Topic: Rubbish at music theory - what key is my song in???

Believe me, please, I HAVE tried reading up about how to work out what key a song is in but it all goes WAY over my head and I am none the wiser.

I won't post the lyrics because they are not relevant. This is a song that I wrote two years ago.

In terms of the music, I decided that I wanted it to start in [Eb], just because I have never sung a song that started in [Eb].

Before posting this question I also struggled with how to represent the song structure and I hope this works.

The first part of each verse ends with the line, "And [Eb]my true love he [C]said:" and the second part of each verse is "quoted speech".

So I have called the parts "Voice 1" and "Voice 2" as they could be sung by different people.

These are the chords in the song:

VERSES 1 - 4:

(Voice 1)
[Eb][Cm]
[Eb][Cm]
[Eb][Cm]
[Eb][C]

(Voice 2)
[C][Fm]
[Fm][C]
[C][Fm]
[D][G7]

CHORUSES (song ends with a chorus):

[F][Dm]
[F][Dm]
[F][Dm]
[G7][C]

When I used this http://musictheorysite.com/namethatkey it came out as the Keys of Gm and Am.  I tried inputting just the chords from specific parts of the song and it gave me different keys again.

Best wishes for the New Year!
Liz

ps. If anyone actually wants to hear a silly song about Sepsis with an educational slideshow then this is the song for you! I might get around to posting it in the "Songwriting" section of the Forum when I know what key(s) it is in:
Sepsis (Ukulele Original)

Play the Ukulele: The most fun you can have doing something badly!
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"I'm not going to say I'm no Jim Morrison, I'm not going to say I'm no John Lennon - I'm not going to say I'm like The Monkees neither! - 'I'm a Believer!' - Some people say I make a pretty good musician - but I've always argued that's going to take me a long time . . . "
Wild Man Fischer

Re: Rubbish at music theory - what key is my song in???

Is it important to you to have a key? A fair amount  of 20th century music tried to scrupulously avoid a "key". There are many songs that don't start with the chord of the key, but most will end on the key. It's where it feels finished. The G7 to C progression at the end suggests a tonal center of C, but some of the chords don't imply  a typical harmonic analysis. I wouldn't worry about it.

Re: Rubbish at music theory - what key is my song in???

Hi Saxman1510!

Saxman1510 wrote:

Is it important to you to have a key? A fair amount  of 20th century music tried to scrupulously avoid a "key".

I did not know that! That is very reassuring. And I will stop worrying about what Key that song is in.

Your reply triggered a couple of other thoughts.

I knew about the trick of looking at the last chord - but it doesn't always seem to work. . . .

. . . Last week someone kept insisting that I ought to be ending a different song (another one that I have written) with the Chorus not a Verse.  I kept saying, "But it doesn't work - it doesn't sound right.".  I had not thought about why it did not work until now: the problem in that case is that ending on the Chorus would make the last chord an [E7] rather than a [C] and the song is in the Key of C.

Thinking about that incident made me wonder if people making their own arrangement to cover a song sometimes change the ending from a verse to a chorus, or vice versa, perhaps for "completeness" as in the case of my critic or perhaps to shorten a song? If so, then that might account for some of the times that the "last chord" clue is a red herring?

For the last year I have been writing songs with a friend who has a much better understanding of music theory than I do. (Typically, he produces all sorts of lovely chord progressions on the guitar and I then simplify the arrangement to within an inch of its life so that I can actually play it on a ukulele.)  When he is the one starting off a new song, he might not begin by deciding on a Key but he usually settles on one quite quickly, as it helps him to explore chord progressions beyond the obvious ones (major, minor and diminished) that are likely to "work", where and how to step out of key, etc.  Me, I remember about the major and minor chords, always forget about the diminished and the rest is still unexplored terrain!   

I think I am at the stage of my ear being ahead of my understanding because I can find chords that "work" without knowing why they work. Where my friend also has the edge on me is that while I might hit on a chord that "works" he will often immediately recognise that it is a bit "weak" and will suggest a "stronger" alternative that works even better.

Having said all that, when I have written a song without knowing what Key it is in, the main problems in practice have been:

1) When I am putting together a set list then I like to make sure that I include songs in different keys for variety.

2) Communicating with others in "pub sessions" where it helps to shout out the Key of a song so others can join in playing more easily.

3) When creating a song sheet, deciding how to name chords that I have "found by ear" when there are several possible names for a particular chord shape. Knowing the Key helps me to choose a fitting chord name.

(There is whole other can of worms lurking in that last point. Writing songs on guitar and ukulele at the same time, or on guitar and then arranging for ukulele, often results in ukulele chords with implied roots; naming them according to the shape minus the implied root note results in some apparently whacky chord sequences. It can sometimes make the vocals sound a bit "off" when the melody was on the root note too - sometimes in a good way; sometimes not so good, so I change the melody.)

Thank you again for replying. I hope that something in my reply was interesting or helpful to you - or to anyone else stumbling across this question,

Best wishes,

Liz

Play the Ukulele: The most fun you can have doing something badly!
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"I'm not going to say I'm no Jim Morrison, I'm not going to say I'm no John Lennon - I'm not going to say I'm like The Monkees neither! - 'I'm a Believer!' - Some people say I make a pretty good musician - but I've always argued that's going to take me a long time . . . "
Wild Man Fischer

Re: Rubbish at music theory - what key is my song in???

hi Liz,

you bring up several interesting points. as a solo singer/guitarist, i often find when playing with backing tracks that i forget what key a song is in especially new songs or songs i haven't played for a while, so my answer for that one is to put the key with the title on the mini disc or lap top. but that's no help to you as you play "live".
you mentioned a partner? couldn't he/she help with designating a key? then write it down next to the title on your set list.
when i write songs, i may have a line and a bit of a melody, in which case i just sing that bit over and over while playing chords or just notes till i find a chord or key then the rest falls into place.

in the sample you've put above you begin in one key (which is probably Eb ) then change to a major key C, the third part is still in C, which is a full tone up from the 1st verse.

hope that helps?

There are two "L's" in Phill

Re: Rubbish at music theory - what key is my song in???

Cm is the natural minor relative to Eb.  Fm is the natural ii of Eb. That part is in the key of Eb.  The only really "out of key" chord from Eb is the C major chord.

In the chorus, Dm is the natural minor of F.   So I'd say the song is in Eb, and modulates to F for the chorus.

Someday we'll win this thing...

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