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What Is This Song's Key? Guide On How To Find Song Keys

Noah Feasey-Kemp

Noah Feasey-Kemp

Are you trying to find the key of a song?

If you want to mix two songs together, it's important to know their keys to ensure the songs won't clash, by using harmonic mixing techniques. Playing two songs with an incompatible different key will make your mixing sound amateur.

However for many beginner and intermediate DJs, finding a song's key can sometimes be a bit of a headache if you don't know the methods.

Although, when you're aware of the process (and more importantly, tools), finding the key of a song takes a few seconds.

Finding the key of a song is now as simple as pressing a button on an iPhone, or importing your songs into the right DJ software. There are several free and paid software to find the key of a song. 

This guide shows you the easiest methods to quickly find the key of a song you're listening to, and will point you in the right direction to understand how to use key and harmony as a DJ.

TL;DR - How To Find Key Signatures for DJs#

  • The key of a song is a musical note which is the core underpinning a song - it could be any of the 24 major and minor keys.

  • There are several methods for finding keys, from aural perception (using your ears) to smart software.

  • Key detection programs can take away the guesswork, and instantly give you an accurate answer.

  • DJ.Studio is a powerful tool for DJs, which helps with key matching and harmonic mixing.

The Quickest Method To Find A Song's Key#

Find key of song on dj studio

Before getting into the depths of this article, let me first show you the quickest way to find the key of a song.

  1. Open DJ.Studio in your browser.
  2. Create a new YouTube project.
  3. Search for the song, or paste in the YouTube URL. If someone has already analyzed the song, you will see the key. Otherwise...
  4. Click the + to import and analyze the song.
  5. Voila! You will now see the song's key.

This method can accurately give you the key of nearly any song in less than a minute!

If the song is not on YouTube, you can drag-drop a downloaded music file into the app to scan it.

With that covered, let's dive deeper into key detection methods...

What Does the "Key of a Song" Mean? #

An abstract representation of musical keys, depicting various musical notes and clefs floating around a central grand piano with keys highlighted

The "key of a song" refers to the tonal center or home base around which the music is centered. It's a fundamental concept in music theory, providing a framework for the composition, arrangement, and performance of a piece of music. Here are some aspects that define the key of a song:

  • Scale: A key is built on a scale, which is a set of musical notes ordered by pitch. The most common scales in Western music are the major and minor scales, each with its own distinct sound and mood. The key of a song is usually named after the root note of its scale (e.g. C in C major or A in A minor).
  • Harmony: The key determines the chords that are used in the song. Chords are groups of notes played together, and they are typically built using the notes of the song's key. This creates a sense of coherence and unity in the music.
  • Tonal Center: The key provides a tonal center, or a "tonic note" or "home chord," to which the music will often resolve. This gives the listener a sense of resolution or rest, especially at the end of a phrase or piece.

Understanding this concept is important for musicians and DJs, where it helps them keep in tune, and avoid clashing notes.

The Importance of Understanding Musical Keys for DJs#

DJs understanding musical keys

While many DJs overlook the concept of keys, harmony, and other music theory - its actually essential if you want to achieve professional sounding mixes.

Learning how keys work, and how you can use this concept to your advantage in a DJ mix will set you apart from other DJs, and help you to create more flowing, cohesive, and emotionally resonant sets.

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.

Here are some of the main reasosn you need to respect keys when DJ mixing.

Avoid Clashing Keys #

You're going to sound like a bad DJ if you try to mix two songs with incompatible keys. The melodies, chords, basslines, and harmonies are all going to be clashing, which makes a pretty horrific listening experience.

Create More Cohesive Mixes#

By respecting keys, and mixing harmonically, your mixes will sound a lot more fluid, intentional, and cohesive. When mixing songs with closely related keys, the melodies, chords, and other elements will compliment eachother, and often sound like they were made to be mixed together.

Clearer Creative Direction#

While some naysayers claim that mixing harmonically limits you, I think the opposite is the true. Using harmony can guide your mixes, and give you more focus in the direction of your sets, and help you to create more flowing progressions.

Professionalism#

If you want to get anywhere as a DJ, you're going to need to sound like you know what you're doing. By incorporating Harmonic Mixing Techniques, and the Camelot Wheel into your mixing skills, you're going to instantly sound more professional.

These are just some of the main benefits of understanding and using harmony and key concepts in your DJ mixing - you will quickly see for yourself how valuable this knowledge is.

How to Find the Key of a Song: 4 Methods#

how to find the key of a song

If you want to find the key of a song, the following methods are the best options. Some of them require a fair amount of pracitce and skill, but as you will see, there are several software tools that make the process effortless.

1) Aural Perception (Detect The Key With Your Ears)#

aural perception (ear trianing)

Aural Perception of keys is the hardest and most inaccurate method in most cases, requiring years of practice and training to even come close. You'll also need some kind of instrument nearby - unless you have perfect pitch.

