Finding the right key of a song is another tall order for anyone but it is especially important for lead guitarists.
When I first started trying to find the keys of songs I felt I was lost in some woods somewhere and didn’t know which direction to turn. I would try chords and scale patterns but eventually finding the key and scale i should be playing would take me… a while to say the least.
What is a key?
Without going into to much detail, and ensuring we are both on the same page, a key in music is the group of pitches/notes which make the harmonic foundation of a piece of music.
Why is knowing the Right Key important?
Well, a sound is a pitch. All the pitches in music form scales and chords that all synchronize and sound good together.
We need to know our key so that we can know which notes to use, and which notes to avoid so that improvising and writing music becomes more productive.
You can understand what the notes are, which notes sound good and form the desired theme for the music being played.
First, Listen to the Song
The first thing you want to do when trying to find the key to a track is first just listen to it.
Once you have spent a few moments listening your brain will become in tune with the song and you will become familiar melody and almost predict which chords and how the melody will proceed.
Once you have zoned in on the song then we can begin to identify the pitch.
Second, Identify the Pitch
How to Easily find your key – find the note which works through the whole song.
Finding the key to any song is easy with the right approach.
The first thing you must do is identify the Pitch. You can do this by humming the pitch, or playing a notes on the guitar.
Once you find a pitch that sounds good throughout the whole song will pitch your key.
You will know it is the right pitch because usually 95% of the time that pitch will match either the first chord or last chord progressions within the song. If the first chord of the song, it will be the last chord. So just to be sure, find the first and last chords of a song, one of them should be what you are looking for.
Third, Match the Pitch to the Key
Once you have identified the pitch which you feel is correct then you want to pick up your instrument and find this pitch by playing through random notes (in ascending order) until the notes match.
You can do this by starting from the open E string on the guitar, or middle C from the piano.
Then continue to go down each note in a linear fashion until you find the pitch which matches.
Fourthly, finding the scale?
Once we find the key of a song, the next step is simply following the music formula of that key. Let’s say the key we find is an A major, then we can use the A major scale to play. Or if we want to play it safe, switch to pentatonic A major, easier, and sometimes will add some characteristic flairs to your song. To make it even easier, we can move scale up 3 frets to have the F minor pentatonic scale, in this case, we will be playing the F minor pentatonic scale but perceiving it as the A major pentatonic.
What if songs change key ?
Once you have mastered the basics, you will find songs that do not follow this general rule and will often change the key in the middle of the song. The safest way to avoid any mistake at all is to play the notes in the chords, since they are from the same scale, the notes will most of the time fit. If all fails, we have the final resort: play through all the notes in the major scale over the melody to see if it works. Though, take solace that songs like these are rare.
Seasoned players can do it just fine, but for all those who are new to guitar, this is another seemingly insurmountable mountain. On stage, you cannot simply “feel” the right note and hope it is the one, you must know it is.
Luckily, there are always some guidelines for beginner guitarists. To find the key of a song, firstly, take the first chord of that song and most of the time, that is the key of song. But this is not the foolproof method, though, there are always exceptions in music.