How to determine the "key" of a song?

An appeal to those more educated than I.

I’ve got a little problem… I’ve met this fantastic blues harmonica player – old chap from England or Australia depending on what day you ask him – and he’s agreed to play some songs with me live. The problem is that I have no idea what “key” my songs are in, and I need to be able to tell him which harp to pick up… So then, how does one determine the “key” of a song?

Here’s an example using one of my songs:

-Shame (from my CD -Does Not Play Well With Others)

Verse chords:
Fmaj7 C Fmaj7 C Fmaj7 C Fmaj7 C

Pre Chorus:
B7 E B7 E

Chorus:
D Daug D Daug D Daug D Daug
Fmaj7 D Daug D Daug
C G D C G D

Bridge:
D Daug



Any help or guidelines to the methodology would be greatly appreciated!
Thanks!
-John

PS
Go here if you don’t know what a Daug looks like.

This is always confusing John, with the chord changes you are showing it seems to me the song would play out of C in the verse, switching to cross-harp key of F in chorus, the F key could work in the first part depends on the harmony lines of the song too. I have a bud that plays harp, will ask him bout this one if no one else has any thoughts.

Which songs on your CD John? Let me know and I’ll tell you.

Does the harp player play a chromatic harp by any chance?

Quote (TomS @ Feb. 26 2005,15:59)
Which songs on your CD John? Let me know and I'll tell you.

Does the harp player play a chromatic harp by any chance?

No go on the chromatic harp, but he's go a little roadcase with about 16 different "keyed" harps.

The particular song he has worked on is track #10 "Stranger". I asked him if he could cover something similar to the lead line that flows through the verses...

I'm not sure of the name of most of the verse chords...
Dsus2/A == x00230


intro:
Dsus2/A x00450
x07670 x05450 Dsus2/A x05450 Dsus2/A
x07670 x05450 Dsus2/A x00450 Dsus2/A


Dsus2/A x00450 Dsus2/A
I saw a stranger's face today

x07670 x05450 Dsus2/A x05450 Dsus2/A

Dsus2/A x00450 Dsus2/A
In the strangest way today

x07670 x05450 Dsus2/A x05450 Dsus2/A

x07670 x05450
She didn't smile like you used to
x07670 x05450 Dsus2/A
Never laughed like you used to laugh with me

x07670 x05450 Dsus2/A x05450 Dsus2/A
x07670 x05450 Dsus2/A x05450 Dsus2/A

G Dsus2/A
And the the stranger finally turned around
G Dsus2/A
I could not beleive what I had found
G Dsus2/A
What a shame though so enlightening
G Dsus2/A
Ain't it strange to see you here today
Bb C G
To finally see you staring back at me
Bb C G
To finally see you staring back at me


The second half of the song is played the same as the first.

It looks complicated, but it's actually really, really simple (my girlfriend could probably play it if I showed her)

Of course, this is probably the most obtuse one that I have as far as odd-ball open-droning type chords...

The lead line pretty much stick to these notes played in at the 7th fret:
A E F# G F# E D


Good luck...
:p

-John
:cool:
Quote (John @ Feb. 26 2005,17:47)
It looks complicated, but it's actually really, really simple (my girlfriend could probably play it if I showed her)

Ouch !!

Hey John,
Ive worked with a couple of harp players in the past.
To find the root chord of a song isn’t always easy. And as Yaz suggested could be different for dif, parts of the same song.
One thing I do know that makes a difference is major’s and minors.
If this guy has around 16 or so harps in his case I’d say he could play all majors and some minors based on the math.
If the song in question rides out of C, I’d suggest using a C maj. harp. But alot of times songs in C are often sung in F, in that case Fmaj, would be the logical choice.
As long as you tell him Major, or Minor and the general chords, he shouldn’t have trouble sifting, that helps narrow it down for him anyway.
EDIT, of course there’s always sharps and flats to consider as well…more common in blues songs.

keep shinin’

jerm

First of all, any good harp player should be able to figure it out.

Second, blues harpers play in 4th above the key you are in (for cross harp as they put it). So if you’re in G, the harp player plays in C, but you know all that.

You’re song might be in F (not C) so the harp player would play in Bb.

Having said all that, I haven’t analyzed your song but some songs don’t work if they have multiple key changes in them.

Hope that helps.

