I have a song that I'm trying to figure out the key center. I'll explain the process and you can tell me if I"m on the right track. I start by analyzing the song using software that finds the chords. (Studio One ) . I know that this is not an exact science even with modern software. It shows the main chords being F-G and D and seventh variations of those including major and minor G's. So that didnt help me since it doesnt seem to fit a progression I would expect from a New Orleans blues, slide song. Next I play the song and hold down various keys and find the one that sounds like it could be the key center. This seemed to work the best as I can just let this tone play for as long as I want, through the main sections, chorus solos... So the D sounds best by far, but I want to be sure I'm right and at this point and I'm not good enough to figure out the progression manually in a timely manner. My question is, is playing the note like I do a acceptable way of finding the key center and how would the three main chords of D,F and G fit into a common progression ? Thanks

  • It's better to home in on cadence points and find the chord there. – Tim Dec 25 '18 at 9:48
  • Have you ever found or suspected that the key center of the chorus is different from the key center of the verses? – Dekkadeci Dec 25 '18 at 9:54
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    For what purpose are you trying to find the key center? Who or what is supposed to do what, with the key center information? – piiperi Dec 25 '18 at 14:25
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    @mike628 So are you trying to transcribe a song, to make a lead sheet for a band, and you'd like to write correct key signatures? Or you'd like to know what the key is, so you could better guess what the chords are? Why not ask how to find the key of a passage of music? It could be that the effective key center changes throughout the song. Does the song have a melody? How about transcribing the melody first? Can you play even parts of the melody by ear? If you are sure about the bass notes and the melody notes, then you're already quite far in getting it transcribed. – piiperi Dec 25 '18 at 20:34
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    The "one single steady pitch for a long time" idea doesn't feel suitable for finding the key. Find bass notes, melody notes and see what scale they seem to fit. Make a guess and play a so-fa-mi-re-do line in your guessed key. Does the final "do" feel like you landed home and that could be the end of the song? If not, make a new guess and try again. Pause the song, can you play I - IV - V - I in the guessed key and the "I" feels like a "I" in the song? If not, guess again. Anyway, forget the "one long drone" idea and read up on learning to find the key. – piiperi Dec 26 '18 at 21:42

When a chord appears in both major and minor forms, consider the possibility that it's IV.

But I have to say, if you need software assistance in finding the chords, you're probably not ready to do much harmonic analysis. Work on detecting what the notes and chords ARE. Hanging a key label on them isn't really that important, is it?


Using that constant tone is certaintly a valid way to determine the key, but I think there are better ways. For starters, using harmonic analysis software, as you have wisely noted, is dodgy at best, impossible at worst. Especially with blues and other non-diatonic progressions, software can't tell the context well enough to put good chord labels on them. But I think the best solution would be to develop a better musical ear so that you could tell "oh, this song is centered on this". It sounds like you're nearly there, so don't despair! And yes, eventually you do need some reference tone to identify "oh, the note the song centers on, that's an E♭ on my (musical instrument)" (I must sound like a broken record, but that isn't necessary if you have perfect pitch).

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