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  • Awkward key signatures

    Hi there,

    I feel that I need to explain a basic issue to song writers taht have a major impact on musicians in church worship bands. As my background I play the tenor sax which is pitched in Bb but I have had awful trouble in getting used to the key signatures for most worship songs. What I have notices are two distinct issues;

    1. Songs are being written for the singing range of the song writer, rather than the most comfortable range for a congregation.

    2. Songs are composed in keys favouring guitar players. The issue is that [some pianists, and] non-C instrumentation find it hard to play especially as they have to transpose the sheet music and make up their lines off the cuff.

    For example, I had to play Blessed Be Your Name in 7 sharps on Sunday, which is utterly ridiculous. Piano was in 5 sharps with the sheet music cop and that's bad enough.

  • #2
    Most songs (in a worship setting, especially) are going to be composed or notated in concert pitch, because, simply enough, most worship setting lead from a piano or guitar. (guitar is actually a transposing instrument, it just transposes a whole octave.)

    The composer is not going to know what instrumentation there is going to be when sitting and writing it, necessarily. And some songs just "sound right" in a certain key. There are very few keys our congregation has a hard time with; this week we did an opener in E, and a five song set in G,G,C,C and D.

    What kind of instrument does your worship leader lead from? (or are they vocals only?) Playing in Bb on a guitar is not that hard, and can be approached a couple of ways. We have a couple songs in Bb we do regularly.

    Comment


    • #3
      Sax2,
      I think it's pretty cool that your congregation is blessed with your instrument and I want to encourage you to KEEP OFFERING your gift!!

      I have observed that Chris Tomlin's vocal range is not the same as the average male's and most women can't sing the way Christy Nockels can. That said, you pack a few thousand people in an arena where they are leading worship and the entire place turns into a choir room. How is that?!!

      I can only attribute the active, non-judgemental participation to the relevance of the songs and/or the artists. I am not advocating that that your creative arts team has to play every song in the recorded key. To the contrary, it should be offered to your congregation in the key that your vocal team can effectively sing it. Your church should have a subscription to CCLI/Songselect which has the ability to produce charts transposed in ANY key. I would also suggest bookmarking http://transposr.com/ . This free site will allow you to transpose both charts and mp3 files.

      I'm a keyboard player and I empathize with you... we're servants in a guitar dominated worship world. As worship leaders, our primary role is to stay encouraged. Allow me to encourage you in your search for excellence (rather than perfection) and I pray that your service planning team continues to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit as you search for songs that are true and relevant for your congregation.
      "Rock On" (Matt 7:24-25)

      Dave Brown
      facebook.com/7.Funk.7.Master.7
      twitter.com/funkmaster777

      Comment


      • #4
        So your sax part was in C#, the piano was in B. If the guitars had capoed up 1/2 step, you would have been in D and the piano in C. And everything would have worked.

        Next time you start to practice something in an impossible key, point it out to the leader, and see if it would be possible to move it up or down a notch or two. All a guitar has to do to transpose is to use a capo; fixed-key instruments like brass, woodwind and keyboards rely on the skill of the person playing to change keys.

        I think a conscientious leader, once he is made aware of this reality, will do his best to perform in the key that works best for everyone. There are many leaders who are guitar players, who don't read music, and have no idea that other instruments can't change keys as readily as guitars can. Maybe you need to lovingly educate your leader about this.
        Tom

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by funkmaster777 View Post
          Sax2,

          I have observed that Chris Tomlin's vocal range is not the same as the average male's and most women can't sing the way Christy Nockels can. That said, you pack a few thousand people in an arena where they are leading worship and the entire place turns into a choir room. How is that?!!
          Isn't that odd! I am of the opinion that it has to do with comfortability. When you go away to a conference or a concert where the dB level is far greater than the average church worship service, people feel comfortable stepping out into areas that would ordinarily be out of range for them. In essence they are sort of shouting on pitch (usually quite effectively). Hence, if they were to give it that same energy at worship on Sunday morning, they would still be able to sing it, but don't because they feel like they'd stick out like a sore thumb. So they remain rather reserved.

