#1
I have been playing guitar for several years now and have only recently become interested in learn the theory behind songs.

When I try to figure out a key of a song how do you know if its minor or major? If a song is in A major why is it not in F# minor since they contain the same notes. For example why is Wild thing by Jimi Hendrix in A major why is it not in F# minor?
#2
The chord progression:

A D | E D |

And there's a lot of G A G A action at the end of phrases.

A is a really strong note in the key (the music tends to that note/chord), so it's A something*. (ignoring the guitar solo in E)

Major or minor: the note that would clue you in the most clearly would be the third (A B C). If it's a major third (4 half-steps between, so C#), then it's in major. If it's a minor third (3 half-steps between, C natural), then it's in minor.

Jimi's not really singing, but his speaking pitch approximates C#. So it's in A first, and A major second.
#3
Key is determined 100% by resolution tendencies. Usually look for a V-I relationship, or listen for where the harmony pulls itself to a resting place.

Looking strictly at the sharps/flats is how people end up thinking that tunes very obviously in A major are actually in "G# locrian modulating to F# phrygian" or somesuch, just because the sharps/flats overlap. If you think about it for a second, how can a song be in F#m when an F#m chord never actually appears? It's pretty hard to make a song in a key without ever actually resolving to the chord that key is based on.

Plus, most music does not stay within the key signature, so adding up the flats/sharps is not a reliable way to determine key. Lots of songs have something like A C D, which of course moves away from the A major key signature.
Last edited by cdgraves at Jul 3, 2015,
#4
The main thing is the tonic chord. First you figure that out. Then you figure out whether it's minor or major. If the tonic is A and it's a major chord, you are in the key of A major.

You just need to use your ears. Tonic is the "home chord".

Play A-D-E. Now, doesn't it feel a bit incomplete? Doesn't it feel like it "wants" to go somewhere? You have created tension. Play A major again. Now it should feel complete. A major is your tonic.
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#5
Quote by Dolphin Guitar

When I try to figure out a key of a song how do you know if its minor or major? If a song is in A major why is it not in F# minor since they contain the same notes. For example why is Wild thing by Jimi Hendrix in A major why is it not in F# minor?


You need to learn to hear resolution.

Key is not determined by counting sharps and flats. It is determined by where the song sounds resolved. Play a verse ... and then play A at the end of it. Feel how that sounds settled, like home? Now play a verse, and play the F#m at the end of it ... see how that doesn't feel resolved?
#6
the best thing you can do is pay attention to where the bass notes are going
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#7
It does help if you at least understand diatonic harmony (the exact chords made from each note of any major as it can give pretty strong indications as to the chords signaling the possible or likely keys. I think it's great that you're interested in knowing such things. It's a great springboard to start learning theory. I don't know what you know about music in general, though or how well you know your fretboard, but those can make your attempts to learn easier.

In general though we define the key by where or what chord the song seems to end on. A lot of times I use that when figuring out songs. Once I do that usually it's a small matter of filling in the rest of the chords around the key.

Best,

Sean