5 Ways To Tell What Key A Song Is In Sunday June 25 2023, 9:45 PM
Yona Marie
Singer, Songwriter, Producer.
5 Ways To Tell What Key A Song Is In

How To Tell What Key A Song Is In

What are your go-to ways of finding the song's key? Sometimes, it's good to be able to find a key for a song and find it fast, but what if it's one of those types of songs where the key is hard to pin down?

What if you have an instrument for pitch reference but don't know music theory? What about if you know how to find the home tone of a key but don't have an instrument around?

Below, I'll cover a few different ways to find the key of a song that could work for almost anyone, no matter what skill level you are in the music world. 

In rare cases, you'll find strictly percussive music or an atonal song without any key, but 99% of all songs have a designated key! 

Live Instrument

First up, we have the trusty live instrument method. If you're lucky enough to have an instrument nearby, grab it and get ready to find a key (AKA home tone or tonic note) easily!

I easily find the home tone of a (major-key) song with solfege, which is the scale that goes Do Re Mi Fa So La Ti Do. Do is the home tone and also the note that you want to identify to find the key! 


Now this method is good for musicians who already have a good ear for music, but not necessarily helpful for those who have instruments at their disposal but haven't learned how to play. 

Play along with the song and pay close attention to the chords and notes that seem to fit naturally. You'll notice certain chords or notes that just mesh well with the song, and those will give you a strong hint about the key. 

Keep an ear out, especially for the chords and the notes sung in a song that end the phrases, which are likely to lead to the home tone eventually. 


Now, what if you don't consider yourself a music theory expert? No worries, my friend! MIDI to the rescue!

MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) is a fancy term for a technology that can allow you to mimic the instruments that are played live.

There are software programs and apps out there like Garageband, Protools, and Logic Pro with built-in digital instruments that can help you find the tonality of a song.

The good thing about MIDI and its ability to help you make digital instruments is that they never fall out of tune compared to real instruments that often need to be tuned and can be affected by their surroundings. 

Related Post: 5 Ways To Make Music Without Instruments


Tuning Fork

What if you don't have an instrument or technology handy? For my musical friends out there, don't fret and consider going old school! Enter the humble tuning fork.

If you happen to have a tuning fork that produces the same pitch as the song's home tone, you're in business.

Strike that fork and compare its pitch to the first note of the song. If they match, chances are you've hit the right key. It's a simple yet effective method that anyone can try.


For my more newbie music creators and strictly music fans out there, I didn't forget about you! Don't forget the power of Google.

If you're in a pinch and need to find the key of a popular song, a quick Google search can come to your rescue. The more popular the song, the more accurate and easily you'll find an answer. 

Simply type in the song's title followed by the word "key," and you'll likely find some helpful results. It's like having a musical oracle right in your browser.

Of course, this won't work for very independent music or tracks that aren't mainstream, but they will work for most songs that have hit the charts. 

For those who want tips on analyzing music to find the key with your ear and music theory skills, I've added that below as well!

Related Post: 10 Ways To Find A Song Or Music Video By Describing It


Sheet Music

Last but not least, we have the classic method of using sheet music. If you're lucky enough to have access to the sheet music for the song, consider yourself fortunate.

Sheet music often includes the key signature, which is a telltale sign of the song's key. It's a straightforward and reliable method that leaves no room for guesswork.

Google might lead you to some sheet music, or you may come across a hymn book or traditional work in your church, school, or local library. 

The only thing with sheet music is that you'll likely need to know how to read music well in order to understand the key signature. 

Tips For Understanding Music To Find The Key

Reading the Key Signature

For sheet music, understanding the key signature can provide valuable information about the key of a piece of music. The key signature is indicated by the sharps (#) or flats (b) at the beginning of a musical staff.

Sharps or flats are placed on specific lines or spaces to indicate which notes are altered throughout the piece.

Vocal Melody

Pay attention to the melody of the vocals. Often, the song's key is reflected in the highest and most prominent notes sung by the vocalist.

Listen closely to the notes that stand out and try to identify patterns or recurring pitches. Those can give you a clue about the key.

Bass Line

Focus on the bass line of the song. Bass notes typically provide a strong foundation and can give you hints about the key.

Listen for the root notes being played by the bassist and see if you can recognize any patterns or recurring notes. The root notes often correspond to the key of the song.

Related Post: How To Write A Bass Line That Elevates A Song


Chord Progressions

Analyze the chord progressions used in the song. Chords are like building blocks of music, and certain progressions are commonly associated with specific keys.

Look for chord patterns that repeat throughout the song or progressions that resolve to a particular chord. By identifying the main chords and their relationships, you can determine the key they belong to.

Relative Minor/Major

Consider the possibility that the song might be in a relative minor or major key. Many songs share a strong connection between their major and minor counterparts.

If you can't determine the major key, try exploring its relative minor (or vice versa) and see if the song fits.

Ear Training Apps

Use ear training apps or websites that offer exercises specifically designed to help you develop your musical ear.

These tools can enhance your ability to identify pitches, intervals, and melodies, which in turn can assist you in finding the key of a song. My favorite app is MusicTheory.net. 

Related Post: What Does It Mean To Be Tone Deaf? + How It Affects Your Brain

Yona Marie

As a session singer, writer, and producer that has worked with over 300 clients to provide high-quality jingles, singles, and features, Yona spends her time creating and marketing new music and helpful resources for creators. Check out Yona’s latest releases on her Spotify, her Youtube and share if you like it!

If you are in need of singer, songwriter or song producer services, see what Yona Marie can offer you on her services page.

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