How much transposing is enough???

Discussion in 'Band Management [BG]' started by Big Brother, May 27, 2012.

  1. Big Brother

    Big Brother

    Feb 13, 2011
    San Diego
    Roving sub-demon
    In a cover band, how much transposing is too much?

    We have a female singer which is great, but occasionally we run into songs that she just can't reach and we have to transpose.

    So at what point do you feel that the essence of the song starts to get lost when moving a key up?

    What I am trying to figure out is if it I am being too picky as I heavily rely on my ear, I don't like moving a half step even as I feel something just gets 'lost' most of the time and I can't explain what.

    But moving a song up a full step pretty much makes it a different song to me and it just doesn't sound 'right,' Now BL wants to move 'Smooth' up 1,5 steps... It becomes a whole different song and to me that defeats the point of playing covers, the point of which is letting people re-live good memories through songs they already know - as I see it anyway.

    Am I alone on this? My bandleader sure makes me feel that way...
  2. mech

    mech In Memoriam

    Jun 20, 2008
    Meridian, MS, USA
    5 steps up is the same as a step down. Question...are the tunes that need to be transposed always 1/2 or a whole step down? If so I would suggest the whole band tune down that amount. If it varies up or down that's a different thing.

    If the singer is good put the tunes in a keys where she'll shine since that's good for the band. Long ago I ran into a tune or two that would be awkward to play at first due to finger positions but playing 5 strings for the last 25 years solved that. I play in two bands and do hired gun gigs and often have to play some tunes in 4 different keys in one week. I will have to say that some tunes with complex lines don't lend themselves to being transposed.

    Get a free audio editor like Audacity and it will shift keys for you so you can learn it in the needed key to begin with.

  3. lowfreq33


    Jan 27, 2010
    Endorsing Artist: Genz Benz Amplification
    Transposing all the time can get to be a bit much. I'm pretty good at doing it, I tend to think in numbers anyway, but sometimes transposing ends up with the lines ending up in an odd place. Every now and then someone has an odd key change that makes me think that maybe this person just shouldn't do that song.
  4. If you play male sung songs with female lead, that's the bill to pay. No way around it. Go with the flow or suggest more female sung tunes.
  5. Stumbo

    Stumbo Guest

    Feb 11, 2008
    I suggest you play it in whatever key the BL wants you to. He's responsible for the set list and getting gigs.

    Your obstinacy will not gain you anything with the band.

    Unless your audience has perfect pitch and can apply it to whatever song you transpose, only then will get complaints. Since that won't happen, just go with the flow.

    Hey, maybe the vocalist in the band that recorded the tune had to change the key to make it fit his/her voice!

    Sure some songs are a bit awkward to play in different keys. The solution may be to change to a five string full time, take a 5 string with you along with your regular bass to play those few tunes or possibly get an octave pedal. Those are better choices, IMO, than getting into a discussion with the BL that you won't/can't win.

    Since you're a sideman, best to change your attitude as well.

    Good luck.
  6. Marginal Tom

    Marginal Tom

    Apr 28, 2010
    O'Fallon, IL
    It sounds like you may have perfect pitch. Every song was originally recorded in whatever key best fit the original singer's vocal range. Unless your band has dozens of vocalists available, your singer's best key would be different most of the time. Somewhere in excess of 99% of your audience would never notice a key change, but most of them can recognize a straining voice.

    I'd either give the bandleader what he wants or find a different band.
  7. Big Brother

    Big Brother

    Feb 13, 2011
    San Diego
    Roving sub-demon
    Interesting advice all around, thanks and considered.

    I should clarify that these songs may sound funny to me but I mostly get used to it over time in different keys. It helps if I don't listen to it in its normal key often, but I play them without complaint.

    I did mention once that I do think those songs are sometimes lacking in different keys, I basically got blank stares. But it doesn't sound the way it should at times and I was wondering if other people heard the same thing, I guess they really don't.


    I suppose this is a side issue and it was also addressed above, but it can be difficult to transpose and play certain songs I am finding too, especially when they are all over the fretboard AND using open strings. And even the ones that can be played are difficult and you spend more time thinking the 'technical' than feeling the 'groove' in them.

    As a strictly ear player these days, what I end up having to do is first master the song in its real key, and then almost literally teach it to myself in a higher key. And then I have to play it endlessly to 'erase' the master tape in my head. But without the original, I have no reference. Nightmare. And to me, it often sounds awful to play it that way.

    My feeling on these things was echoed above, we should seek songs that fit into our existing range. She's good and can cover a lot. If we have to change and work that much, let's just learn another song.

    I mentioned the transposing/learning difficulty in abbreviated form, saying I had to learn the song and then teach it to myself again. With 5 other songs to learn that he just announced tonight, it wouldn't happen by Wednesday.

    He replied in a cc'ed email, "Is a capo REALLY out of the question?"

    I haven't replied yet. It's the answer to all of this that I am still looking for.
  8. slaps76


    Jul 10, 2008
    Medford, MA
    Remember the other guys in the band have to re-learn the songs too.

    It can be a real pain....I'm playing in two cover bands, and the lead guitarist in band #2 plays some of the same songs I play out almost every week 1/2 step higher. I don't know why, it has nothing to do with any vocals, and it's gonna screw me up.

    But your audience won't notice. Most people just hear the interval, not the key, so I wouldn't worry about that. I'd just learn them best you can in the changed key.
  9. EddiePlaysBass


    Feb 26, 2009
    As has been suggested above, change the pitch of the tunes before you learn them. Either use Audacity (didn't know it can do that, btw) or get a Tascam bass trainer. IMHO there is absolutely no reason for you to learn the same song twice, when you can tweak the necessary MP3's to fit your purpose.

