Changing a song's original key

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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: 21967
    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: 7918
    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: 5170
    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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  • close2uclose2u Frets: 341
    Maybe they previously played it in a different key, for some reason, then changed it again, for some reason, and got back to the original. Or maybe the guitarist is a knob, learned the songs from YouTube acoustic capo versions and wrote down the shapes he saw. For instance, he watched a cover of Dakota, some guy with a capo at fret 4, saw an open C chord shape that actually makes the E chord and he wrote down C etc.
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  • octatonicoctatonic Frets: 13324
    How many songs is the set?
    I might be able to have a listen to the tracks and tell you what key the original is in and therefore how far up or down the neck you have to move to play it in the key they supply.

    Up to about 20 would be fine, more than that and it will take me too long.
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  • GrunfeldGrunfeld Frets: 1790
    edited January 20
    ...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.
    Ask them.  Good communication should never be a problem -- if you can phone them you'll possibly sort it quickly and it won't look as pedantic compared to email when it's in black and white, like "you've said changes but those are the original keys..."  [subtext: "don't you know the f*ing difference between the verbs to change and to play?]

    FWIW I try and be as precise and clear as possible in band emails.  Our singer on the other hand just throws out random punctuation marks???  You see, was that a question!!  No??? Neither were any of those??  !! Saturday!  [random word; it's like Tourettte's]  [assorted emoticons]  A phone call clarifies. 

    And for learning stuff in different keys, once you've sussed what they are, I'm gonna be predictable and suggest Transcribe! if you're not already using it because you can simply key shift everything in the software.  So simple it doesn't even take two seconds to do it.  I literally use it for every learning task:  key shifting, slowing down, looping difficult sections etc. 



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  • davewwdaveww Frets: 140
    A knowledge of major and minor scale harmony will help you correctly identify the key and mode once you know the chords.  However often my band mates don't realise the key a new song is in if it's modal and the first chord isn't the key.  So they may tell me it's going to be in a key that's wrong.  I often use Riffstation to load the original songs as it does a reasonable job of guessing the chords and you can alter the key up or down as you wish.  Like transcribe you can also loop or slow down sections or whole songs to practice or jam with.
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  • Danny1969Danny1969 Frets: 2403
    Being as I'm in about 7 covers bands doing over 200 numbers but sometimes working the same songs among singers with vastly different ranges I have to be able to switch keys instantly and here's how you do it. 

    Don't think of frets, learn the instrument in notes. You gotta know where the notes are. Thinking in terms of moving frets is the wrong way, the fretboard is just a load of notes, always see the notes not the positions

    Think about song in terms of intervals ..... so with or without you for example  is 1. 5. 6, 4, often written as I - V - Vi - IV 

    So lets do that in the original key of D and we get D - A - B - G ....... lets imagine that's a bit low for the singer and he \ she wants to try it in E. 

    It's just maths, now we got E - B - C# - A ......... now you can think oh I just added a tone to every note but it's actually better just to visualize the intervals from any given starting point. Otherwise moving a song from A to C for example means adding a tone and a half to every movement and that requires more thought.

    It's the ability to see a common rock  \ rock  song in intervals that enables you to instantly be able to play it in most instances and it's the knowledge of intervals that enables you to switch key instantly. 
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  • Danny1969Danny1969 Frets: 2403
    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...)
    Vertigo is in E, the other keys are right

    Valerie verse is first and 2nd chord then bridge is 4th \ 3rd \ 4th \ 3rd \ 4th \ 3rd  \ 5th   - chorus 1st and 2nd again

    So lets move that to C, very common key for male vocal 

    Verse C and D, ....  bridge F \ Em \ F \ em \ F \ em  \ G ... chorus C and D ...... chords are maj 7 and 7th in flavour but you get the idea 
    www.2020studios.co.uk 
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  • BensonBenson Frets: 202
    Download Audacity and use its pitch change function to do the deed. You can even do it on the basis of key signatures rather than just as a percentage or number of semitones. 
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  • Just email them and ask them to clarify. 

    Anyone who takes the hump when asked a basic question like that is not someone you want to be in a band with. 
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  • modellistamodellista Frets: 238
    Danny1969 said:
    Being as I'm in about 7 covers bands doing over 200 numbers but sometimes working the same songs among singers with vastly different ranges I have to be able to switch keys instantly and here's how you do it. 

    Don't think of frets, learn the instrument in notes. You gotta know where the notes are. Thinking in terms of moving frets is the wrong way, the fretboard is just a load of notes, always see the notes not the positions

    Think about song in terms of intervals ..... so with or without you for example  is 1. 5. 6, 4, often written as I - V - Vi - IV 

    So lets do that in the original key of D and we get D - A - B - G ....... lets imagine that's a bit low for the singer and he \ she wants to try it in E. 

    It's just maths, now we got E - B - C# - A ......... now you can think oh I just added a tone to every note but it's actually better just to visualize the intervals from any given starting point. Otherwise moving a song from A to C for example means adding a tone and a half to every movement and that requires more thought.

    It's the ability to see a common rock  \ rock  song in intervals that enables you to instantly be able to play it in most instances and it's the knowledge of intervals that enables you to switch key instantly. 
    I'm with you on visualising the intervals, then you can indeed play the same intervals in any key.  To simplify things even further, I'd say as long as you're playing barre chords, you don't actually need to know the notes, you can just shift up and down the board until you find the key you're looking for.  I don't see any problem with that.  The actual note name is only of passing interest, or to tell your bandmates what key you're in.

    The trick comes when you want to stick with open shapes, or the original has some particular open string chord inversions which are difficult to replicate in a different key just using barre shapes.  That's where a capo comes in handy I guess, in which case you can still use the same chords, just at different positions of the fretboard.
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  • 57Deluxe57Deluxe Frets: 3420
    stick with Punk - no need for any of this malarkey
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  • koneguitaristkoneguitarist Frets: 2446
    Hope you don't get the same thing that happened to me. 
    Depped with a band on Bass, 3pc 60's trio in Yeovil, with drummer on vocals. Said we'll start with Pretty Woman. Usual key of A I said and start on E riff, nope key of Eb 2,3,4,,, 
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