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Finding right key

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Rick Martin, Dec 9, 2000.

  1. I'm thrilled to report that after only about seven months I got some cool chops on the boogie beat. From the "Jump N Blues" book and the Roscoe Beck book, I learned enough groovy riffs to jam along with my boogie woogie CD's. Is there a trick to finding the right key when listening to a recording? Trial and error usually gets me close, but often I sound slightly out of tune. I suppose I could be in the right key, but my bass is tuned to my electronic tuner and not the instruments on the recording.
  2. just practice, i have gotten alot better at it but there was a time that i would all ways be playing up a fifth, maybe from listening to to much progressive rock, like anything practice will make perfect or at least close enough for rock and roll
  3. Christopher


    Apr 28, 2000
    New York, NY
    Interesting question. The easiest way to determine the key is to listen to the bass! It will usually be playing roots on the first beat of each bar.
  4. SlapDaddy


    Mar 28, 2000
    Rick, You probably know this but some cd players and tape players have "speed" adjustments on them and if you tune the recording to your electronically tuned bass you will find the key.(this is not perfect because sometime the instruments on the recording are not tuned 440 and that "obvious" lick is actually in another key (I just confused myself)I'm old and still learning new tricks almost daily. SD
  5. jazzbo


    Aug 25, 2000
    San Francisco, CA
    Also, but not always, the last (and sometimes first) chord of the song is the key. So, usually songs that end with a Cmin chord are in the key of Cminor.
  6. My Pandora PX3B will record a bit of a CD and then slow it down for playback, but through my little Microbass amp it sounds muddy and not helpful. At normal playback speed, I put on a song and then just play what I think might be the root notes of the progression. A lot of these old boogie woogie songs seem to be in A or G. Sometimes B. But I try all of the notes A thru G to try and see which one sounds best. Is it likely that the root might be a sharp or flat?
  7. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    If you're talking Jazz/Blues the most common keys are the "flat" keys, from F with one flat to Bb,Eb,Ab, Db. So it is quite common for the root note of the I chord to be "flattened".

    Sharp keys aren't so popular with horn players ;)- so are a less common in this type of music, but you will find that a lot of modern music has been shifted in the studio. This is common with bands that can't cut it live.

    A lot of them can't sing in tune and producers/engineers can shift the whole song or just the vocals to make the whole thing sound better.
  8. BaroqueBass


    Jul 8, 2000
    Salem, OR
    Miss Spears relies heavily on having a computer shift her voice into the correct key.
  9. Boplicity

    Boplicity Supporting Member

    Another thing that may be adding to your difficulties in guessing the key is that many of today's metal bands tune down an entire step or more. Even blues players may be tuned a half step down or in drop D or the guitar may be in open tuning for slide guitar. That kind of thing can trip you up, because first you have to try to hear how the strings are tuned.

    Jason Oldsted
  10. I got to spend some time with a professional banjo player tonight. We listened to a few of my boogie woogie cuts on a CD and right off he told me that when there are horns involved, the key is often Bb or Eb. He then listened carefully to each song and noodeled around on his banjo until things sounded right. Sure enough, one of the songs was in Eb and the other was in Bb. He said that other than that bit about the horns, there was nothing to it, but to listen carefully and try to match up to the recording by ear.
    Does this make sense to ya'all?
  11. Boplicity

    Boplicity Supporting Member

    This question shows my ignorance, but I'll forge ahead anyway. Using the advice of the pro banjo player, if your namesake, Ricky Martin is singing with horms which he usually does, is he singing in B flat or E flat? Or does the singer sing in the same key as the horns? I'm not being a smart aleck here. I honestly don't know. I mean in a full orchestra or a big band, such as Frank Sinatra sang with, were the horns in a different key than Sinatra or Pavarotti and the horns in the orchestra, for examples?

    I ask because, here again, I show my ignorance, but "sukaz gots tah know", it seems like it would be hard for a singer to sing in E flat or B flat. I had the idea most pop singers sang in C, A, or E. But I may be dead wrong and hope someone will correct me.

    Jason Oldsted
  12. I don't know about any of this either and am anxious to learn. I would guess that the band adapts to whatever key the singer wants.
  13. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    The reason horn players like the flat keys has to do with the way the horns are tuned. String players usually like the sharp keys (G, D, A, E, etc.) because of the way they are tuned.

    Once the key is picked EVERYONE is in that key, singer included.

    Sometimes keys get adjusted to match the singer's range, but you can bet that any big band singer who needed B and F# all the time wouldn't go over big with the horn players :)

    On a side note, saxophones, trumpets and trombones are called "transposing" instruments. For instance, the tenor saxophone and trumpet are pitched in Bb. That means when they play a "C" note, it's really a "concert" Bb when compared to a piano, guitar or bass. Now the alto and baritone sax are in Eb, when they play a "C" it's really a concert Eb.

