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How do you decide what key to play in?

Discussion in 'Band Management [BG]' started by pklima, Jan 3, 2006.

  1. pklima

    pklima Commercial User

    May 2, 2003
    Kraków, Polska
    Karoryfer Samples
    How does your band decide what keys to play a song in? Do you just stick to whatever the chart or recording you learned from was in, pick one that's convenient for the instruments, easy for the vocalists or whatever ends up using the lowest notes on the instruments? (I guess the latter applies mainly to rock/metal bands that want to sound heavy.)

    In the past I usually ended up sticking with the original key unless there was some compelling reason to change it. But I'm getting ready to write out the charts for a new band and thought it might be a good idea to bring some order to the process. Sorry if this has been covered before, searching for "key" or "keys" isn't very helpful...
  2. ras1983


    Dec 28, 2004
    Sydney, Australia
    it would be best if you chose the key to suit your vocalist's range.

    otherwise, it depends on the type of emotions you are trying to portray. are you going for a happy vibe? then use a major scale. darker vibe? then use a minor scale. the 7 modes apparently represent 7 different emotions which TB'ers have discussed before.
  3. pklima

    pklima Commercial User

    May 2, 2003
    Kraków, Polska
    Karoryfer Samples
    Just to make this clear - we're talking about cover songs... so whether they're in a major or minor key is pretty much predetermined.
  4. JimmyM


    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    People choose different keys for covers for only three reasons:

    1. To accomodate a singer or player who may not be able to sing or play in the original key.

    2. Everyone knows the song but don't know what key it's in.

    3. Because they want to.

    I like to stick to record keys unless I can't sing them, which happens sometimes. Old age makes you drop keys. Just make sure whoever sings the songs will sing them in record key before you write the charts, and you should be OK.
  5. Akami

    Akami Four on the floor

    Mar 6, 2005
    Me too. Unless I learn a song from sheet music which was done in a different key or pick the song up during a jam.

    I got a lot of flack from several musician friends for dropping Hotel California a full step because they said the original key was the one that had the intended magic sound.

    Then I heard an interview with the Eagles a couple years ago and they originaly wrote it in another key, but changed it for the same reason I did; wrong key for the singer!
  6. ras1983


    Dec 28, 2004
    Sydney, Australia
    I see.../feeling sheepish/...

    atleast half my original post was relevant. definately change it for the singer.
  7. pklima

    pklima Commercial User

    May 2, 2003
    Kraków, Polska
    Karoryfer Samples
    Well, from what I've read somewhere, folk songs that were originally in a major key often spontaneously appear in minor-key versions later. And Brave Combo plays minor-key versions of "The Chicken Dance" and "The Hokey Pokey".

    Anyhow, this may be the only thing here on TB where people will say "let the singer decide". But it does make sense. I'll ask the singer if the original keys are comfortable for her before I get too far with the chart-making.

    Thanks, y'all.
  8. DaftCat


    Jul 26, 2004
    Medicine Hat
    It is the singer's call in my bands.

    For example, we cover Your Love by the Outfield but we do it in D. Easier on the vocals for us old farts. :)

    The audience doesn't know nor care. We all know that.
    The musicians in the audience will know but won't care if it is done right. :)

    Hope this helps,
  9. True Dat :smug:
  10. Tingly


    Jul 16, 2005
    Yonkers, NY
    Most bands I have had contact with use the key utilized in the original recording. Some of them, I thought, were downright stupid, and stubborn, about it.

    The smartest guys I played with used three or four keys for almost all their songs. So, if they had a choice, they would use a key that was common to many of the other tunes in the set list.

    I don't think the original key contains any "magic."

    The saying is, within reason, "Singer's voice - singer's choice."
  11. Boplicity

    Boplicity Supporting Member

    The singer's voice range is one of the most important reasons for changing key. That said the blues band I played in had to also ask the harmonica player because he had harps in only a few keys and we had to work around his limitations.

    I have never played in a band with horns, but I have read here posts by bass players who did play with horns and I guess some keys are especially difficult for them.
  12. draginon


    Oct 4, 2004
    play cover songs in their original key. If your vocalists can't sing in that key raise is or lower it accordingly or maybe even experiment by singing in that key's 5th
  13. seanm

    seanm I'd kill for a Nobel Peace Prize! Supporting Member

    Feb 19, 2004
    Ottawa, Canada
    The singer usually decides for good or bad. That means a *lot* of songs get changed from the original key for various reasons:
    1. Vocal range.
    2. That's what the chord chart from the net said :rollno:
    3. Didn't like one of the chords.
    But basically, in the bands I am in, either you sing the song or you accept the key the singers wants. And it seems all the changes are to the detriment of the bass line :meh:

    But I can't complain since I find it very hard to sing and play at the same time. Kudos to the people who can.
  14. bmc


    Nov 15, 2003
    It's pointless to stick to the original key if no one can sing the song properly. You stand a better chance of destroying a good song doing it in the original key. The audience will not know the difference. I have yet to hear someone say "You know they really trashed that song, but at least they did it in the original key. Let's hire them again."
  15. txbasschik


    Nov 11, 2005
    Leander, Texas
    We either play in the key as written, or adjust for the vocalist. Better to play in the written key, if possible, but if someone *really* wants to do a song that's a bit out of range, we do what needs done.

  16. thewanderer24


    Apr 29, 2002
    SJ, CA
    Gotta go with the prevailing sentiment. You have to play the song in a key that the singer is comfortable with. Preference is to start in the key it was recorded in. Occasionally we've had songs that changing key makes something weird happen to one of the important instrumental parts. In these cases, the song generally gets tossed.
  17. Petary791


    Feb 20, 2005
    Michigan, USA
    I have an idea in my head of what keys sound like what. For example:

    F#m (some DT Songs) always sounds epic to me for whatever reason. Dm is either really erie or sad depending on how you play it (Tool anybody?). Em just screams metal (Metallica.) Eb just sounds different, and Dbm sounds quite erie as well (ala APC.)
  18. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    Ya sure somebody isn't just transposing badly?
  19. thewanderer24


    Apr 29, 2002
    SJ, CA

    No, that doesn't count!!!

    I am trying to think of an example, but if I shift keys from E to Db for example, and the feel of the song is dependent on me bouncing off that low E, suddenly I lose my low note (I am not a 5 string fan), and the song loses a lot of it's bottom. Sometimes it's no big deal to rearrange a part a little in a case like that, but there's been a couple times that I remember where taking that low note from me has really messed with the feel of the song.

    We could still play it, and it'd be ok, but we'd rather go for one of the million other songs that would be better than ok, than force one in a situation like that.

    Does that make sense??

    I'm laughing now, as I'm waiting for someone to tell me I need that low B string.
  20. SteveC

    SteveC Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    Nov 12, 2004
    North Dakota
    I like to keep them original. They just don't sound right to me when transposed. We have only changed a couple to help out our singer. I prefer that we pick tunes that are within range in the first place.

    I also have to be ready as our singer will call a tune and sometimes do it in a completely different key. He likes to capo a lot. We did "Fire and Rain" in C# one night. That was interesting.