One of the questions I am most frequently asked during rehearsals is “what key is this song in?”. In a world where chord charts generally take precedence over stave notation, a number of our team, regardless of age can find this a little tricky. Here is the simplest way I know to work out the key quickly and easily from a chord chart.
Most songs (particularly worship songs) only use diatonic chords; that is, chords from the key. There are seven chords in each major key, with chord one indicating the root of the key. These facts only apply to diatonic chords, but they are simple enough:
1. There are three major chords in any key. Chord one (I), chord four (IV) and chord five (V).
2. As chord IV and V are next to each other in the alphabet, chord I is the chord furthest from any other major chords.
The title song from the last Kerith Worship CD, ‘Magnanimous’ uses the following chords in the entire song (not all in the same order):
Em C G D
1. The three major chords in the song are C, G and D.
2. C and D are next to each other in the alphabet.
3. Therefore, the song is in the key of G.
One of the newest songs, ‘This is Love’, uses a an extra chord, but the principle is the same:
Am Bb C C/E Dm F
1. The three major chords in this song are Bb, C and F. Don’t be confused with the C/E chord – it is called a ‘slash chord’, and just a different way of playing a C chord; if in doubt, look at the left note and ignore the right note.
2. Bb and C are next to other in the alphabet. Ignore flats and sharps when looking at the letters.
3. Therefore, the song is in the key of F.
A common misconception is that you can work out the key of a song by simply looking at the first chord used in the song. Whilst it is true that many songs establish the key of the song by using chord I as a starting chord, this is not always the case and is very risky!
I hope you find this beneficial. This is a small part of a much more expansive topic covered in the Kerith Worship Academy courses. For more information of any of the courses, click here.
If there are any other topics or music theory questions that you have, please don’t hesitate to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’d love to help out where possible. Depending on how useful these posts are to anyone, I might make a separate blog covering some of this stuff, but we’ll see.