Topic: How to determine key from sheet music for vocals

Good news, apparently I have improved so much my mom is pretty willing to not only hang around but to do a little sing-a-long if I pick songs she likes, that is pretty cool!

However, she insists she needs ''to see the notes to get it right'' as her short term memory is somewhat challenged and she has trouble remembering the melody of the whole verse. Luckily it is not that hard to find sheet music for vocals, and that makes her happy on her part. Me not so much...

How do you determine in what key the song is, if you see the vocals sheet? (I'm aware this might be a silly question, I'm somehow just barely staring to grasp the whole math under music) If I could figure that out, I could transpose chords no problem (most of what we are willing to do is 3-4 chord stuff maximum, nothing fancy) to fit the key, and we would be good to go. (Gosh, so many things to learn...)

Second thought: I'm not even sure if this problem exists. (Yey for being pitch challenged)  I'm not sure how my mom reads that sheet music (as she does not really understand any more music theory than I do, probably less), and if she actually translates it to notes, I suspect that she just uses it as a visual up/down guide and starts from whatever note I start. However I don't trust my ears on this one at all...

Anyhow, it would be nice to know that we are at least theoretically on the same key...

Re: How to determine key from sheet music for vocals

If you have sheet music, the key is indicated by the collection of sharps or flats at the beginning of each bar.   If there are none, you're in C major or A minor (or one of five other modes).

Here is a good little mnemonic to help you remember.

http://cnx.org/content/m10881/latest/keysig4.png

Someday we'll win this thing...

[url=http://www.aclosesecond.com]www.aclosesecond.com[/url]

Re: How to determine key from sheet music for vocals

The sharp and flat keys in order

https://lh4.googleusercontent.com/-ppN1OYrYqgo/UrDyQximtdI/AAAAAAAAA40/lMgoS1YmJsI/w394-h128-no/sharp+and+flat+keys+in+order.jpg

"Growing old is not for sissies"

Re: How to determine key from sheet music for vocals

Thanks guys!  That should solve the theoretical problem! Regarding the actual results, well, I suppose there is no need to spazz about it too much, itÅ¡ not like we are applying for ''Singing Families'' just yet!

Re: How to determine key from sheet music for vocals

Jerome & Russell ...

Thanks for those 2 very helpful charts. I often wondered how key was determined from sheet music as well ... appreciate the answers!

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Re: How to determine key from sheet music for vocals

All I have are chords and lyrics. I know that most of the time the very first chord of a song or of a chorus, generally determines its key. The chords for the song I am playing are as follows:

Verse: D7 - G - D7 - G - C - G - D7 - G

Chorus: D7 - G - C - G - Am - D7 - G - D7 - G - C - G - D7 - G

I am inclined to think it could be Key of G. I don't want to be embarrassed and be wrong if I tell the band to play in G. What key is my song in? My email is dlsongbird@yahoo.com. Please reply asap. Thank you!

Re: How to determine key from sheet music for vocals

dianalynnhoward wrote:

All I have are chords and lyrics. I know that most of the time the very first chord of a song or of a chorus, generally determines its key. The chords for the song I am playing are as follows:

Verse: D7 - G - D7 - G - C - G - D7 - G

Chorus: D7 - G - C - G - Am - D7 - G - D7 - G - C - G - D7 - G

I am inclined to think it could be Key of G. I don't want to be embarrassed and be wrong if I tell the band to play in G. What key is my song in? My email is dlsongbird@yahoo.com. Please reply asap. Thank you!

G

"Growing old is not for sissies"

Re: How to determine key from sheet music for vocals

I would think you can just show them this webpage and not worry about the key its in. You have a transcription right here ^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Re: How to determine key from sheet music for vocals

Life long full time pianist. It is not always as simple as key signature, due to songs that go from major to minor back to major or  minor to major etc
Instead I would tell pianist the first chord and the last chord.

10 (edited by rockclimber 2015-06-17 21:25:47)

Re: How to determine key from sheet music for vocals

Most simples rules:

1. Watch out for major-chords in fifth-distance to each other. The harmonically lower one of both may be the key-indicating tonic.
2. Watch out for major-chords with an added minor-seventh, e.g. G7, B7. If you find such one, then the chord (major or minor) one fifth below may be the key-indicating tonic, e.g. C or cm according to G7; E or em according to B7.
3. Verify the result of the rule by ear: the key-indicating chord is the one on which you would most likely let the song end, if you had to decide yourself.

For other rules, e.g. for songs in minor keys, see the explanations below.

In his post Russell Harding may have used some knowledge about harmony theory. I suppose he recognized that there is a chord in major with a minor-seventh and according to this chord the (major) chord one fifth below:

D7 --------------------------------------------- G
Dominant-7  ------------------------------------Tonic
V7 ----------------------------------------------I

The minor-seventh on any major-chord makes this very chord a dominant in each case, what in turn determines the key. (This is in fact an application of harmony theory.) It may be even in some way independent of the key signature.

You need the couple of

X(7) --------------------------- "X-minus-4" (major chord one fifth below)
or in numbers:
V(7) ----------------------------I

Here X-minus-4-major is the key.

In some cases the key may be minor:


X(7) --------------------------- "x-minus-4" (one fifth below, but minor)
V(7)---------------------------- i


In other cases the dominant may be minor too:

x --------------------------- "x-minus-4" (one fifth below)
v-----------------------------i

And then there may be cases where the dominant is replaced by it's related minor chord:

iii ------------------------- I

e.g.
em ------------------------C


If the results of these rules are not satisfying, you may look look after three major-chords in the distance of fourth and fifth.

For example: G- C- D   ... in which case the key is likely to be the G.

To make it even more complicated: some of these three might again be replaced by the related minor ones:

G- am - D
G - am - bm

In turn in minor for example the Dominant may be replaced by its related major chord (for which as an example "Working Class Hero" with  em-D-em  comes to my mind)

VII ---------- i

G ---- am     instead of
E or em --------am

In Lady d'Arbanville you find both bm and its substitute D according to the tonic Em and you can compare what each of them does. In Sister Morphine you find several such substitutions: C G F Am while the song proclaims to be in am so that either the song should rather be in C or the three major chords  are substitutes. (Don' think too much about the change Dsus2 - Am in Sister Morphine. Maybe it is just a colouring of the am ...) 

But then there are songs that work differently, even some extremely popular ones. Yesterday I played Mack the Knife with my son and had the impression that it is one of those which essentially swing around between tonic (I) and subdominant (IV, here replaced by its related minor ii) with the dominant in no substantial role (and the song even being possible with this one left out). In these cases I would construe the last chord of the melody line as the tonic, even though one wouldn't find any distance of a fifth at all. (But this could only be the case if there were no major chord with seventh at all).

To explain this strange behavior: It may be the case that the melody itself would be harmonically significant enough to undertake the task if indicating the tonic, so that the chords may create tension by staying away from it. In such a case a sheet with lyrics and chords alone may not suffice to determine the key, as long as you haven't got the tune in mind.

In the end it still helps to "feel" where your home is. This can be tricky either. "If I were a carpenter" for example has D - C- G  and you may feel the center at D which is the V according to the rules mentioned above.

(These rules are the ones that work best for rock and folk. In jazz the dominant has further subtitutes.)