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Old 12-28-2020, 03:43 PM
morningside morningside is offline
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Default The Mystery of Mid-Song Key Changes

In classic country (and to a lesser degree pop), it's quite common for the key to change in the middle of the song. I believe the technical term for this is "modulation." There are a million examples from the world of country music, but a couple that come to mind are George Strait's "Amarillo by Morning" (shifts down a whole step from D to E before the final verse) and George Jones's "A Picture of Me (Without You)" (shifts up a half step from F# to G after the first verse).

Whole-step changes are generally pretty easy to handle on guitar, although it obviously helps to understand the relationships between chords within the major scale. A song that starts in the key of G major and has a I-IV-V progression (G-C-D) can still be played with open chords when you move up a whole step to A major (A-D-E). Thus, to use "Amarillo by Morning" as an example, there's only one barre chord (F#m) when start the song in D, and still only one barre chord (G#m) when you shift down a whole step to E later in the song.

The thing I'm struggling with is half-step key changes, which actually seem to be more common. If a song with a I-IV-V progression starts in G major and then shifts up a half step to G# major, you're suddenly playing G#-C#-D#. Ughhhh. I'm primarily a bassist, and it's super easy to change keys on bass, so this is a new challenge for me as I'm trying to improve at rhythm guitar.

I'm at a point with my playing where I can strum complete barre chords on acoustic guitar for several minutes, but it's obviously not comfortable and they don't ring out like open chords. It's also more difficult to walk between barre chords, and impossible or extremely difficult to do many of the open-chord fills. I'm curious how the professionals handle this issue, both live and in the studio.

I've looked on YouTube for videos of artists playing songs with half-step key-changes, and I've seen a few approaches other than simply playing ordinary barre chords. Two are very simple:

1. Some artists just play the song in a single key live. That's a very easy fix.

2. Some singers with a full band don't start strumming at all until after the key change. This is also an easy fix, but only works if you have another guitarist (or two), or at least a keyboard or pedal steel player.

Two other approaches are more mysterious to me:

3. In some instances, I've seen videos where the capo magically shifts on the neck of the guitar, although I haven't been able to find a video of someone actually moving his or her capo mid-song.

This concert video of George Jones is an example. At 0:09-0:17, the capo is on the first fret. At around 0:50, the key moves up a half step, and you can briefly see Jones turn his guitar body up towards the ceiling. Then the video cuts away, and the next time you see the neck of his guitar, at around 1:20, the capo is up on the second fret. I assume when Jones turned up the body he was preparing to move the capo up one fret, but I've tried doing that myself and it's very hard to do smoothly between verses. Maybe it's just an acquired skill? Either that, or it's something that only works when you're in front of a full band (like Jones) and nobody will miss the rhythm guitar for a few beats.

4. Finally, I've seen some people play what look like partial barre chords up the neck. Some of these look like moveable C-shape chords, where you don't have to bar the entire neck, but I've had trouble identifying others. The moveable C-shape chord obviously doesn't sound like an open chord, but it's a bit easier for me to play a "partial" D# up the neck using the C shape than a "full" D# barre chord with the standard A shape.

So here's my question:

How do you handle these half-step key changes? Do you play full barre chords? Modified or "partial" barre chords? Quickly move the capo up or down a fret? Play the song in a single key?


I've been trying to solve this problem on my own for a while, so any input would be appreciated!
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Old 12-28-2020, 04:03 PM
lowrider lowrider is online now
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I'd probably try just leaving it in the original key. But I do move chords all over the neck and if they sound good to me, I use them. If they don't I'll try something else.

With an open C, I make it a C7 and mute the e string. It works fine for me. Little F moves up. D with 4 fingers. E and A, I move around but I still consider them E's and A's. Like I said, if it sounds good I do it, if not I change it.
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Old 12-28-2020, 07:50 PM
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Originally Posted by morningside View Post
So here's my question:

How do you handle these half-step key changes? Do you play full barre chords? Modified or "partial" barre chords? Quickly move the capo up or down a fret? Play the song in a single key?
So here's my answer: Yes!

As you get more comfortable playing barre chords, they will sound better. They'll never sound quite the same as an open-string voicing, but that can't be avoided if you want to modulate to certain keys. You can also learn what could be called "partial" voicings, played with your fingers muting what would be open strings, so the chord form can be played anywhere on the neck.

Moving a capo is less common, but as you noted you can do it. It can be done pretty quickly with practice, depending on the style of capo (a clamp-type, like the Kyser, makes it fairly easy).

