How to Remix with Ableton: What Key is This Song In?

We continue today with our series, How To Remix With Ableton. Today we’re going to discuss how to figure out the key of a song by looking at the notes in the melody.

I’m assuming a worst-case scenario here: that you found an acapella on the ground (metaphorical ground) and that you have no idea of the key of the original. But even if you always get all of your clips nicely labeled and warped, this exercise will benefit you greatly!

Once you know the key of a song, you will be able to predict with much greater accuracy the notes that will fit. It will make much easier to make chord changes and write harmony lines, not to mention my favorite part: basslines. Basically, keys are the best.

Of course, this requires some music theory learnin’ that may take you some time to, erm, learn. For those of you who’ve already signed up for the Live Course, we’ll cover this stuff in depth. For everyone else, I’ve made up a handy dandy cheatsheet that includes all of the note, key and chord information that you’ll need for this and the next post. Thank me in your Grammy speech.

NOTE, KEY AND CHORD CHEAT SHEET

So, watch this video and see how I figure out the key of this acapella and next post we’ll talk about how to build new chord changes around this vocal track!

Text below the video

1) Drag an mp3 of melody whose key you’d like to reverse engineer into Ableton.

2) Loop a part of the melodic phrase, preferably the section that has the most note variation.

3) Drag a MIDI instrument into its own track. Try to get an instrument with a simple sound; no weird delays or morphing filters.

4) Arm the MIDI instrument and plunk around until you have a list of notes that occur in the melody. Absolutely do not worry about the order or rhythm of these notes.

5) If you can hear any harmony notes (notes that are played at the same time as the melody), put those on your list as well.

6) Take your list of melody notes to the included cheat sheet and try to find which key (rows) include the most notes that overlap with your list. This is mostly a process of elimination.

7) If you find that you can narrow it down to within two adjacent rows, that is close enough to move the next step in most cases. I’ll explain why next time!

Drop me a comment if you have any questions whatsoever!

5 Responses to “How to Remix with Ableton: What Key is This Song In?”

  1. Marc January 15, 2012 at 5:18 pm #

    You went through using your chart so quickly, I had no idea what I was even supposed to be looking at! Could you perhaps go through using the chart in more detail?

    • Anthony January 16, 2012 at 3:47 pm #

      Good point! I’ll make a little vid in the next day or so!

      • Maciek January 29, 2012 at 4:56 pm #

        A tip for those ones who have a bad ear, the spectrum can help a lot

        • Anthony January 30, 2012 at 12:31 am #

          Good tip!

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  1. Music Theory Cheat Sheet: Scales, Keys, Chords - January 21, 2012

    [...] The title of this post might be a little grandiose, but it’s (somewhat) true. Last post, I made reference to a cheat sheet that I had dreamed up for yall and I neglected to explain how to [...]

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