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Transposing to adapt covers to singer OK?

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by Shardik, Oct 1, 2013.

  1. Shardik


    May 24, 2011
    Halden, Norway
    I am in a band where I have been doing double duty as a vocalist and bassist for a while, but now we have gotten us a dedicated singer.

    On several occations before I have expressed difficulty in reaching some high notes, and asked if we could transpose the song down some steps to make it less of a strain for vocal performance. So far I haven't been able to make the guitar players want to change the original key of the song.

    I have noticed that even if the new singer reaches somewhat higher than me, it is a strain on the voice, and even he doesn't reach all the highest notes in some of the songs we want to play.

    The guitar players claim that it "destroys the flow" to transpose, or "changes the character of the song". Really?

    My questions to you more seasoned cover band members:

    Is it wrong to change the original key of a cover song?
    Do you do it often in your band?
  2. chienmort


    Aug 15, 2012
    The old chestnut. I used to think that the singer should sing in the key the song is in but a wise young drummer told me the obvious that you can transpose a song but you cannot retune a voice. I was was a gui**** at the time but I realized he was right.
  3. Fifield


    Jan 3, 2013
    Either change the key, or don't do the song. End of story.

    Singing hours at a time, you absolutely need to look after your voice, if you're straining then you're going to get nodules eventually. Technically, if your voice feels sore after singing, you're doing it wrong.

    It's likely that the guitarist just can't be bothered changing keys. Is that worth ruining your voice? Put your foot down.

    I've been playing in cover bands for years, just on backing vocals and bass. our singer was completely professional but would need a few keys changed now and then and we would also take into account where the difficult songs were placed in the set.

    Start with a few easier songs on your voice to make sure you're warmed up. Then get the tougher ones out the way while you've got the pipes for it, end on relatively comfortable songs as you'll likely be tired.

    Edit: Oh, and stay hydrated. Massively important.
  4. lowfreq33


    Jan 27, 2010
    Endorsing Artist: Genz Benz Amplification
    It really depends on the song. A lot of rock songs feature guitar parts that are dependent on certain chord voicings, open string pivot points, or are otherwise impossible to play in certain keys.
  5. Fifield


    Jan 3, 2013
    Yeah, but if the guy is straining or can't sing it in that key, you can't do the song at all
  6. Rune Bivrin

    Rune Bivrin Supporting Member

    Oct 2, 2006
    Huddinge, Sweden
    That's why the capo was invented.
  7. Shardik


    May 24, 2011
    Halden, Norway
    Capo is nice, but it is obviously cumbersome if you as a gui**** /basstard need the original fingering and must place the capo at 9th or 10th fret.

    BTW: I play my basses in non-standard DGCF tuning, so for me transposing tabs is a habit. That may be the reason why I find the unwillingness to transpose a bit difficult to understand.
  8. Rune Bivrin

    Rune Bivrin Supporting Member

    Oct 2, 2006
    Huddinge, Sweden
    And then you either come up with a different fingering (Hint: theory is your friend here), or you drop the song. The vocal range of the singer is just not negotiable.
  9. hrodbert696

    hrodbert696 Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member


    It may well be that changing the key makes it difficult for the guitarist to play - if a tricky part depends on open strings to pull off, for instance. But if you can't do the song, you can't do the song, and you have to be honest about that.

    Audiences react to vocals first and foremost; if the singer is cracking and straining trying to hit notes that are too high, everyone will say it sucked, and no one will care how brilliantly the guitarist played his whiz-bang solo.
  10. ShoeManiac

    ShoeManiac Supporting Member

    Jan 19, 2006
    New Jersey
    There is plenty of historical precedent going back through a century of popular music where the key of a song has been adjusted to suit a vocalist. And the same has been done to suit horn players.

    It sounds like your guitar player doesn't want to change keys because it would require some work on his part. But looking at things from a practical standpoint, it's far easier for your guitarist to use a capo than for a vocalist to expand their range in order to sing a song in it's original key.