This process relies on a deep understanding and instict of key, pitch, and harmony.

  1. Listen for the Tonal Center: Start by listening to the song and paying attention to the note or chord that feels like "home" or the point of resolution. This is often prominently featured at the end of phrases or the song itself.
  2. Identify the Root Note: Try to hum or sing the note that feels like the tonal center. This is the root note of the key. You can also use an instrument like a piano or a guitar to match the pitch you're humming.
  3. Determine Major or Minor: Listen to the mood of the song. Major keys often sound happy, bright, or triumphant, while minor keys might sound sad, dark, or melancholic
  4. Listen to the Chord Progression: Identify the chords being played throughout the song. The progression often follows common patterns depending on the key. In major keys, common chords include I (root), IV, V, and vi. In minor keys, common chords include i (root), iv, V, and VI.
  5. Use the Circle of Fifths: Familiarize yourself with the Circle of Fifths, as it can help you predict which chords are likely to appear in a key.
  6. Practice with a Variety of Songs: The more you practice, the better you'll get. Try to identify the key of songs from different genres and complexities. Use tools like a piano or a guitar to help you confirm the key until you're able to do it confidently by ear.
  7. Refine Your Skills with Ear Training Exercises: Use ear training apps or online courses to practice identifying intervals, chords, and progressions.

Remember, this skill takes time to develop. Be patient with yourself and consistent in your practice, and you'll find yourself improving over time. I would not recommend looking into this method unless you are already skilled, you'll be much better off using key detection software outlined below.

2) Use Key Detection Software#

dj studio library

Unless you have the ears of Beethoven, learning how to use your ears to detect the key of a track is largely a waste of time. These days, DJs and musicians have access to powerful software which automatically detects the keys of tracks for you.

DJ.Studio is a powerful piece of software, which has built-in key detection (amongst a huge range of other features).

While this app is primarily designed for creating DJ-style mixes using just a keyboard and mouse, you can also use it as a handy key detector.

I explained the process of how to use DJ.Studio to detect the key of a song at the top of this article, but here are some other cool featuers it offers:

  • Accurate Key Detection - DJ.Studio has powerful and accurate analysis which quickly detects the key and tempo of imported songs.
  • Harmonic Automixing - Using AI algorithms, DJ.Studio can automatically mix your playlist together, making sure tracks are harmonically mixed and beatmatched. This gives you a professional, slick sound in a matter of moments.
  • Key Recommendations - By clicking on a track's key indicator, DJ.Studio can find music from your library which is compatible, helping you bridge together difficult transitions, and find inspiration for harmonic mixes.
    DJ.Studio key harmony tablex
  • DJ Mix Timeline Editing - Rather than mixing on decks, the app lets you craft your mixes on an audio editor timeline. This lets you achieve higher quality results without needing to rehearse and record your performances.
  • 3rd Party Integration - DJ.Studio connects to a wide range of other platforms, from music streaming sites like YouTube, Spotify, and Beatport, to all the main DJ software and libraries like rekordbox, VirtualDJ, Traktor, Serato, and iTunes.

These are just some of the features you unlock in DJ.Studio. If you're a beginner or professional DJ, or just a humble music lover wanting to convert their playlist to a seamless mix, this is the perfect tool.

You can try it yourself with the free 14-day trial.

3) Looking at the Key Signature#

If you understand how to read music and key signatures, you could find the sheet music for the song, and look at the marked signature.

This is another more advanced and complex method - but is arguably more accurate than key detection software and ear training - because you're getting the key directly from the composer, rather than an interpretation.

The key signature of a song is indicated by the arrangement of sharps and flat signs on different lines and spaces of the music staff. 

This is a pretty complex topic, so if you want to go down this route do some extra research. Although I also wouldn't personally recomend this method due to the skill and time requirements.

If you want to learn more about music theory, major or minor keys - check out our guide on key signatures.

4) Analyze the Chord Progression#

Finding the chord progression of a song give you information about the tonal center of a song - although it isn't always easy to work it out.

For example, you can google the chord progression of the song you are interested in (or play an instrument to the music and work it out yourself).

Oftentimes, the first chord in the sequence will be built upon the root note of that song. For example, if the chord starts with a G major chord, chances are the song is in the key of G Major. 

The same applies to minor tonalities. If it starts 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. 

Finally...#

With all the above knowledge under your belt, you'll have no trouble finding the key of any song.

Whether you go down the pious and ardous route of training your ears, or opt for speedy and precise key detection software, you're well on your way to mastering your understanding of musical keys.

Using software is by far the best way to go - so check how quickly you can find the key of a song with DJ.Studio!

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?

Excited to start mixing?