#1
Hey guys.

I'm having a hard time getting down the concept of figuring out the keys to songs, and then picking out a scale.

I hate to be *that guy* but I mainly just listen to metal, and very rarely are there any real chord progressions. Its mainly just a lot of fast single note picking, and open palm muting.

I recently bought a fretlight guitar (basically just a guitar with a led neck that you can plug into the computer, pick a scale, and every note in that scale lights up) to just mess around on and try to improv over some backing tracks.

I guess what I'm asking is, what is the easiest way for me to figure out which scale I should load up in the fretlight when listening to a song to improv over it? When it comes to country/pop/rock its easy to find the chords, thus getting the key.

Any help or just general pointers would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!
#2
Most metal songs are comprised of riffs, not chord progressions, and each riff basically follows its own rules, so don't try and look for chord tones or anything. In metal, you can pretty much always bet that the key is going to whatever your low E is tuned to (minor, of course, so Estandard would be Eminor, drop D would be Dminor, drop C minor and so on). If there's open palm muting, it's almost definately in the key of whatever note you're chugging (referred to as a "pedal note").

Forget about the theory for a second, in metal analysing the notes/chords is almost pointless due how chromatics and non diatonic notes are used. Listen to the song, and if you can hear a note that you want to land on, that's your key. Play a riff, then play your open E, chances are it sounds like the best note to land on, bam, you've got your key. Take Metallica for example, 90% of their songs are in Eminor, and when they're not, it's probably because of their tuning.

This is all a generalisation of course, prog metal usually features a lot of modulation (change in key), classic metal bands use lots of different keys (crazy train is in F#minor and Amajor), and a lot of extreme genres like grindcore will usually ignore key. Basically, use your ears, don't rely on some tool to find the key for you, just play along with the song and whatever note sounds like home, that's your key.

And don't worry about listening to mainly metal, this is a metal site for the most part, afterall.
#3
Key is all about tonic. Tonic is your home note, and you should be able to find it by ear - that's really the only way to be sure about the key. As said above, many times metal riffs use pedal notes (usually chugging on the low E string or whatever your lowest string is). If the riff is like this, you can be almost sure that that's also your key.

But yeah, learn to hear the tonic.
Quote by AlanHB
Just remember that there are no boring scales, just boring players.

Gear

Bach Stradivarius 37G
Charvel So Cal
Fender Dimension Bass
Hartke HyDrive 210c
Ibanez BL70
Laney VC30
Tokai TB48
Yamaha FG720S-12
Yamaha P115
#4
Quote by brian.c.baugus
Hey guys.

I'm having a hard time getting down the concept of figuring out the keys to songs, and then picking out a scale.

I hate to be *that guy* but I mainly just listen to metal, and very rarely are there any real chord progressions. Its mainly just a lot of fast single note picking, and open palm muting.

I recently bought a fretlight guitar (basically just a guitar with a led neck that you can plug into the computer, pick a scale, and every note in that scale lights up) to just mess around on and try to improv over some backing tracks.

I guess what I'm asking is, what is the easiest way for me to figure out which scale I should load up in the fretlight when listening to a song to improv over it? When it comes to country/pop/rock its easy to find the chords, thus getting the key.

Any help or just general pointers would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!
Listening for the tonic is where to start.
In the kind of music you're talking about (riff-based metal, with rudimentary chord progressions if any), it will almost certainly be the starting note, and the note that "feels lke home" throughout - because riffs will very likely start and end on it, keep returning to it.

Then it's a matter of hunting around the (narrow) set of choices of what scale might be built from that keynote. Minor pentatonic would be a classic choice, but be prepared for something like phrygian or harmonic minor.
Best thing really is to go note by note, and don't jump to any conclusions. I would use a slowdowner to be sure. (You may find it's not a preset scale you can just load into the fretlight; does it allow editing of scales, or programming your own?)

In one sense, key (tonal centre) doesn't matter because you only need to work out the notes (one by one if necessary); but hearing a tonal centre is usually a good guide, a place to start from. (And end on of course).