    And you know what? Doing that is the right thing to do. Otherwise a singer can wind up seriously damaging their vocal cords if they're physically straining to hit notes that are just beyond their range. So is it worth it to your guitarist to potentially cause an injury to a band member because they want to play a song in it's original key? That's pretty selfish.

    Personally, I think it's perfectly acceptable to transpose a song's key, and I've done it in the past. Case in point: I had a band that was doing "Stay with me" by The Faces. It's a really rocking tune, and all of us felt that it was one of those gems that would really go over well with an audience. But Rod Stewart's original vocal on that is REALLY HIGH! We wound up dropping it down a whole step in order to make it work. And you know what? It was fine.
  11. Jazz Ad

    Jazz Ad Mi la ré sol

    What the guitar player is really trying to say is, I constantly resort to open chord position, I've never heard of a capo and I couldn't transpose on the fly to save my life because I don't know my neck.
  12. TreySonagras


    Aug 11, 2013
    I played piano with a girl singer that insisted she could not sing a certain song in the key of G...wanted it in F#. I said no problem...then played it in G. She sounded great and thanked me for "lowering the key". I never told her differently.
  13. mellowinman

    mellowinman Free Man

    Oct 19, 2011
    Our guitar player has a pedal that changes the key for him, electronically.

    It works great.

    Even the bands who do the songs originally sometimes change the key live.
    Shardik likes this.
  14. I would tell the guitar player that it hurts the "character of the song" to have the singer struggle to find the right notes anyway, so it might be just as well to transpose anyways :)
  15. Shardik


    May 24, 2011
    Halden, Norway
    You may get that trick to fly with just a half step on a good day for the singer, but what do you do if you decide to rehearse it that way with the band, and you stand there on stage and the singer suddenly discovers that this is one of the more average days for her voice?

    The voice is an instrument with variable performance from day to day. You should respect the singer, since he or she can not tune down or put on a capo.

    Think of the voice as an instrument. If the song is out of range of the instrument, it can't be played the original way. You'l then have to adapt in some way (transpose, shift an octave, compromise on certain notes) or skip the song.

    I think I have got the answer I thought was correct, that transposing is sometimes necessary, and that everyone should try to adapt to the singers voice if needed to play that song decently.

    This is what happens when you don't respect the voice limitations: (and also fails to realize the importance of tuning your guitar and that not all songs translate well to acoustics).
  16. avvie


    Oct 12, 2010
    Maui, HI
    gui**** is wrong. Fire him.
  17. Shardik


    May 24, 2011
    Halden, Norway
    Nah... he is an OK guy and when things are well reheased he plays very well. I just wanted to find out more about what is usually done in other coverbands. I think it is better to put an ultimatum at the song, rather than the player. "Either we transpose this song some steps to make it singable or we drop the song altogether."

    He has already expressed a will to bring a second, downtuned guitar (his suggestion was tuned down a half step), so where there is a will there is a way. But for more flexibility, I think you have to tune down at least a whole step(to D standard for a guitar), or even more .
  18. Theoretically ? Anything can be transposed

    should it be transposed. ?

    IMO - no

    Because if you can't do it in its original key then it will not have the same effect

    A lot of people will disagree but as one example

    Acdc : long way to the top

    The power of it is in its key. You can either get up there or you can't . To drop the key deceives and short changes the audience
  19. +1
    And if the guitarists can't be bothered to transpose, then you should probably start looking for some new guitarists.
  20. This was one of many many pet peeves I had with my other guitarist in a hard rock cover band I played with years ago. He had to have everything in the original key so he could play on the dots.

    Now I understand that it is difficult to transpose some songs that were written around open string guitar riffs--I was a guitar player in this project myself. Try playing Enter Sandman in a different key without retuning.

    But I ALWAYS felt vocals were the number one priority. And I would work out ideas like retuning just one string (to not spend time between songs) and reworking the fingering on the other strings.

    Other guitar player felt these ideas "loose the guitar flavor". I felt he was a lazy pain in the a$$.

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