          As for myself, there are times that I'll actually choose to transpose things up, though this is the exception. I do that because in its normal key, it may be very comfortable to sing but difficult to vocally project strongly (Kristan Stanfill's "Always" verses come to mind, however for this example I don't move this because later the chorus melody would be too high). So if I can raise the key and they have to use more energy to sing it (but not so much that it would preclude them from singing, as is much of the Tomlin stuff) I can get them projecting and it adds to the worship atmosphere. I'm very "confrontational" about the congregation singing. I will challenge them if they are passively engaging (always joyfully positive, of course).

          As to the O.P., I would recommend you begin aggresively getting comfortable in the common keys that worship songs are written in. That isn't going to change and so you might as well settle in and cozy up to them. After all, concert Bb seems comfortable to orchestral/concert instruments because it is what we first learned and play in all the time. Hypothetically, I think if we'd started with 6 sharps or flats and worked backward, we'd be fine with them all, excluding those instruments that simply don't play well in certain keys due to intonation problems and other physical obstacles.
          Last edited by Moosicman; 02-20-2012, 12:27 PM.

          Comment


          • #6
            we're servants in a guitar dominated worship world.
            And when guitars started making their way into worship, we were still playing a lot of hymnals- that were in 'awkward' several sharp/flat key signatures and unusual scales (that modulated several times during the song), and had 'awkward' chord changes (Crown Him with Many Crowns), and had different time signatures (2/4, 3/4 or 6/8 time or a combination of those in the same song) and challenging cadences (He Lives...).

            That was a real challenge for a guitar/bass/ drum player. That's what the environment was like when this movement started, and we had to adapt to it. So I am not quite as empathetic.

            Not saying keys can't be changed, but sometimes we have to learn to adapt a little bit. In my blues/gospel project, I play with a sax player who is part of our church- we've played in a lot of different keys and he's never said anything about one being harder than another. He has said he'd rather have his tenor sax for some songs (he usually brings his alto), but it's not a show stopper. However, he doesn't play off sheet music. He does his own thing

            For example, in some of these unusual key signatures, you might not be able to follow the sheet music, but might have to come up with your own parts rooted in some of the chords and scales in that key signature. Look at it as an opportunity to stretch your skills and gain a better understanding of theory to know which scale in a particular key you can work with. That's how we grow our skills as players.

            That's not to discount your concern, just saying there are other options as well as changing the key, and some can really grow you a a musician and make your contribution that much stronger.
            If we want to go places we haven't been, we will have to do things we haven't done.

            Comment


            • #7
              Isn't that odd! I am of the opinion that it has to do with comfortability. When you go away to a conference or a concert where the dB level is far greater than the average church worship service, people feel comfortable stepping out into areas that would ordinarily be out of range for them. In essence they are sort of shouting on pitch (usually quite effectively). Hence, if they were to give it that same energy at worship on Sunday morning, they would still be able to sing it, but don't because they feel like they'd stick out like a sore thumb. So they remain rather reserved.
              I once read an interview with David Crowder where he said "O Praise Him" should always be done in Bb because it makes people sing loud.

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by Wannabe a Worshiper View Post
                I think a conscientious leader, once he is made aware of this reality, will do his best to perform in the key that works best for everyone. There are many leaders who are guitar players, who don't read music, and have no idea that other instruments can't change keys as readily as guitars can. Maybe you need to lovingly educate your leader about this.
                Tom
                This works both ways. In our church, the leaders are keyboard-focused, rather than guitar focused. But we always try to think about the guitar and the bass, and the singers, too. We would never sing something in F-sharp, even if that was the perfect key for the singers. We would either move down to F, or up to G (and, no, we wouldn't just change to G-flat).

                If you give the guitarist a chart in G and say capo 3, you get B-flat. But we found that means we need a separate chart for the bass player, so he doesn't have to convert every note in his head as he goes.

