How do you recognize when a song changes keys?

The expression refers to when a song changes key in the singular. When you don’t recognize the key change without being told it’s there, you won’t ever be able to do so. When singing to an accompaniment, most people instinctively adopt the new key when the accompanist/band/orchestra changes key, usually because there is some sort of signal – normally what is called the dominant chord of the new key. In fact, if one is less musically trained, it may be harder to continue singing in the old key once it has been established (unless one is tone deaf).

Should You Use a Key Change in Your Song?

Most of the song key changes you’d recognize are from the ‘80s and ‘90s. it is still common for artists to change keys in a song. Fortunately, it doesn’t happen as much anymore (at least not in popular music). In light of this, we might ask, “Are key changes out of style? At first glance, it might seem that way, but that’s not always the case. It is still possible to use a key change and still end up with a great song. When changing keys, keep these things in mind.

Change Keys for a Reason

Don’t just change keys because you want to. Be creative and don’t just do it for the sake of being cool. When you don’t have a bridge but you still want a lift at the end of a song, don’t change keys.

Whenever you make a decision as a songwriter, make sure it supports the idea of the song. Could you please tell me why you’re changing keys? What is the purpose of this? Don’t do it if you don’t want to.

Change Keys in Your Own Style

If you decide to change keys, you may be tempted to follow the masters’ lead. In most cases, key changes occurred 30 or 40 years ago. It may not be relevant to the current music landscape because of the arrangement and production style. Just make sure you change the key according to your taste.

Make use of the knowledge of changing keys (which we’ll discuss below) within the context of your personal music-making process.

Change Keys Rarely

Due to their rarity, key changes can have a great impact. There’s something surprising about them. Songwriting can be powerful when you use surprise. Every song you write has a key change; your listeners will become accustomed to it. There is even a possibility that they will lose interest in it. Switch keys only rarely within a song.

Find Common Chords

Finding chords that are common between the two keys is a slightly more difficult method. When done correctly, this provides a smoother transition. You’d start by finding the chords in the key you’re in. As an example, let’s keep using G major.

Here are the chords:

  • G
  • Am
  • Bm
  • C
  • D
  • Em
  • F♯dim

Let’s examine the key to which you want to transition. You’ll need a key with at least one of the same chords to use this method. Let’s choose D major:

  • D
  • Em
  • F♯m
  • G
  • A
  • Bm
  • C♯dim

There are plenty of chords in common between the G and D scales: G, D, Em, and Bm. This will make it easier to transition to the new key smoothly.

Watch the video for more information:

Video Credit: Sean Daniel

Quick Questions

How do you indicate a key change?

Using the Chromatic Scale

With the chromatic scale, you change keys by walking up (or down) until you reach the root note. You can use this walkup if you want to change the key from G major to B major: G – G♯ – A – A♯ – B.

How do you know if songs are in the same key?

By using the key signature of a music modulation, you can determine its key. By counting the sharps and flats in the key signature, you can determine the key of the song. C (or A minor) is a key signature that does not contain sharps or flats.

Does every song have a key change?

Whether or not you are “in a key” depends on what you mean by that. There is often a minor set of chords in the verse and a major set of chords in the chorus. It is possible to argue that the song hasn’t really changed key, just changed which chords it focuses on at any given time.