How to Tell The Key of a Song

One key or another is always assigned to each and every music piece. It may be in the key of Bb or maybe even the key of E. The beginning of the score is used to determine the key signature that will be used throughout the piece, like if there are flats or sharps that will be used and which scale it is to be played or sung in.

There is a key signature in all pieces of music. It is signified just after the clef (the staff) and includes symbols for flats (b) and sharps (#). When you take a careful look at the start of each of the lines in the music you will surely recognize a grouping of flats or sharps (never both at once). They appear either on a space or on a line of the music staff and are put there to signify the notes that will be affected by them.

To say it a different way, if the #, or sharp, is placed on the top of a music staff, the F note will be played as F#. This means that anytime the note F is played, no matter if it is in the staff’s first space, on top of the staff, or below or above the staff (this will be signified by the ledger lines) it will be played as F#.

When the note that has the flat or sharp signified in the key signature needs to be played as a neutral then an accidental will be put in front of the individual note. In other words, if the music requires the playing of an F (neutral) in the G key, there must be an accidental put in front of it so that the person that is playing the music will not play it as an F#.

The key signature is put in place so that the sharps and flats will be limited on the actual notes in the piece of music. Basically, by putting the # in the signature key it avoids the writer from having to put a sharp or flat by each note when the F is in the music. It lets the musician know that each and every time the F note is required that it should be played as F#. The lines of music will not be as cluttered this way and it will be much easier to be read.

The most common key signatures are listed below along with the notes that are affected by them:

  • 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 near 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 specific keys and what their relative minors (keys) are:

  • A minor is the relative minor C
  • B minor is the relative minor for D
  • F# minor is the relative minor for A
  • G minor is the relative minor for Bb

When a musician is experienced and plays his music in a nontraditional setting, like when they play freestyle with no music to read, all he really needs to know is the key that the music was written in and he will be able to play the scales or melodies and the necessary chords that will allow them to play the song freestyle.

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 music industry may find this very challenging.

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