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The keys of E and A

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by btrag, Feb 26, 2008.

  1. btrag


    Mar 7, 2005
    The more I transcribe rock/pop songs, I notice that almost all of them are in the key of E and A. I notice that 99.9% of funk/slap songs are in E or A. Apparently, these are considered guitar keys. Is this because the low open strings can be used for power chords? Why is this exactly? When I am jamming with a group, I tend to assume the tune is in E or A. Do any of you all assume the same thing?
  2. mutedeity


    Aug 27, 2007
    Not so much about power chords but about open-string chord voicings on guitar. You are pretty close to the mark though.
  3. PocketGroove82


    Oct 18, 2006
    It's really a general statement, but I think your observation is pretty accurate. There is just something great about funking it up in the keys of A and E, because you do have that open string to utilize, so you can slap around the middle of the neck, use double stops and harmonics, but still have the open string to hold down the low end. It seems like a lot of the times I hear someone just pick up a bass and start messing around with something funky, it's in E.

    Marcus Miller is a guy who uses these keys a lot and he's developed his personally style using open strings underneath his stuff.

    As far as guitar pop/rock goes, the whole "open chord" thing really wears out the keys of G, C, Emin, Amin, and can't forget the old drop D.

    Anyways, pick any key and I'm down to jam! Just don't make me read in 6#'s!
  4. onlyclave


    Oct 28, 2005
    But if you're jamming with horn players I don't think they're thrilled with those keys. F# and B (concert E and A) are kind of a hassle for tenor sax and trumpet players because those Bb guys like to play in flat keys when possible (F, Bb, Eb)

    Guitar players HATE playing in Eb (concert). Alto players love it.
  5. btrag


    Mar 7, 2005
    What exactly do guitar players hate about playing in Eb? Is it not as intuitive? Do they have to think more about chord movements and such?
  6. it just bothers them and their simple minds. they cant remember the letters of the alphabet past D
  7. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    guitar players hate Eb because it forces them to play between the dots :D

    seriously tho: the lack of open string and C scale chords /riffs forces guitarists from blues/rock land to expand their musical thinking outside of the earliest habits they pick up. So it's not "harder" to play in Eb , just less familiar to Joe guitar player.
  8. Is that why they will just adopt do a Eb, Ab, Db, Gb, Bb, Eb tuning besides "making it easier on the singer"? Seems to make sense.
  9. jacostilllives


    May 4, 2004
    Guitarists use that tuning not only for the singer but it's also way easier to bend the strings when they are tuned down 1/2 step.
  10. I don't know if E and A are all that dominate. G and C come up a lot also.

    As for open strings, on a bass I was taught to not use them, so even in E I play off the E on the B string.
  11. ryco


    Apr 24, 2005
    Guitarists like E and A and D because the open strings really makes the chords ring out on guitar.
    This is why they use capos as well. It's more about tonality of the guitar than theory.
    So my geetar pickin' wife says.

    I use open strings on bass all the time. Depends on the sound you're after.
    If I want all the notes in a run to sound consistent I will play all fretted notes.
    But big open notes is a cool sound - even in slappin'.
  12. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    It is one of the things that makes it very boring as a bass player in rock,pop, indie groups where guitars dominate!

    Every song is in one or two keys with very few chords!

    I started playing Jazz about 10 years ago and it's like a veil has been lifted - so many more chords and in all keys !! :)

    Last year - I got asked to play with a guitar-based group who wanted Double Bass for some acoustic stuff and straight away it reminded me how dull it is when every song has the E string droning all the way through! :rollno:
  13. Deacon_Blues


    Feb 11, 2007
    I think E, G, A and D are the most common keys for guitar driven bands. They're easy to play in, and it sounds also better. Open chords sounds better and you don't need to use a capo. Speaking of capos, I don't understand why so many people dislike them. If you play in "odd" keys, especially acoustic guitars sound much better if a capo is used than when it isn't. It makes the choice of key easier also for the singer who doesn't need to compromise with the guitarist to find a good key. There is a big difference between playing a song in E or G if something in between would suit best.

    Anyway, I personally don't like to play in Eb. If I need to, I often tune down to get the low Eb. If I used fivers, I would likely not do it though...
  14. PocketGroove82


    Oct 18, 2006
    The makes me want to start a poll..."what is your favorite key?"
    I think I'll do it.
  15. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    Well - as I was saying above - it's nice to have a bit of variety and play in all keys and with lots of different chords - like Jazz! :p

    It's boring to always play the same few chords in the same keys!

    In some of my favourite pieces of music - e.g. Messiaen's Turangalila Symphonie - you can hear different parts of the orchestra playing in different contrasting keys at the same time!

    Guitar -based rock is like eating dull Fast Food every time!

    Jazz and Contemporary Classical is all the spices and flavours of the whole world!! :)
  16. ryco


    Apr 24, 2005
    That's easy -- '72 Lotus Europa ignition.
    Just funnin'
  17. BargeOn


    Mar 19, 2004
    Nicely put.
  18. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    Having said that - there are some rock guitarists who break the mould - Jimmy Page being the obvious example - who use many varied tunings and write songs in all keys and with many unusual chords! :)

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