Changing a song's original key

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TheOtherDennisTheOtherDennis The shedFrets: 410
I know a bit about keys and what they're for and what they mean. So if I was to drop from A to G, for instance, I'd basically play everything two frets down, and vice versa (I know it's more complicated when it comes to chords, but this isn't about that).

However, I've been asked to audition to play bass for a band that has a pretty extensive set list. They've also sent me a list of the keys they've changed a lot of the songs to (presumably so the female singer can manage them). I have no problem with that.

However, when I did a search for the original keys that the songs were in, so I can work out how to change them, I found something called Keyfinder. No idea how accurate it is (which is why I'm asking for help), but it says that the keys that most of the songs on the set list that have supposedly been changed to are actually the original ones.

Obviously, I don't want to get there having learned something in the wrong key, so how do I check what key a song is in? If I've got the original sheet music, I should be able to tell from the sharps and flats on the stave, but what if I can only find some chords with no stave?

Apologies for complicating such a basic question, but this is a level of music theory that's always made my head buzz, and I've never quite managed to figure it out properly.
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  • ICBMICBM Frets: 20189
    Find the original song on Youtube and play along with it in the key you've been given. If it doesn't sound hideous it's the same key :).
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  • Thanks for that. :)
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  • If you search for the chords online, most of the sites that host chord sheets and/ or tab for songs have a function on them which allow you to drop or raise the key and it will automatically update the chords to fit the new key.
    IMPORTANT NOTE - Online chord/ tab pages are uploaded by amateurs just like you and me and there are, unfortunately, loads of mistakes to be found. You will need to use your own ear to spot the errors, so only use the online pages as a starting point..Do not take them as 100% accurate!

    Alas, probably the most foolproof method is to firstly work out the basic parts in the original keys - from the recordings themselves on Youtube, Spotify etc etc - then re-learn them in the new key by dropping or raising each part by the required interval. Yes, that means learning the song, in effect twice - once for each key - but playing along to the record in the original key is the best way to double check your workings out before you come to transpose the track.

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  • FWIW most songs you will be expected to play will have a surprisingly small number of parts to work out - e.g. Verse, Chorus, Middle 8. - with intros and outros and solo parts often played over the same changes as per one of these three sections...so learning songs doesn't always take as long as you may think it does.

    One thing I have learned over the years after much trial and error is MAKE SURE YOU KNOW THE SONG BEFORE YOU START LEARNING IT. In other words - spend time listening to the song and getting familiar with it before you even pick up an instrument. Get a good broad picture of the song in your head before getting into the details. You don't want to start putting the jigsaw together before you look at the picture on the box.

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  • fretmeisterfretmeister Frets: 6949
    I like using this.

    http://www.musicnotes.com/sheetmusic/mtd.asp?ppn=MN0063560

    Sometimes I buy a proper transcript - but also useful is the preview. On the right had side you'll see that the piece is in the original published key. It then gives you other options of, say +2, or -3 and tells you the key signature when the change has been made.
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  • EricTheWearyEricTheWeary Frets: 4799
    Mostly what @RocknRollDave says, although how come I know all that and am still useless at picking stuff up...

    Occaisionally you get key changes that are a pain, maybe something on bass with a prominent open low E and they move it to D so do you play it an octave up or tune down or buy a five string or just say no can do..? 

    ICBM said: Find the original song on Youtube and play along with it in the key you've been given. If it doesn't sound hideous it's the same key :). If you are struggling then live versions ( or even other people's cover versions) on YouTube can throw up mixes that can hilight parts or you can just look at their fingers ' he's playing it all at the fifth fret so the notes must be there somewhere...'

    And just to finish my smorgasbord of obviousness, if there's any doubt then find out which version of a song they are doing. No good practising the Don McLean version of American Pie if they are doing the Madonna version. 
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  • Doesn't really apply to bass, but for us guitarists another thing to look out for when learning songs is that some songs will be in unusual (or at least non-standard) tuning and you may only realise this if you stumble upon the right "Here's how to play...." video on Youtube, where the guy doing the vid has sussed out the correct tuning. Same for capos - look for live videos of the band and see if the dude is using a capo......could make your life SO much easier.

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  • "smogasboard of obviousness" is a great phrase, @EricTheWeary !

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  • Thanks for all the info. I do know most of it such as not learning the Don McLean version if they're playing the Madge version, all that stuff, watching live performances to try to get a steer on what the band's doing and all that.

    It's not so much working out what the key changes are, as trying to work out what it's in to start with, because what they've told me is a bit odd.

    Here are some examples. They play Dakota by the Stereophonics. According to all the sites I've seen, it's in E. But they say they've changed the key - to E. Valerie by Amy Winehouse is in Eb, but they say they've changed the key to Eb; Vertigo by U2 is in A, but they say they've changed the key to A; Teenage Kicks is in D, but they say they've changed it to D; Use Somebody by the Kings of Leon is in C but they say they've changed it to C.

    That's what's confusing me. I'd get back to them about it, but I don't want to look like a twat before I've even turned up for an audition. (Unless it's some elaborate trick to see if I'm paying attention...)
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  • ^ that just sounds like a badly-typed email, to me, like they haven't explained themselves well.

    Does it really matter, though, what key a song was recorded in, so long as you know what key they want you to play it in?

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  • Yes, because I don't know enough/have the confidence to work it out on my own until I have somewhere to start from, so I need to start from the original to give myself a stepping off point.

    And the list of key 'changes' is separate to the main list and only contains the ones they've 'changed'. There are at least a dozen not on the 'changed' list, and the changed list includes at least three or four that have changed.
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