Musical keys

Musical Keys

In this article you will learn what a musical key is. You will also learn about finding the musical key of a song, and what that means for the notes and chords in the composition.

What Is A Musical Key?

All songs are in at least one musical key. Many are in just a single key, but some have the verse in one key, the chorus in another, and so on. The tonic of the key is the note and chord which the song often starts and ends with.

When someone says that a song is in C major, they are talking about the musical key. This means that the song is built on the C major scale, and that the tonic is C and the chord tonic is C major. Similarly, if a song is in D minor, then the tonic is D and the chord tonic is D minor.

There are 12 notes in western music (See our article on music theory), and each of these can function as the tonic of a key. Based on this tonic, you can have any scale, although in popular music it is most common to have either a major or a minor scale. Knowing the key will tell you which notes and chords to use when playing this piece of music, and which to avoid.

How Do I Find The Key Of A Song?

It is often fairly easy to hear when a song lands on the chord which is the chord tonic of the key. It feels as if the song "relaxes" on that chord. If you want to find the key of a song, there are two ways to go about it:

  • If you have the sheet music, you can use the circle of fifths. Read about it here.
  • If you don't have the sheet music, you need to listen to the song in order to figure out the chord tonic. It may help you to read our article about music analysis.

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