrate me, but I do understand the basics of keys as they pertain to pentatonic shapes since modes should always be preceded by the words "pie" and "a la". If you learn the notes on your E strings, and match those notes to what you hear as to the first chord you hear, you will more than likely know the key of the song. That being said, if you are looking to play solo over that key, knowing whether or not to use major or minor is a trick all it's own. For instance, a simple song such as 'Can't You See' by the Marshall Tucker Band is literally D, C, G (5, 4, 1) over and over again and yet they the solo is major and not minor. Not sure how this helps....I seem to just like to type. However, one thing that will help to add to your arsenal and may even help in ear training is to learn Nashville Numbers.
  10. Bertotti

    Bertotti Country Gent

    Jul 20, 2017
    South Dakota
    Nashville Numbers? I’m going to have to google that one! Never heard of it.
    EESmith likes this.
  11. EESmith

    EESmith Electromatic

    Jun 6, 2019
    Plymouth, IN
    It helped me a lot. If you don't mind a tutorial video for a worship song, I can lead you to method that incorporates the method in D shaped inversions.
    manunk and Bertotti like this.
  12. Bertotti

    Bertotti Country Gent

    Jul 20, 2017
    South Dakota
    I'm all in post up a link! Thanks!
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