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Keys (Bb etc) for Jamming (or Performing) with a Band

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Oct 9, 2018 - 3:49:27 PM
380 posts since 10/21/2009

Hi Everyone,

Newb question here on jamming with a band:

I found a jam to work toward playing with eventually, so picked up a list of their “core” songs. The jam had 2 horns, clarinet, keys, drums, and double bass; they hire some musicians so they’ll always have a band, so there are always pros and volunteers combined.

I was surprised (though maybe I shouldn’t have been), but the keys listed for most of the songs are Bb, Eb, and Ab. Not a G key in a list of over 100 songs... :(

So, I should be learning these songs in Bb, Eb, etc? (It wasn’t even easy to find a pic of a chord diagram for the tenor of Bb on the ‘net! (Nor does that diagram look warm and fuzzy (meaning encouraging) for a new player.))

The instruction books I’ve seen seem to start out new players with common/basic major chords to learn like C, D, G, etc, so I’m a bit confused, if you learn those chords but that doesn’t help much if the jam is playing in Bb...etc.

I haven’t seen a tenor or plectrum player use a capo, so apparently that isn’t a help like with 5 string banjo or guitars, so you all just learn all of the chords, lead, and backup fingering and picking for all significant keys? And change the key on the fly depending on what the vocalist needs?

And since most of the bands I’ve heard are led by a horn player (and there are more horns and clarinets than guitars and banjos), is it the most common that trad jazz songs are performed in keys that are the easiest or most comfortable for horn players (and may be a pain for banjo players)?

‘Would appreciate you clearing this up. I feel like I’m missing something; something I overlooked.  Thanks in advance for your help.

Rockyjo

Edited by - rockyjo on 10/09/2018 15:57:06

Oct 9, 2018 - 4:29:41 PM

32 posts since 10/8/2018

Sorry, I know this isn't what you want to hear but yeah, if you want to play in a band you're going to be playing in the flat keys most of the time, and consequently you are eventually going to have to learn most every chord in that big chord book.

Are you a singer?

If so you could probably cheat a little... perhaps use ukuleles tuned to different keys so that you can use the same fingerings you already know... I've only ever seen one banjo player use a capo, and that was the guy who played with the Firehouse Five Plus Two... they made a lot of short films which I believe you can watch online... anyway, I can't remember the guys name, but he had a good strumming hand but just played guitar tuning with a capo!

Oct 9, 2018 - 5:03:58 PM

rockyjo

USA

380 posts since 10/21/2009

Hi Will,
I sing from time to time, yes. But it will be awhile (now a longer while) til I will be able to sing and play at the same time.
I’m not that interested in ukuleles, have my hands full with the banjo world.
I guess I now see how essential it is, then, to have a process or methodology that enables finding chords on the fly, rather than just memorizing chords.
As for a jam environment, does the singer call out the key that he/she feels comfortable singing the song in, presumably, whether or not it’s the stated key on a handout, or the singer is expected to sing the song in the stated key per the handout?
Rockyjo

Oct 9, 2018 - 6:37:22 PM

27 posts since 11/27/2017

Yes, you need to learn “all” the chords, but this where 4-string banjo is great. Once you’ve figured out the fingering for any 7th chord in “closed” position (where all the notes are fretted, none open), you can move that sucker up and down the neck to any key you want. And most songs only use a small subset of all the possible chords.

So that song in Ab is going to use Ab, Ab7, Db7, Eb7, maybe C major and F minor as well. Once you’ve figured out how to play those chords, all closed position, and move around between them, you can just move the whole mess up or down a few frets to change key. It’s actually easier than transposing songs on the piano.

Oct 9, 2018 - 8:37:10 PM

2192 posts since 4/19/2008

FOR AN OFF THE WALL SOLUTION

To get started using easy chords you could tune a half-step high (one fret).
When you do this there are 3 possibilities:

1. For a flat you play the letter before the chord you see in the music. ex. Bb=A
2. For a natural you make it a flat. ex. D=Db
3. For a sharp chord you play that pitch and forget the sharp. ex. G# = G
 


Alternately you could tune down a whole step (2 frets) and then you would be in the transposed pitch of the tenor sax, clarinet or trumpet and play of of their music.

