What key is this song in? That's a regularly-asked question when a guitarist wants to jam or play by ear. Guitarists can figure out how to find the key of a song with a few super easy methods. In this blog post we’ll go over a very simple way of playing the correct notes, even if you don’t know what key the song is in.
1. Guess and play notes
One of the easiest ways to improvise or play lead over a jam track, like say, one of the jam tracks in our Jam Station, is to simply play a note and guess with your ear. What this means is if you play a note over a jam track, you may instinctively hear what sounds good or bad. This is because when you play a note that is not in the key of the jam track, it’s going to sound a bit off, or disconnected, and it will be dissonant. When you play a note that shares the same key as the jam track, it will be in harmony, and it will sound pleasant to your ears.
Most of the time you can simply play a few notes up or down your fretboard and you’ll hear the difference between a good-sounding note that fits the key of the song. Give it a try!
Gary shows us how to do this in the lesson below.
2. Sing the notes to find the Root
Singing the notes will help you learn the root note, and eventually discover the key of the song. So if you hum the notes, or the riffs of the song you may determine which note sounds most like “home,” or which note sounds the best throughout the entire song. You’ll be amazed how many musicians do this and it actually works!
Once you find that note, and it can take a bit of time, especially if you’ve never done this before, and try and find it and play it on your guitar.
3. Determine if the key is Major or Minor
Once you identify the root note from singing it and playing around to find it on your fretboard, now you have to determine whether the song or jam track is in a major or minor key. The easiest way to do this is to play a minor or major scale over the track. For example, if you have determined that the root note is an A, you can play an A major or A minor scale over the track. You’ll notice that one scale will sound better than the other. The better-sounding scale will tell you whether the song is in a major or minor key.
These are three simple ways to determine a key of a song, or a jam track. You can even use these tips to help you during a jam sessions with friends. For a more in-depth look at improvising and playing by ear, make sure to check out the lesson above where Gary will show you even more tips and tricks!
If you want more tipson how to improvise, check out this great lesson, Introduction to Improvisation for Beginners.