How to determine a Song Key


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How to determine a Song Key.                           

Determining a Song Key by a particular artist or band can be difficult for someone with an untrained ear.  I'm right there with you, pal.

Diatonic or Chromatic Harmonica

Here are a few tips offered by some kind folks at  HarpTalk  chat group:    

Try some of these different methods others use and you might hit on the key (no pun intended)...


                    From Jack Ely  (visit SPAH for more harp information)

Some tips on finding a song key - A friend told me,
and this works... Sing the ditty "Shave And A Haircut,
two bits" along with the song - "bits" is the tonic note.
Another is to draw hole two on your diatonics until
you hit the note (I.e., On a C harp draw 2 is a G, this
would be the tonic note). Now you can play in 2nd
position (G on a C harp) or grab a G harp and play
it straight harp (1st position).

I'm a chromatic guy. I use these methods and they work
for me - 'though it took me a while. Lately I've been jamming
on chro. with a country band (they like the sharp keys) - I've
gotten so I can find the key pretty quickly on my chromatic.

I hope this isn't too elementary - maybe it will help some.

Jack Ely


                From  Rich "ATOM" Baum

Here's my 2 cents.

For me, I find the key by listening to the "root" of the song..

If I wanted to find the key for (let's say) Oh, McDonald, I would
just hum the first note and then find the same note on the 1 blow of
a harp. Now remember you might have to go through 12 harps to find
this but to make it easier I would start with an "A" harp then "C" 
and "D" and so on till I found the right key. Then you have to
figure out what is the right key if you want to play in 2nd (cross)
position or 3rd position.

This may seem very time consuming and complicated but it is really
not that difficult.

After time you will be able to find the right key in seconds.
Also, in time you will just hear what is right for 1st, 2nd and 3rd
position by listening to any song and corresponding it with a harp.

Many songs first note is the key that the song is in, but in no way
is this always true.

If you figure what key it is on your guitar it is the same for harp.

Hope this helps.

Rich "ATOM" Baum


                From Ernesto Che

Hey, hey, people! Put yourself together, so to say. You just have
to work at your pitch. True, not all people have perfect pitch. But
you can develop your relative pitch. Begin with intervals - find
some program which can play different intervals on your comp. Listen
to them, practice, practice. Sooner or later you'll be able to define
what interval you hear. Then you listen to CD you want to play along
with, take any harp you have and play any note on it. Then you define
the interval between the note you ve just played and the tonic of the
song. Then you say " Voila, that was major second, therefore the key
is A" ( for instance ). That`s it. Not to say it`s the only way, but
it`s the best way.



                    From Bill H.

I use just my C and Ab harps to find song keys.

Most songs are in natural keys and by playing the C scale (holes 4 to 7) I can usually
hear the root of the song. I usually hum where I think the root is first to help find it.

The 'flat' keys are often used when horns are present,typically Bb, Ab and Eb. Those
notes and Db are in the Ab harp also found in holes 4-7. (I'm assuming you know how scales
are constructed, please ask if that's not clear.)

Running up and down the scale on those two harps gets you everything but F#. Not a typical
key, but it's all that's left after the natural and flat keys are eliminated.

Bill H


                    From Boris

Take  your C harp (or chrom or any other) and find the root key there.
It's  simple  to  find  dominant,  subdominant  and tonic on one harp,
remember  notes  and  find other harp for needed position. i.e. if you
find  that  on C harp 2 blow is dominant and (3)'' wholetone draw bend
is  tonic  and  the  (1)  and  (4)  draw  is  subdominant  you  have A
major/minor  key  and  should  take D harp for 2-nd pos, or G harp for
3-rd pos or F harp for 5 pos or stay at C harp for 4-th pos.

Boris S. Plotnikov


            From John Watts  (Coast 2 Coast Music)

I find it easy and fast to use a Kratt Chromatic pitch pipe . It has reeds like
a harmonica and the F-F model has most of the notes in the same octave as the draw
2 of the various harmonicas. It's quick to go around and find the note that sounds
right with, then just grab the right harmonica.

Go here for info on pitch pipe --->

John Watts


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