Mr Soul

PS - I’ve never meet a blues harp player that plays chromatic harp (Tom - you should know better than to ask :slight_smile:

Ali, there are diatonic harps out there my friend, minor keys and all. Lee Oskar harps.

Quote (Mr Soul @ Feb. 26 2005,23:19)
PS - I've never meet a blues harp player that plays chromatic harp (Tom - you should know better than to ask :-)

S'ok, on the same theme I never met a guitarist who played a Les Paul. All the guitarists I know play strats. :)

Although I dunno, Toker, back in my Ann Arbor days we played once or twice with Madcat Ruth - although he'd probably not remember - but anywa he played 'em all. Talk about versitle - check out his stuff with Two Generations of Brubecks...
S'ok, on the same theme I never met a guitarist who played a Les Paul.
You need to get out more then :laugh: I play both.

Mr Soul
S'ok, on the same theme I never met a guitarist who played a Les Paul. All the guitarists I know play strats. :)
Sean....this boy is asking for butt kickin'.

(GREAT BIG GRIN)

Yeah, yeah, you guys talk like big fat humbuckers but y’ain’t nuthin’ but a bunch of wanna bes. BRING IT ON! :D

Toker, friends don’t let friends play Pauls. I can help you, if you are ready to be helped. First thing you need to do is get rid of that Paul. Drop me a PM and I’ll send my address so we can get it out of your life.
:)

Quote (John @ Feb. 26 2005,15:08)
I've got a little problem... I've met this fantastic blues harmonica player -- old chap from England or Australia depending on what day you ask him -- and he's agreed to play some songs with me live. The problem is that I have no idea what "key" my songs are in, and I need to be able to tell him which harp to pick up... So then, how does one determine the "key" of a song?

Here's an example using one of my songs:

-Shame (from my CD -Does Not Play Well With Others)

Verse chords:
Fmaj7 C Fmaj7 C Fmaj7 C Fmaj7 C

Pre Chorus:
B7 E B7 E

Chorus:
D Daug D Daug D Daug D Daug
Fmaj7 D Daug D Daug
C G D C G D

Bridge:
D Daug



Any help or guidelines to the methodology would be greatly appreciated!
Thanks!
-John

PS
Go here if you don't know what a Daug looks like.

OK, I listend to Shame, it is what it looks like, it's in C, and modulates to E and then D. Your other songs contain similar modulations, and you are especially fond of establishing a key and then dropping it a step - e.g. both tracks 11 and 12 are in A but you move to G for a moment. You also don't seem to like to write in minor keys! :) Not a bad thing, but there is not a whole lot of blues in those songs. Anyway, try this for starters for the songs on your CD, and warn your friend of modualtions that I have not noted, since you do that pretty often:

(all the following are major, I did not note most of the moduations)

1. C
2. A
3. A
4. D
5. G
6. E or B/ G bridge
7. E
8. modualates between C and G
9. C mods to E, D
10. D
11. A (with that G in there briefly)
12. A (G again)
13. G
14. E (mod to G)
15. C with some mods I don't remember...

John, do you know what makes up a diatonic scale? That will make your life a whole lot easier. You should be able to look at a few chords and tell the key easily. For instance, your tune that goes from Fmaj7 to C, that is the root to the dominant and back… a very basic progression. I V I. You know the key is most likely F because of the make up of a scale and the way typical pop/rock stuff works. It could be a different key, the melody is the final judge (it could be modal, some weird minor, etc) but you can get a pretty good educated guess just based on the chords. If I am talking gibberish, learn how to construct a diatonic scale, what the chords are that make a diatonic scale, and this stuff will be cake.


As for harps being a 4th up, err, sometimes. If they play a 4th up, then the 7th will be flat. This is an old Chicago blues thing. Not at all a rule of thumb you want to apply to all genres of music. Try it and see if you like it, but a lot of tunes will sound odd this way and you would want the harp in the actual key of the tune.

Wow, knowledgable people on this here forum, John ya confused enough YET? :D

Tom, Gibson Les Pauls belong in master guitarist’ hands!
Fender’s belong on pick-up trucks! That’s what they were invented for in the first place! :p :p :p

He He He that ought to “Stir It UP” :D

FWIW Bubba, that part of the song is in fact in a very straightforward C major. Hard to tell from just the chords, but as you say the melody tells all. :)

Yaz - master guitarists or masterba…well you get the idea.

:D