How to Find The Key of A Song By Ear

We put up this video because a lot of guys asked us how we'd figure out the key of a song quickly. This is some really valuable info guys!

Let us know what you think!

Video Text

What's up YouTubes!

I've seen musicians spend a lot time experimenting on their instruments trying to figure out the key of a song. A lot of guys I know spend tons of money on software products that do all sorts of complex analysis of the source music just to get the key of a song.

You don't need to experiment for hours or spend lots of money on software. You only need you ear.

Now I'm not talking about having Perfect Pitch here. There is a simple technique that will take a few minutes to learn and once you know it, you'll be able to find the key of a song in seconds. Everytime. All using nothing but your ear and your instrument.

Think about it. Your brain is wired to understand musical gravitational centers - called keys. When you're listening to a song, most times, you can kind of sense how the melody might progress. If you stop the song in the middle of a melody, you would almost hear the end of the melody, right? The same goes for harmonic intervals (or chord progressions). You can almost feel where a chord progression should be moving to next.

Now, I stumbled on this method one day when I was looking for the key of a song. Since then it's has been a secret of mine. I've been using this exact technique and musicians are just blown away and think I'm doing some sort of magic or I'm some sort of savant because I can figure out the key of a song so quick. I'm going to share this secret with you. It's easy to do, and too much fun!

So why would you need to know the key of a song? Well if you're trying to play a song you heard on the radio on your instrument - for sure you need to know the key. Or your melody and chords will all be out of whack. If you know the key the song is written in, it's easy to figure out the melody and the chords right?

This sort of thing is perfect for all Musicians and Remixers.

If you're a DJ, you know that mixing two tracks that have the same BPM (or tempo) doesn't always sound good. There's something more than just BPM that matters when you're mixing. If the songs that you're mixing are written in the same key, then the resulting mix sounds amazing.

So there are tons of reasons to want to know the key of a song - for ANY musician. So let's get started!

We're going to do this by demonstration and I've picked out a couple of songs here that I don't know the key to. This way you can watch how I figure it out. One is a Trance tune and the other is R&B just so you can see this working in different genres. The Trance tune is Need to Feel Loved by Reflekt. The R&B tune is Lady by D`Angelo.

Now I've never tried to figure out the keys of these two songs. I just picked the songs randomly coz I like em. So I'm doing all of this totally unprepared just for you guys, alright?

So let's work on the Trance tune first.

The first Step is

To spend a few seconds listening to the song. Feel the music. It's easy to do, and very important. You want to get the feel of the song in your head and heart. This step will get your mind 'in tune' with the song.

So here's the track...

Take a second to feel the music. Let it get inside your head.

Now, the second Step

Hum. Yes, I know it sounds strange but this is crucial. When you hum a note (and you're allowed to hum only one note) you force your brain to give you the key. Your brain will give you that one note that works anywhere in the song. Over 95% of the time your brain will automatically give you the root note (or what's called the tonic note) that the song is written in. The other 5% of the time you will either be a third or fifth away from the tonic note of the key.

So let's listen and hum that note. And don't be making fun of me humming! I'm putting myself out on a limb here to show you this! Alright. Here's goes...

Do you hear that?

I know it sounds strange me doing this, but by humming my brain tells me that this is the root note. It's the one note that just works everywhere in the song.

Try it for yourself. Hum with me. Do you hear the same?

Step 3

Now let's find that note on your instrument. Let me put this hum on loop so I can talk while I do this.

I like to start at 'A' but you can start anywhere you're comfortable. So what we do is walk up the keyboard one note at a time until we find that sound.

Here goes...

There it is. We have it! It's written in the key of D!

Do you see that? Let's do that again.

If we go above, it doesn't work.

That's the key.

So is it a minor or major? Well, nearly all songs are written in a minor key - so let's build a D-minor scale. The formula for a minor key as you might know is TsTTsTT.

That's the fourth step... build the scale.

So this is like all the white notes starting at D, except the 6th note is a black note.

So now for the fun part. We try to figure out the melody and play around a little.

There it is.

Alright? So let's check out the 4 step plan again real quick before we check out the R&B tune.

  • Step 1: Listen to the music. Get it in your head and heart.
  • Step 2: Hum whatever you think is the tonic note.
  • Step 3: Find the note on your instrument.
  • Step 4: Build the scale.

Find The Key of A Song

Let's do the R&B tune Lady by D`Angelo.

Step 1: Let's listen and feel the tune

Step 2: Hum

Step 3: Find the note

Hey that sounds like a D#. The other tune was a D. So let's build this in the D# blues scale. Why the blues scale? Well most western music is written in the minor scale - about 90% of it. With some music like R&B they tend to use the blues scale sometimes.

The difference between the Minor and Blues scales is if you start with a Minor scale, you remove two notes and add one in place of it. The Blues scale has only 6 notes. You take out these two notes from the Minor scale and add this one in place.

Even if you thought it was a Minor scale, you'd still have 5 of the 7 notes right. Then as you played around you'd find that something was off about those two notes we removed so you'll know it's the Blues scale.

Step 4: Build the Blues scale

Alright, so let's figure out this melody and have some fun.

Alright! That was 'How to find the key of a song' by using only your ears. We checked out a couple of different genres so that you know that this works in ANY music. Remember that between the Minor and Blues scales you should have pretty much the bulk of modern music covered with this technique.

The best thing you can do is share music knowledge with others. Music is not a secret. Give the knowledge away to anyone that wants it people.

Hope this has been fun!

See you around YouTubes!