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Change key of a song written in open E?


guitarguy19

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Anyone do it without tuning down, or would it sound stupid (i.e. too different) to audiences?

 

Born Free by Kid Rock, Gives you Hell by AAR, among others, are tunes we'd like to do but are just out of our singers range. He'd be able to hit the notes if we only did 5 songs, but it strains his voice too much over the course of a full night of singing.

 

Anyone ever run into this? I just want to see what our options are and if it's worth the trouble or if it would just sound dumb to audiences.

 

FWIW...my suggestion of tuning the whole band down 1/2 step was shunned immensely for whatever reason, even from our singer (:confused:), even though it would help put things in his range so much better. Whatever I dunno...:lol:

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We haver tuned down or just changed keys to fit the singer. We also noticed a huge difference in what the singers can do when we switched to IEMs. When the singer can easily hear himself he doesn't have to strain to be heard in the monitors and his voice will last all night. We used to crash and burn sometime in the third set. By the fourth set voices were gone to the point we could hardly talk after the show. When we switched we immediately (after a steep learning curve) noticed the difference and are able to easily make it through 4 sets without any vocal strain at all. It was amazing. Harmonies were better and overall intonation was much better. Look into IEMs if you have a chance.

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We haver tuned down or just changed keys to fit the singer. We also noticed a huge difference in what the singers can do when we switched to IEMs. When the singer can easily hear himself he doesn't have to strain to be heard in the monitors and his voice will last all night. We used to crash and burn sometime in the third set. By the fourth set voices were gone to the point we could hardly talk after the show. When we switched we immediately (after a steep learning curve) noticed the difference and are able to easily make it through 4 sets without any vocal strain at all. It was amazing. Harmonies were better and overall intonation was much better. Look into IEMs if you have a chance.

 

 

Thanks for the tip. This is definitely on our radar...

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I think you should start by just transposing the song to another key and then checking out what it sounds like. My experience is that 9 out of 10 times just transposing works out fine. Occasionally the sound of a song is just too different if you eliminate the open string chords. If we can't just transpose the song we scrap it. We're not big fans of down-tuning. Just $.02 worth

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In the rare case it's a true technical issue of some sort, THEN you have a decision to make.

 

 

Yeah, exactly. When the song is in open E there is a technical issue. When you change the key it won't sound "the same" anymore. It'll be more than just a "playing it 1/2 step low" difference in sound because of the open E chord.

 

Changing keys in general isn't really the issue. I just wondered if anyone ever ran into this specifically...

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pickinatit makes a great point. Just because you realize it sounds different, if it is well played the audience will never even know anything was changed. Try it out in a different key and see what you think. Look at it in the audiences eyes (ears) though. We pretty much stopped custom tuning because no matter how we tried to keep the show's flow, switching guitars or re-tuning just was a set killer.

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Yeah, exactly. When the song is in open E there is a technical issue. When you change the key it won't sound "the same" anymore. It'll be more than just a "playing it 1/2 step low" difference in sound because of the open E chord.


Changing keys in general isn't really the issue. I just wondered if anyone ever ran into this specifically...

 

 

It doesn't matter, it's still the same song.

People don't even care how authentic you are (they just wanna dance and hook up) so tempo is really more of a factor than key.

 

2 things

 

~It only affects the feel if there is an open riff involved. From what I can remember "Born Free" doesn't have a riff that is dependent on being in a certain key (pretty woman, hicktown, enter sandman.......yadayadayada)

 

~ Is your singer great? If so try and accomodate him/her. If not then they're just gonna suck in another key and you will end up knowing hundreds of songs in the wrong key.

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Any particular reason why they're against tuning down a half step? We tune down a full step and just play everything as-is in the original position. I've never once had anyone, in 10 years of doing it this way, take issue with it.

 

"That's stupid" is about the only "reason" I got. Idiotic I know...but whatever it's not my straining voice ;)

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~ Is your singer great? If so try and accomodate him/her. If not then they're just gonna suck in another key and you will end up knowing hundreds of songs in the wrong key.

 

 

Yes he's absolutely great. Just has limited range for high notes in full voice.

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Just depends on the song. A jangly open-strum open "E" song such as "What I Like About You" won't sound the EXACTLY the same played in "D" or "C", but I don't think it's a difference most people would notice.

 

Something like "Back In Black" would be much harder to pull off and have still sound 'right'.

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Any particular reason why they're against tuning down a half step? We tune down a full step and just play everything as-is in the original position. I've never once had anyone, in 10 years of doing it this way, take issue with it.

 

 

I think the issue is tuning down a half step for that one song (or maybe a couple). If you down-tune a half or whole step and play all night that way then no one is going to notice at all except maybe anyone that has "perfect pitch".

 

What do you do if you run into a song that needs to be a half or whole step lower for the singer after you are all downtuned? That doesn't solve the dilema for the one or two songs that the singer needs lowered (or raised) even after (or because of) you are all down tuned. You might still run into songs that aren't in the singer's key ("comfort zone") or....what if you are down tuned a whole step and are now wanting to play a song that required an open C ? In other words I don't think that down tuning a whole step necessarily eliminates the dilema the OP is facing, just changes it from one chord to another chord being the problem, no?

