First Step: Know Your Key (For Melody)

Lesson
Materials

Knowing which key you’re in is very important at this stage. You need to know which black notes (the key) you’re going to play!

There are 3 main ways to work out your key.

The Written Key Signature

If you can read music and lead sheets, you’ll likely have seen key signatures written. That will give you your key and you can keep on playing there.

If you’re not that great at reading music or don’t have much experience with key signatures, there are two other ways.

Supplemental reading: my Key Signatures Page on Piano Lessons Info.

Working Out the Key By Ear

Another way to work out the key is by ear. This basically involved listening to the melody you’re going to play, play it and then figure out which black notes sound right or which white notes don’t seem right.

There’s more on how to do this on the Play By Ear for Piano Chords Course.

If you’re feeling unsure about this method, go on to the next one which is quite good.

Working Out the Key by Chords Listed

A great way to figure out a key, if you have a chord sheet, is to look at the chords that come up there.

Step 1: Look for the major chords and write them down.

Step 2: Which 2 major chords are right beside each other on the piano. For example, F and G or Eb and F. These are the IV (4) and V (5) chords. (These numbers come from which note on the major scale that chord falls on.)

Step 3: What’s the other major chord? If this fits in with being a I chord and the others and IV and V chord, then this is the key.

Step 4: Look up the key signature of chord 1. It will tell you which sharps and flats you need to play.

Now, you can play your melody in the correct key.

Example:

We have a song with the following chords: Em, F, G, Am, C.

F and G are right beside each other. Probably the IV and V chords.

C is the other major chord.

C = I, F = IV, G = V.

Key = C. No sharps, no flats.

Exercises

What’s the Key?

Open up these links to different songs and figure out the key. You will need to scroll past the spot where it lists the key but you can check the answer there. Just try going straight to the chorus.

Silent Night

Someone Like You (Adele)

Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (U2) – Tip: if this looks hard, try taking away all the sharps to figure out the answer.

There are more exercises listed in your download under the materials tab.