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4 Ways to Determine the Key of a Song

Are you looking for how to find the key of a song? For, especially beginner and intermediate players, finding a song's key can sometimes be a hassle. If you want to mix two songs, it's good to know their keys, so you make sure the songs won't clash when being played together.

But, this shouldn’t be such a challenging situation. Musicianship has advanced so much over the years that finding the key of a song could be as simple as pressing a button on an iPhone. 

Also, because of the advancement in technology, there are several free and paid software to find the key of a song. 

These pieces of software are available for the different operating systems of our devices. In this article, we will discuss several ways to determine a song's key. 


  • The key of a song is that one musical note/pitch or chord on which we build or center a song. 

  • The best way to find the key of any song is through aural perception (using your ears).

  • A very easy way to find the key of any song is through the use of key detection programs.

  • A useful tool for DJs is DJ.Studio. 

  • Also, the most basic way to find the key of any song is to look at the key signature in cases where the composer has notated the music. 

  • Looking up chord charts and key charts on the internet is also another very easy way to determine the key of a song. Most popular songs have their charts online. 

Meaning of “Key of a Song” #

We can define the “key” in music as the major group of pitches that lays the harmonic foundation for any song. To simplify that, the key is that one musical note/pitch or chord which we build or center a song on. 

For instance, if we say that a song is in the key of G, it means that the entire song is built upon the note “G.” This means that the harmonic and melodic foundations of that song are in the key of G. G is to that song what a root is to a tree. This means that everything sprouts from G. 

The Importance of Knowing the Music Key#

If you are attempting to do anything to an already-existing song, it is important to know the key of that song first because:

  • Knowing the key of any song gives you an insight into what chords (chord progressions) and scales are most likely to be used. This could be an important piece of information for DJs, music producers, instrumentalists, and even music critics. 

  • If you are playing with a band, you’ll most likely need to play in the same key as the rest of the band. 

  • For musicians who sight read, the first step to proper sight reading is actually knowing the key of the piece by looking at the key signature. 

  • For proper mixing or harmonic mixing as a DJ, knowing the keys of the songs you are mixing is the most important step to achieving a great mix.  Often DJs color code the tracks in their music library based on the camelot wheel. This helps them find compatible songs fast.

How to Find the Key of a Song#

Below are some of the ways that musicians have been using over the years to achieve this. These listed methods follow no particular order: 

1. Aural Perception (Train Your Ears) #

It only makes sense that we mention this first. This method is more like going back to the very roots and essence of musicianship itself. 

The first step to doing this right is to listen intensively and try to locate that one note or chord that just feels like home. That is the note/chord that everything resolves to. In solfa notation, that note is called “Doh.” 

Once you locate that “Doh” (or Chord 1) which is also known as your tonic or root, all you need to do is sing your major or minor scale using that note or chord as your root. 

This might take some practice and patience, but, trust me, once you start getting this right, you will up your musicianship by 10 more levels. 

How to Train your Ears to Find Song Keys

Below are some tips for perfecting this method: 

  • Make sure to sing your major and minor scales more often using the solfa notation method. Sing as numerous times as possible and get conversant with the pitches. 

  • Always use a musical instrument (tuned to concert pitch) or pitchfork as a reference. 

  • Always practice this with your favorite music and also without music. Sooner or later, you will naturally be able to hum or hear the tonic or root note/chord in every song. 

  • Your ears can also help you to hear if a song is in a major or minor key because often
    music in a major key sounds happy while minor key music is heard as sad.

Train your ears

2. Use Key Detection Software#

Because DJs and EDM/Hip-Hop producers are working from their laptop or pc it's really easy to use key detection software. Programs like Zplane Tonic, Antares AUTO-KEY, and HoRNet Songkey MK4 can help you easily detect the key of any song. These DJ Software programs also go as far as detecting chord and chord progressions, too. However, some are not free. 

Also, there are other dedicated DJ software programs that you can install on your iOS or Android devices for this. 

If you use DJ.Studio to create DJ mixes, you don't have to worry about detecting the keys at all. The key and BPM are automatically detected for you! It will tell you the key of the song and it even uses that key to suggest the perfect order of the tracks in your mix. 

Use key detection software like DJ.Studio

3. Looking at the Key Signature#

This method is especially important for musicians who sight read sheet music and are into classical music.  If you are playing classical music, this will be the only method you will ever need to use. 

The key signature of a song or a piece is the arrangement of sharps and flat signs on different lines and spaces of the music staff.  These sharps and flats show that we should consistently sharpen (raise) or flatten (lower) the corresponding musical notes in every octave. We are to sharpen or flatten these corresponding musical notes from their natural pitches. 

This means that if there is a sharp sign on the line “G,” then you are required to sharpen (raise) all the G notes in that piece of music. The same concept goes with flat signs. If you want to learn more about music theory, major or minor keys or key signatures, read the article which we wrote on this topic last month.

4. Take a Look at the Chord Progression#

Merely looking at the chords can give you tons of information about the tonal center of a song. 

Also, another good tip is to look at the ending chord of the piece of music. Oftentimes, this will always be a chord built upon the root note of that song.  For example, if the music ends with the G major chord, chances are the song is in the key of G Major. 

The same applies to minor tonalities. If it ends with an A-minor chord, chances are that the song is in the key of an A-minor. 

However, you might need to employ the help of a chord chart for that particular song in order to tell the chords being used.  

The good news is that you can find the key of a song from most popular songs on Google, just type in the name of the song and the word "key" and you will find it. 

Chord progression

Summary on How to Find the Key of a Song#

Key detection will always remain an important aspect of musicianship, regardless. It doesn’t matter if you are using a song key finder or a free online tool like DJ.Studio, or using your ears, or simply looking up the key signature. 

At the end of the day, what matters is that you successfully find the key of the song you wish to. And there are several tools you can use to achieve this. All you have to do is choose the one that works just fine for you. 

FAQs on How to Find the Key of a Song 

What is the easiest way to determine the key of a song?
Are some people born with the natural ability to figure out the key of a song by ear?
Does using tools like DJ.Studio and others make you any less of a musician?

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