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My own post reminded me of something. I've charted several songs that needed to be lowered a step or so to accomodate the singer. If an open E was a problem I will lower the song so that E becomes an open C instead. Or an open C becomes an open A. Of course you have to check that the song isn't then too LOW for your singer, but if you have to lower a whole step another step usually doesn't put it below the singer's bottom limits.

Anybody else ever use this approach to lower a song's key and still maintain the "open chord structure" ?

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"That's stupid" is about the only "reason" I got. Idiotic I know...but whatever it's not my straining voice
;)

The bigger issue in my opinion is your singer not knowing his own limitations.

 

Why don't you record the strain and crank it up loud and proud so he can bask in the suck. Or something.

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The bigger issue in my opinion is your singer not knowing his own limitations.


Why don't you record the strain and crank it up loud and proud so he can bask in the suck. Or something.

 

He does know his limitations, which is why we aren't playing these songs! ;)

 

Tuning down (or changing keys) would allow us to do so without the "suck" :lol:

 

It's all a game. Everyone in the band scoffed at tuning down 1/2 step for everything, yet we play poison, weezer, and whatever else (that is dropped on the record) 1/2 step up and nobody complains. We drop some songs 1/2 step (without dropping tuning) and nobody complains. We move keys 1/2 step either way all the time. But to just tune down 1/2 step across the board? Hogwash. :rolleyes:

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I tried an experiment last night at practice. I've been singing 'Don't Stop Believing' and it's a little too high for my range. I can hit the high notes in falsetto and it works, but when I sing "up and down the boulevard" it's just past the top of my natural range. I dialed up a Whammy setting on my Digitech that drops the signal one full step. So I can play the song in E as usual, but it sounds in D. It's no problem for the keys player to do it in that key, and the bass player has a 5-string. So nobody has to retune.

 

It sounded fine. There's a tiny lag in the guitar signal when I use the Whammy, but I can compensate for that. When everybody is playing, it's not noticeable.

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What do you do if you run into a song that needs to be a half or whole step lower for the singer after you are all downtuned? That doesn't solve the dilema for the one or two songs that the singer needs lowered (or raised) even after (or because of) you are all down tuned. You might still run into songs that aren't in the singer's key ("comfort zone") or....what if you are down tuned a whole step and are now wanting to play a song that required an open C ? In other words I don't think that down tuning a whole step necessarily eliminates the dilema the OP is facing, just changes it from one chord to another chord being the problem, no?

 

 

I see what you're saying here. The only tune we've ever come across that posed such a problem, is Nickelback - Burn it to the Ground. That tune is in natural low B. We drop tune to C and do it as is. So, we're technically a half step higher than the original. Now, depending on the amount of tequillas passed around, it can really put a strain on our singer. But, we still get through it just fine. And again, no one has ever had anything to say about it not being in the "correct" key.

 

And I fully agree with you about how if everything is tuned down, it's not noticed. You've basically trained their ears by the first couple songs.

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Depends on the song. Some songs use a lot of open chords or rely on open strings and they don't transpose well, at least on guitar. Others aren't a problem at all.

 

 

This. We transpose a lot of our tunes to fit whomever is singing (which everybody I play with does). First, understand that for the purposes of most popular/rock styles of music, 90% of your audience are listening to the singer. Not every good singer has a great range. Also, there is much to be gained from having songs squarely & comfortably inside the vocalists range, especially if you're stringing together multiple 3-4 hour nights.

 

IME, the two biggest impediments are, as GCDEF said, double-stops, chords, etc that rely on both fretted & open strings as well as hard-rock/metal power chording in the lower registers. To my ear, heavy chording looses a good deal of it's "oomph" in higher voicings. But as other have pointed out, what seems very different to you will be hardly noticable to your audience.

 

Best to try it out, record it, and assess the results. FWIW, transposing music is good exercise.

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And again, no one has ever had anything to say about it not being in the "correct" key.


And I fully agree with you about how if everything is tuned down, it's not noticed. You've basically trained their ears by the first couple songs.

 

 

You've maybe trained your OWN ears after the first couple of songs. The audience, as you already noted, doesn't notice. Even most MUSICIANS (despite what many might try to tell you) don't actually have the ability to distinguish between a band playing a song in "C" as opposed to "B" in a live situation. And you could play that same song in "F" and I guarantee you virtually no one in your audience would so much as blink an eye.

 

The singer starts croaking because he can't reach the high notes, however? THAT is something people will notice.

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National acts do it all the time. I was on Youtube looking for a Kelly Clarkson song we are adding and found a medley she did live - tuned down a half step from the studio version. The last 2 bands I was in played everything a 1/2 step down to accommodate our singer, and in my current band everything I sing we play in half step (around 10% of the set list). No one notices except my vocal cords.

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You've maybe trained your OWN ears after the first couple of songs. The audience, as you already noted, doesn't notice. Even most MUSICIANS (despite what many might try to tell you) don't actually have the ability to distinguish between a band playing a song in "C" as opposed to "B" in a live situation. And you could play that same song in "F" and I guarantee you virtually no one in your audience would so much as blink an eye.


The singer starts croaking because he can't reach the high notes, however? THAT is something people will notice.

 

 

So are you agreeing or disagreeing here??

 

My point about the audience not noticing, is BECAUSE we've already set the tonality by playing everything down. ie. trained their ears.

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