Oct 9, 2018 - 10:32:37 PM

raybob

USA

13210 posts since 12/11/2003

I played guitar in a big band with all the horns, vocals, and rhythm section, and you have to learn all the chords and play without a capo. You learn closed chords and study some Freddie Green and Mickey Baker. Just think about capoeing up to some key then having to change keys for a sax solo then going back to the original key. Capoes and most straight barre chord playing isn’t going to work. The study will make you a better musician, don’t be afraid of it.

I later played tenor with a band that did Dixie and traditional blues and jazz. Same thing. I tuned my banjo Chicago style and played the chords like on the guitar using just the top four strings. I had to create some inversions, but that’s what it’s all about. Practice and have fun !

Oct 10, 2018 - 5:38:43 AM

181 posts since 2/16/2014
Online Now

Hi Rockyjo,
I would like to see the list of tunes the group plays.
The singer calls the key of a song.
You won't need a capo unless you are in Nashville and then you can put it on your dashboard and park in the handicapped spaces (old joke, I use a capo sometimes when playing guitar).
Flay keys are no more difficult to play in than others, in fact Bb, Eb and Ab lay out nicely on a tenor. You just have to get used to them.
The F chord is far simpler to play on tenor than guitar.
Learn the notes on your banjo neck.
Learn how chords are constructed (theory) and you will never need to look at a chord picture again. I found this publication from Frank (@yellowdog) invaluable. Shows the relationship of notes in a chord.
calgaryuke.com/ukerichard/teno...ments.pdf
Eddie Davis has some fine videos on fundamentals on Youtube along with hundreds of songs/tunes. Numerous tutorials. I have learned so much from them.
I hope you continue pursuing/learning the tenor. It is a lot of fun.
A fifth tuned instrument makes so much sense and if you take the time to learn so theory it will make you a better player on other instruments.
Just a few of my observations, YMMV.
One other thing, if you have some time go back and look at the archives. Lots of nuggets to be found there.
Enjoy the journey
mike

Oct 10, 2018 - 6:05:46 AM

219 posts since 1/19/2008

The songs are usually played in the key that it was written in. Learn the correct key for the song.

Oct 10, 2018 - 9:13:23 AM

32 posts since 10/8/2018

As for a jam environment, does the singer call out the key that he/she feels comfortable singing the song in, presumably, whether or not it’s the stated key on a handout, or the singer is expected to sing the song in the stated key per the handout?

 Jam environments are all different but in my experience the jammers probably either couldn't or wouldn't modulate to a different key to accommodate a singer.

Oct 10, 2018 - 10:20:28 AM

rockyjo

USA

380 posts since 10/21/2009

Hi,

Thank you all for the encouragement and info!

I dnloaded Frank’s method which looks good, and started trying to work through Rick V. P.’s method from another thread for building chords.

‘Seems like it would be important to find one that tells which fingers to put where in the chords also, to be in the best position to put the melody line in and for subsequent speed (so you don’t risk having to re-learn later..yuk), right?

(Ain’tbroke.. I tried to upload the list (iPhone photo, for the mods) but got a Microsoft SQL database error from BHO twice so something is awry on that end.)

Rockyjo

Oct 11, 2018 - 2:03:18 PM

1396 posts since 4/5/2006

quote:
Originally posted by rockyjo

Hi Everyone,

Newb question here on jamming with a band:

I found a jam to work toward playing with eventually, so picked up a list of their “core” songs. The jam had 2 horns, clarinet, keys, drums, and double bass; they hire some musicians so they’ll always have a band, so there are always pros and volunteers combined.

I was surprised (though maybe I shouldn’t have been), but the keys listed for most of the songs are Bb, Eb, and Ab. Not a G key in a list of over 100 songs... :(

So, I should be learning these songs in Bb, Eb, etc? (It wasn’t even easy to find a pic of a chord diagram for the tenor of Bb on the ‘net! (Nor does that diagram look warm and fuzzy (meaning encouraging) for a new player.))

