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Why the key of Eb?

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by DLM, Jul 6, 2004.

  1. DLM


    May 25, 2004
    Recently, I've been playing a lot of gospel tunes that are written in the key of Eb. As a bass player, you know what a bummer it is to not be able to strike a low Eb if you have a 4 string. I've heard two reasons why songs are written in this key: 1) Easier for the keyboardist to play in; 2) Horn/brass sections are tuned to this key.

    My wife has her Master's in Piano and doesn't think it's necessarily any easier to play in Eb vs. E.

    Any thoughts on why songs would be written in Eb and not E?
  2. chris4001asat


    Dec 16, 2002
    Toledo, Ohio
    Warehouse Manager : Reverend Guitars
    I do know horns love Eb. I have to bring an extra bass to each gig just for two stinking tunes. Crossfire and Midnight Hour. I need that low Eb for those two.
  3. LoJoe


    Sep 5, 2002
    Concord, NC USA.
    I'd always heard it was to favor the horns also, but our sax player said it made no difference to him. Before I switched to a 5 string, I installed a Hipshot drop D tuner on my 4 string so that I could have the low D and Eb whenever needed for church gigs. I ended up using it so much I just switched to a 5.
  4. Benjamin Strange

    Benjamin Strange Commercial User

    Dec 25, 2002
    New Orleans, LA
    Owner / Tech: Strange Guitarworks
    I would say that it was to keep it in a range most of the congregation can sing.
  5. Matt Till

    Matt Till

    Jun 1, 2002
    Edinboro, PA

    All of SRVs tunes (I think, if not almost all of them), he downtunes half a step down.
  6. seanm

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

    Feb 19, 2004
    Ottawa, Canada
    If I remember properly, Eb would be C for the alto sax and F for the tenor. Both very easy keys to play in. However, E would be F# for the tenor. 6 sharps! :eek:
  7. bill h

    bill h

    Aug 31, 2002
    small town MN
    mostly for the singer
  8. Kavorka


    Mar 28, 2002
    Austin, Texas
    Me too. A lot of songs without horns are in Eb and its usually to stay within the range of the singer.
  9. PunkerTrav


    Jul 18, 2001
    Canada & USA
    Trumpets would also be in F, and any 'bones would be in Eb. The whole horn section would be in an easy key.

    Which leaves the bass player, having to bring an extra bass tuned down a half step. :mad:

    The sacrifices we make...
    Travis ;)
  10. Corwin81


    Mar 18, 2003
    Ames, IA
    Live tunes to Eb for Ed Kowalczyk's voice.
  11. This is exactly the reason I prefer five strings. Not to do anything extra funky, but just to give myself more versatility without having to tune down.

    Most KISS songs are in Eb too and my band is doing a KISS show for halloween. Every practice, I listen to my guitar players tuning down and think to myself how glad I am that I don't have to muck with that.
  12. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    It'd definitely a horn thing - I play in a band with 5 horns and also do a lot of Jazz workshops/jams - Eb is a very popular key with them - but I only have 5-string basses, so it's no problem for me either.

    5-strings do make transposing much easier and helps when fitting in with horn or singer-friendly keys!! :)
  13. moley


    Sep 5, 2002
    Hampshire, UK
    This is indeed correct, and I'd say that this is the reason you're playing in Eb a lot.

    The piano thing is less of an issue. In general I prefer flat keys on the piano, but Eb vs E still doesn't make much odds.
  14. wulf


    Apr 11, 2002
    Oxford, UK
    What do you mean by "gospel tunes". I'm not an expert in "gospel music" (though I've played it a bit) but am very familiar with contemporary christian worship music. In that genre, I would say that the main consideration is not the horn section (there often isn't one) but finding an easy vocal range for the singers in the group and the congregation.

  15. smperry

    smperry Administrator Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Nov 3, 2003
    Bay Area, CA
    Endorsing Artist: Martin Keith Guitars
    Ding ding ding! Correct! Alto is in Eflat concert, and Tenor (and Trumpet) are in Bflat. I played alto in a funk band in college and I often had to try to solo in the key of C# for the songs in E and F# for the other half of the songs in the key of A. Believe me, playing in those keys (7 sharps and 6 sharps) is much harder! Seriously, it matters. Alot of the old R&B tunes are in "horn keys" like E flat for the same reason...not because, say Aretha Franklin (who sings gospel from time to time ;) ) can't hit the high notes.

    Edit: IMO :D

  16. Pause


    Jun 4, 2003
    Miami, FL
    My last pianist always preferred flat keys to sharp keys. I just liked keys that didn't make me transpose up the octave too much. It would have been nice to have a 5 or 6er.
  17. Bob Lee (QSC)

    Bob Lee (QSC) In case you missed it, I work for QSC Audio! Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Jul 3, 2001
    Costa Mesa, Calif.
    Technical Communications Developer, QSC Audio
    Horn players love to have a couple flats in the key signature.

    I hate playing a song in the key of Ab or Eb without any horn players, because I consider it a waste of perfectly good flats.
  18. McHack


    Jul 29, 2003
    Central Ohio!
    OK, I grew up playing Trombone all thru school. It's not so much that horn players love flats... Its just the natural key they're tuned to. Natural tuning key for horns is the key of Bb. That said, it just so happens that Eb is the 4th step of the Bb scale.

    If its just a guitar rock song, there's a couple of reasons people would do this.

    1) Slightly less strain on the singers voice, only half a step here folks. That's not much relief.
    2) Tuning down half a step, loosens the strings on a guitar just a bit, so they get a more throaty sound.
  19. josh_m


    May 5, 2004
    Davie, Fl
    At least its not Bb or Eb minor... those are a pain to sight read.
  20. Bob Lee (QSC)

    Bob Lee (QSC) In case you missed it, I work for QSC Audio! Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Jul 3, 2001
    Costa Mesa, Calif.
    Technical Communications Developer, QSC Audio
    French horns are F instruments. Some saxes are Eb, while the others are Bb. I forgot which is which, but I think soprano and tenor are Bb, while alto and bari are Eb. Clarinets are similarly divided between Bb and Eb.

    I'm a former trombone, baritone horn, and trumpet player.