    What is this for? So that the fingerings stay the same across all members of the family. The music horn players read has been transposed already. So when you're on the blues gig and the singer says "slow one in D", the tenor player actually plays in his key of E and the baritone player in his key of B!!! Horn players get used to this even if it seems like voodoo to us bass players.

    I play in a band with horns and looking at the charts is a trip. When I'm in F (one flat) their charts say G (one sharp) or D (two sharps). Our sax player will not take long solos in the key of D but give him Bb and he's gone for 30 choruses.
  14. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    Yeah - I'm in aband with a big(ish) horn section - trombone (doubling on bass trombone) alto and tenor sax, two trumpets and two flute players (one doubling on soprano sax). Rehearsals often come down to sorting out the errors in transpositions from the arrangements on the charts.

    I was originally trying to keep it simple in my explanations about the fact that the stuff Rick was hearing was probably in flat keys, when he mentioned "boogie woogie". Bb and EB are the most common - I take it that the banjo playing friend was just "noodling" around in that key to find domething that would work.

    This doesn't always work, as most songs change key and also a bassline that just stays in the key without following the chords will not sound "right" - you need to outline the root motion at least and also give some idea of resolving chords. You need to know what notes are in every chord and eventually also what scales relate to those chords.

    Concentrating on F, Bb and Eb will give you a start, but as Brian says, you have to be prepared for any key and people like Charlie Parker in the 40s practiced playing the blues in every possible key - another good way of getting familiar with all the chords/scales.

    As to Jason's question about singers - good singers will be able to sing in any key. The rest will probably have everything adjusted in the studio! ;) In my band we do adjust the key to suit our singer's range, but we don't stick to a few keys or avoid any particular keys - it's more about where the lowest and highest notes are in the song in question. If the range goes too high we transpose down, if it goes too low we transpose up - even if it does mean F#. We have compromised on one tune, where the horn players have said they just can't do it - so we do the vocal in one key and then shift key for the horn arrangments and solos. Surprisingly it seems to work! :)
  15. This subject is obviously a lot bigger than I realized when posting my original question. Where do I start in learning about basic music theory? Is there a web site explaining this stuff?
  16. Duh! Please disregard my last post. I just put music+theory into Yahoo and got a boatload of web sites teaching exactly that.
  17. lump


    Jan 17, 2000
    St. Neots, UK
    Brian, great explanation. I love this thread.

    Lately, I might have a tuba practice/gig (I'm filling in at the high school) and a bass practice/gig on the same day. It's so funny how my perspective changes - my tuba brain prefers flat keys and my bass brain prefers sharp ones. It's all in how the instrument is tuned.

    I gained a lot of respect for DB players a while back when I got handed a pile of big band charts (for a band that never came together, unfortunately). EVERY tune was in a flat key, with one (Chattanooga Choo Choo, I think) in Gb. Gawd.

    But if one the guitar players at church forgets his capo, it's the end of the world...

  18. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    Well as a bass player, I don't have any preferences for particular keys, but I do get bored when every tune we do at Jazz workshops is in F, Bb or Eb for the horn players. I end up trying to get things in different keys but meet resistance. I got some charts together for some Freddie Hubbard tunes that were quite funky and not too many changes, but in sharp keys - they didn't want to know - let's do something else!

    One of the fun things in Jazz workshops, is when tutors come along and suggest transposing the key - to me it makes no difference, I can quite happily shift everything I was going to play in the previous key up or down the neck, but the horn players go into a panic and end up sounding terrible!

    In the big Latin band I am in they usually suggest a "horn reahearsal" when we start a few new tunes that are in different keys - this is OK and they go away and practice a few times and it's fine; but those of us in the rhythm section often feel we could get together about 5 tunes in the time it takes the horn section to do one - but we usually try to maintain harmony! ;)
  19. Hey Bruce, I know exactly how you feel, the band I just left back in Baton Rouge had a 3 piece horn section, and we spent up to half our rehearsals waiting on them to get their stuff together. Got kinda frustrating at times, to say the least, I mean the rhythm section always showed up ready to go, what was their excuse??? They were great guys and great players but puhleeze :rolleyes:, how about trying PRACTICING, eh? ;) Also, plenty of the "oh, geez, this chart is in the wrong key" experiences too :D.

    I get to possibly repeat the experience starting next week, as we're adding a 4 piece horn section to my present band for our New Year's Eve gig with Tito Puente Jr (going to be playing a lot of his dad's stuff, sort of a "tribute" thing). Hope these guys either read like mainiacs or actually spend a bit of time going over their charts on their own time. This could either be a blast or a nightmare.

    Oh and Brian, great post. :)
  20. Boplicity

    Boplicity Supporting Member

    This turned out to be one fascinating thread! I have never played in a horn band, so all this is new. Thanks for taking the time to explain how things are in the complex world of bands beyond guitar, bass and drums.

    Jason Oldsted

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