                Church pianists for years have "converted" sharps to flats (see it written in E, play in E-flat). It used to be standard training. Depending on the church, there was some sort of a rule -- anything with more than (fill in the number here) sharps gets converted to flats. The organist usually dictated the rule.

                With the advent of church orchestras, that changed some, although some of the more progressive hymnal editors considered the orchestra in advance of their key selection.

                A lot of guitar-driven worship leaders play everything in G and capo to where they can sing it, or to where the chart they are working from says. As noted, many of them don't realize what a difference a half-step can make for the other instruments.

                And different keys have different personalities. The key of D is very happy. The key of E-flat is majestic. G and C are accessible and comfortable.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by Mike on Bass View Post
                  And when guitars started making their way into worship, we were still playing a lot of hymnals- that were in 'awkward' several sharp/flat key signatures and unusual scales (that modulated several times during the song), and had 'awkward' chord changes (Crown Him with Many Crowns), and had different time signatures (2/4, 3/4 or 6/8 time or a combination of those in the same song) and challenging cadences (He Lives...).

                  That was a real challenge for a guitar/bass/ drum player. That's what the environment was like when this movement started, and we had to adapt to it. So I am not quite as empathetic.
                  I'm with you mike... When we pull out a hymn, it's a real PAIN to play in guitar.. Chord changes every other word... So I figure today's music is just pay back.. The guitarists are getting to play nice chord progressions now instead of the stuff we play when it's an old hymn... We had to beef up our musical ability to make it work... So nw it's time for everyone else to have a go at getting better!!! (said in jest, but also kinda serious.. Though not intended to offend)

                  But of course.. I'm also a major theory buff.. And I love it.. I can transpose on the fly without thinking about it (and I rarely play with a capo)

                  Sent from my iPad using Tapatalk
                  Last edited by chrisburke; 02-21-2012, 12:43 AM.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    When we play hymns like that, I don't even usually try to play all the changes. I let the keyboard player do that! I'll usually just hang on the first chord in a given measure or something simple. And dial waaay back!

                    We also have a gospel choir that I play for and they tend to do a lot of songs in flat keys. (there also tend to be a lot of inversions.) I keep my second electric in Eb for just such an emergency!

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by mikeymo1741 View Post
                      We also have a gospel choir that I play for and they tend to do a lot of songs in flat keys. (there also tend to be a lot of inversions.) I keep my second electric in Eb for just such an emergency!
                      I keep a bass in Eb! But that's more because I can't sing all these Hillsong tunes in C and I hate to lose that low Eb when we play them in Bb.
                      Eric Frisch
                      www.ericfrisch.com

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        that low Eb when we play them in Bb.
                        Ooooh, man, that's rattle-your-teeth low!

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by mikeymo1741 View Post
                          Ooooh, man, that's rattle-your-teeth low!
                          Absolutely... "How He Loves" in Bb with the bass downtuned is just too much fun :-)
                          Eric Frisch
                          www.ericfrisch.com

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by chrisburke View Post
                            I'm with you mike... When we pull out a hymn, it's a real PAIN to play in guitar.. Chord changes every other word... So I figure today's music is just pay back.. The guitarists are getting to play nice chord progressions now instead of the stuff we play when it's an old hymn... We had to beef up our musical ability to make it work... So nw it's time for everyone else to have a go at getting better!!! (said in jest, but also kinda serious.. Though not intended to offend)
                            Our worship leader plays guitar in both the traditional and contemporary services, and he has no trouble with any of the chords or chord changes in the traditional songs. But if you ask the pianist or organist to play 5 sharps, look out!
                            Tom

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by efrisch View Post
                              Absolutely... "How He Loves" in Bb with the bass downtuned is just too much fun :-)
                              I used to keep a 5 string around for that stuff- don't anymore. Most sound systems and amps I played on couldn't handle those frequencies so I just stuck to a 4 string. I got tired of trying to play low D and C notes and the sound system sounded like a cattle belched...
                              If we want to go places we haven't been, we will have to do things we haven't done.

                              Comment

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