    As for the audience noticing: played a gig last night and I totally mistook the intro (wrong key). I told a friend, who commented on that particular track as being "cool" and he said: "Good thing we're not musical enough to notice."

    This is the point: musicians may notice (and even then) but the general public usually does not consist of musicians. Heck, my dad used to sing in a cover band and at one point I heard a girl say: "Oh it's THOSE guys" when they broke into a Deep Purple cover. Yes, she thought my dad's band was Deep Purple ...
  10. jmattbassplaya


    Jan 13, 2008
    I'm with you, man. I hate transposing songs out of their original key because it always seems like something goes missing.

    My band recently wrote and song, and for some reason or another my guitarist wanted to change the key. We tried his suggested change but quickly I started saying that we needed to go back to the original key. I'm not sure what it was, but it felt like the emotions we were stirring with the original key suddenly fell flat when we moved to the new one. The chord changes had less of an impact, and the whole song just didn't sound nearly as good as it had before.
  11. lowfreq33


    Jan 27, 2010
    Endorsing Artist: Genz Benz Amplification
    You have to ask yourself if you know the song, or do you know where your fingers go?
  12. FerK


    Dec 11, 2011
    I don't mind transposing at all if the singer needs it, as long as we agree from the beginning, BEFORE we incorporate a new cover song into our setlist. Oftentimes my lazy-a** guitarist prefers to play it in a different key "because it's more comfortable", which I systematically refuse. I'm not re-learning Led Zep's note-by-note bass line to Thank you because he likes to play open chords.
  13. A 5 string makes it a whole lot easier to use familiar patterns.

    Capo on bass? That's a new one on me. Only a guitar player would know anything about that I think. Bugger trying to remember what capo fret I was on just to use the same open note fingerings, that would do my head in far worse than the transposing.

    Female singers = transposing to whatever key thay want, nobody else gets a say in that. It gets easier the more you do it. Such is life.
  14. delta7fred


    Jul 3, 2007
    I will play a song in whatever key suits the singer best.

    Our singer has occasionally asked for a song to be dropped a semitone on stage because his voice is not up to the high notes. (He is in remission with bone cancer and was given 2 years to live 6 years ago so if he wants a key change to enable him to carry on playing then I am glad to oblige.)

    Playing a 5 does help, plus the fact that I never learn a song using open strings. YMMV of course.

    I will admit that some songs sound better in their original keys, particularly on guitar if certain open chords or fingerings are used.
  15. My band transposes a lot. I second the recommendation for the Tascam MP3 bass trainer. You can transpose a song into any key. That's what I use to learn a new song, so I don't have to learn it in the original key, and then relearn it.
  16. nortonrider


    Nov 20, 2007
    Yes, I feel the same way.
  17. I agree with you. I learned around 80 covers about 6 years ago for a cover band I was in. Learned them all per the original albums. Fast forward to today, I am playing with a group of guys who learned many of the same songs but in different keys. It's really abnoxious. If anything, I think someone should just learn the "real" version and transpose as necessary. It does force you to play without any open strings, but once you can do that you can transpose anything on the fly and not have to relearn the part.
  18. Big Brother

    Big Brother

    Feb 13, 2011
    San Diego
    Roving sub-demon
    This is exactly how I feel about it.

    I don't know enough about the physics of sound theory to know exactly why, maybe a certain blend of harmonic overtones or just something randomly pleasing in a certain key, but I 'feel' it when it isn't right and I believe there is real science behind it.

    To me when you hit those things, it really feels like magic and the music itself suddenly stops feeling like a bunch of instruments and instead feels like its own distinct entity. And no I didn't just eat some funny mushrooms. :hyper::p It felt the same as a child too.

    I just don't know how else to describe it when things really 'click' into place with a band. Suddenly it feels you aren't playing an instrument anymore but are just a piece of something else entirely, and it is almost as though it is real and completely outside of yourself. That entity hovers above and about ten feet beyond the stage to me when it pops into being... :cool:

    Chasing that feeling is basically why I do this but haven't felt it in awhile.

    Seems more and more the problem is me. :cool:
  19. derrico1

    derrico1 Supporting Member

    Apr 12, 2005
    Charlottesville, VA
    I understand what you mean about songs sometimes not sounding right when transposed, but there are a lot of good reasons for getting over it. For me, the biggest reason is that for almost every audience I've ever played for, making the singer sound as good as possible far outweighs subtle issues in the instrumental support. It's not even close. YMMV.

    Learning to transpose tunes is a lot easier if you think in terms of a number system. Heck, even writing your own originals is easier once you have learned enough other tunes in terms of numbers, as you'll be better able to mix and match bits of vocabulary over similar progressions in any key.
  20. onlyclave


    Oct 28, 2005
    You know what doesn't sound right? When the singer can't hit the notes of the song when it's played in the original key. I don't think people go to clubs to hear cover bands and the bass player specifically. They are there for the singer since the lyrics are what they identify with.

    A lot of people claim they "play by ear" which is a euphemism for "painting by numbers". They would rather put their finger on this string and that fret with a dot in it without regard for what the function of that note is within the chord, if you even know what the chord is to begin with.

    Maybe you should change up your practice routine from just learning new songs to learning a song in all 12 keys. You'll be surprised how much faster you'll progress musically outside of your cover band and when the next transposing problem comes up you can handle it more professionally.
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