The instruction books I’ve seen seem to start out new players with common/basic major chords to learn like C, D, G, etc, so I’m a bit confused, if you learn those chords but that doesn’t help much if the jam is playing in Bb...etc.

I haven’t seen a tenor or plectrum player use a capo, so apparently that isn’t a help like with 5 string banjo or guitars, so you all just learn all of the chords, lead, and backup fingering and picking for all significant keys? And change the key on the fly depending on what the vocalist needs?

And since most of the bands I’ve heard are led by a horn player (and there are more horns and clarinets than guitars and banjos), is it the most common that trad jazz songs are performed in keys that are the easiest or most comfortable for horn players (and may be a pain for banjo players)?

‘Would appreciate you clearing this up. I feel like I’m missing something; something I overlooked.  Thanks in advance for your help.

Rockyjo


Bb, Eb & Ab are common key's for horns. And yes, those keys are easy for horns. Horns are incapable of playing chords so not much help on chords from them.

Since you mention the easy major chords being G, C & D, I'm assuming you have a 5 string banjo. Is that correct ? Are there any other 5 string banjo players in this jam? That might be your first clue. 5 string banjo players don't usually play the type of music horns play. Not that it can't be done. In the 40+ years I've been playing, I can count the number of 5 string banjoists capable of jamming with horns, on one hand with fingers to spare! It is not your every day banjo player. And there could well be more, but I don't hang with that crowd, so I don't know.  Whatever banjo players are jamming at this jam, talk to them. I suspect most will be tenor, but plectrum players tune similar to 5 string (CGBD) sans 5th string, so you may be able to learn from them. They do not use capo's. They don't use finger picks either.

Usually a person is drawn to a particular type of music and chooses an instrument to play that type of music. Not the other way around. I would think surely in a city the size of Denver Co, there would be jams more suitable to the type of music commonly played on 5 string banjo's. If you really want to play this type of music, you are making it hard on yourself with a 5 string banjo.

Edited by - monstertone on 10/11/2018 14:30:23

Oct 11, 2018 - 3:20:39 PM

rockyjo

USA

380 posts since 10/21/2009

Hi JD,
I’m actually referring to 4-string banjos, specifically a tenor to start.
Yes, I’m coming from the 5-string banjo and guitar world and familiarity with often “easier” chords in that world of the key a song is in (and most associated I IV V chords).
There are no 5-string banjo players in the jam I mentioned and only one tenor player, as far as I know, who seems to prefer the trumpet. (That is good and bad for me :) , I’ll get to play a lot when I get up to speed, figuratively and literally.)
I agree with you on the 5-string in this setting; I’m only thinking of playing a 4-string in this trad jazz jam, in the style and with the techniques that 4-strings are played.
Thanks for asking a clarifying question.
Rockyjo

Oct 11, 2018 - 4:12:46 PM

Omeboy

USA

1543 posts since 6/27/2013

Rockjo,
You probably already know this, but if you take the 5th string off your 5-string and tune the low D down to C, you'll have a plectrum banjo in your lap.  The plectrum fits Dixieland like a hand in a glove.



@rockyjo

Edited by - Omeboy on 10/11/2018 16:15:53

Oct 11, 2018 - 5:38:19 PM

32 posts since 10/8/2018

Good point! Yeah, that's the way I started, too. I'd never really heard plectrum banjo before but once I heard the wonderful Mr. Bill Stewart of London Ontario play some of that Perry Bechtel stuff on his plectrum, I took off my fifth string for good.

(Do you know Bill, Omie?)

Oct 11, 2018 - 5:51:49 PM

Omeboy

USA

1543 posts since 6/27/2013

I don't know Bill, but I really admire his playing. He's a fine ragtime banjoist and many rags are the most demanding in my opinion. Bill is an absolute master of the plectrum. Wish we had a dozen more just like him.

guitarbanjoman

Edited by - Omeboy on 10/11/2018 17:52:46

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