When you’re in a creative flow, the last thing you want to worry about is what musical theory. But if you don’t know how to find the key of song, it’s holding you back.

Learning theory concepts like key signatures can be intimidating It can certainly drain all of your creative energy, but it doesn’t have to be complicated.

All songs are written in specific keys that will determine which chords and notes work well together. You’ll need to know the key if you’re planning on improvising, transposing, or writing songs.

Finding out what key you’re working in doesn’t have to be frustrating though. While knowing music theory will help you find the key quicker, it isn’t a necessity.

It just takes a small amount of ear training, and some helpful tools.

In this article, I’ll explain the best way to find the key of a song, and show you the best tools to quickly tell what key you’re in.

Hum along to the song

This first method seems to be too good to be true–but hear me out, it works! Like I said, it requires a bit of ear training, but if you constantly practice this method you’ll improve over time.

Play the song you’re trying to find the key to, and hum along with it. Close your eyes, and gravitate your voice to the note you find to be the most prominent.

When you do this, you’ll most likely be singing the root note. This will give you clues to what key you’re in.

After you’ve found the root note, go to your piano or MIDI controller with your favorite piano VST, and find the note you’ve been humming.

After you’ve found the name of the root note, you’ll have to figure out one of two things: is the song in a major or minor key?

Major and minor keys

Listen closely to the song. Does it sound happy, or sad?

If it’s happy and bouncy sounding, you’re most likely in a major key. If it’s sad, moody, or dark, you’re probably in a minor key.

Once you’ve determined the quality of the key you’re in, the next step is to find out which notes work within that key.

Once you’ve determined the quality of the key you’re in, the next step is to find out which notes work within that key.

Are you playing along with the song on an instrument? You’ll need to know your musical scales to find the notes that match the key.

If you’re working in a digital audio workstation, you’ll be able to draw in the major and minor scales. After that, you can transpose them by shifting them up and down the piano roll to match your root note.

Here they are in the piano roll, with musical notation.

Major Scale:

Minor Scale:

Now that you know the key and scale of the song, you’ll be able to improvise and write better melodies, or use your favorite pitch correction plugins effectively.

How to find a song’s key automatically

The method above takes time and patience if you’re just starting out on an instrument or beginning to learn music production.

If you’ve had to halt your music writing process because you’re not sure of the key, finding it out quickly is the best way to avoid a creative block.

Luckily for us, there are great tools that will automatically detect the key any song is in, so you can get right back to writing and creating.

The best option is called Auto-Key. Auto-Key is an add on to the popular plugin Auto-Tune by Antares.

Auto-Key works in any DAW as a plugin. It’s perfect if you don’t want to leave the DAW to find the key of a sample or song you’re working with.

All you have to do is insert Auto-Key on the track you want to find the key of. Press play in your DAW, and Auto-Key will detect the key.

If you’re also working with Auto-Tune, Auto-Key is able to automatically send the key to any instance of Auto-Tune in your session.

That’s it! It’s a super simple solution.

That being said, if you’re looking to improve your ear, using the first method in combination with Auto-Key to confirm the answer is your best bet.

The key of all keys

Knowing all the musical keys is one of the keys to staying creative. When you’re able to spend less time troubleshooting and more time creating, you’ll strengthen your creative muscles.

Remember, there are only 12 notes, and only seven of them work together at once.

When you practice continuous learning, and set aside time to create, you’ll be able to create better music faster.