Musical Composition, Theory and Songwriting/Determining the key of a song.


I try to learn to learn songs by ear. I find it very difficult to know whether I am writing it in the same key as the recording I'm listening to.
I've tried to let the music through an equalizer, turn down the higher frequencies, listen to the bass and find the first bass note on an instrument (in my case a piano).
My problem is that, if I have this bass note in my mind and my first guess on the piano isnít correct, I forget the note instantly (probably because my ear isn't good enough).
What would you recommend me to do, to find the key of a piece of music?

Hello Kim and thank you for contacting through

First, always keep a pencil and notation paper handy at the piano. Write things down so you don't forget. There's nothing wrong with the approach you are using to determine the key/chords of a tune. Try singing the note you hear. You will get better at it the more you do it.

However, it sounds to me like you have not had much training in music. That's OK, as we all start there but I would highly recommend taking a few piano lessons from a local teacher. Tell the teacher what you want to learn. Most of your issues will be resolved with a bit of guidance from someone trained in music.

Thanks for the interest,

D C DowDell
Professor of Music
A Passion for Jazz!
studio: (619) 855-2069

Follow us on Twitter:

Subscribe to our videos:

Musical Composition, Theory and Songwriting

All Answers

Answers by Expert:

Ask Experts


D C DowDell


D C DowDell will answer questions about Jazz improvisation, composition, chord voicing, scales and modes, practice techniques and ear training. Professor DowDell also enjoys discussions on Jazz musicology and the evolution of style.

D C DowDell is a professional Jazz pianist/composer who currently teaches online Jazz studies at A Passion for Jazz!. Professor DowDell has been teaching music for over 30 years at 2 major universities, several community colleges as well as accepting students for private study.


American Federation of Musicians
National Music Teachers Association
International Association of Jazz Educators

Bachelors of Music Education from UCLA
Masters of Music Composition from UNT

©2017 All rights reserved.