Of course, it's always an option to skip the key change entirely if your bandmates agree (or you're solo).
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Old 12-28-2020, 09:56 PM
The Bard Rocks The Bard Rocks is offline
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I generally avoid this sort of thing. When I can't, I go wherever it is necessary, doing all barres if I must.

Incidentally, Johnny Cash's "I Walk the Line" changes key no less than 5 times. Remember how he hums in it? That sets the new key into his mind (and ours too).
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Old 12-29-2020, 04:28 AM
JonPR JonPR is offline
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Originally Posted by The Bard Rocks View Post
I generally avoid this sort of thing. When I can't, I go wherever it is necessary, doing all barres if I must.

Incidentally, Johnny Cash's "I Walk the Line" changes key no less than 5 times. Remember how he hums in it? That sets the new key into his mind (and ours too).
Yes - it's a tour de force of vocal range, like he's giving us his CV. "Listen, I can do all this!"

It's actually only three different keys, but you're right there are five changes, and he sings one key in two different octaves. It's a lovely piece of subtle virtuosity - making an extremely simple song more interesting, using impressive vocal skills, but not really showboating - just doing it.
His voice covers just over two octaves in all - from an extraordinary contrabass C (two octaves below bottom E on guitar), up to a D above middle C (fret 3 2nd string). He could probably have gone higher than that if he had to, that high D is no effort.
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Old 12-29-2020, 04:46 AM
JonPR JonPR is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by morningside View Post
In classic country (and to a lesser degree pop), it's quite common for the key to change in the middle of the song. I believe the technical term for this is "modulation." There are a million examples from the world of country music, but a couple that come to mind are George Strait's "Amarillo by Morning" (shifts down a whole step from D to E before the final verse)
That's what we musos call "up" a whole step.
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Originally Posted by morningside View Post
and George Jones's "A Picture of Me (Without You)" (shifts up a half step from F# to G after the first verse).
There you go.
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The thing I'm struggling with is half-step key changes, which actually seem to be more common.
In certain kinds of song, yes.
The popular term for them is "the truck driver's gear shift", because of their shameless crudity. https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.p...versGearChange
It normally sounds like the singer (or composer) thinks the song is getting boring at this point, but it's too short to just stop there, and the composer couldn't be bothered to write any more. So, to keep going, it needs an injection of energy, and the obvious way to do that is just kick it up a half-step - yee-hah!
Some songs do it more than once. My favourite for its reckless bravado, its sheer chutzpah, is Bobby Darin's Mack The Knife - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h8iPUK0AGRo - five truck driver changes in less than three minutes. Respect due!
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Originally Posted by morningside View Post
If a song with a I-IV-V progression starts in G major and then shifts up a half step to G# major, you're suddenly playing G#-C#-D#. Ughhhh. I'm primarily a bassist, and it's super easy to change keys on bass, so this is a new challenge for me as I'm trying to improve at rhythm guitar.

I'm at a point with my playing where I can strum complete barre chords on acoustic guitar for several minutes, but it's obviously not comfortable and they don't ring out like open chords. It's also more difficult to walk between barre chords, and impossible or extremely difficult to do many of the open-chord fills. I'm curious how the professionals handle this issue, both live and in the studio.
You just have to get used to barre chords, but also remember you don't need to play all 6 strings on every chord. Partial chords (with some strings muted) can work fine. There are movable shapes (no open strings) which are not barres.
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3. In some instances, I've seen videos where the capo magically shifts on the neck of the guitar, although I haven't been able to find a video of someone actually moving his or her capo mid-song.
Here you go. https://youtu.be/c80pa9lCFjQ?t=77
The time stamp skips the lengthy intro where he explains that it was written as a show-off piece in the 1960s, to impress the beginner guitarists in the audience. I remember (as one of those beginners myself) seeing him perform it in 1968 and nearly fell off my chair when he moved the capo. (Keep watching, he does it 3 or 4 times, and then detunes his 1st string. His tuning is DADDAD, btw.)

He's using a simple elastic capo there, but now you can get roller capos designed to be movable mid-song. However, I bought a roller capo for this purpose and it doesn't work too well - it tends to roll the outer strings off the fretboard, at least it does on my guitar. YMMV - bargain here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Adjustable-...N5K/ref=sr_1_6
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Old 12-29-2020, 06:44 AM
Nymuso Nymuso is offline
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How do you handle these half-step key changes? Do you play full barre chords? Modified or "partial" barre chords? Quickly move the capo up or down a fret? Play the song in a single key?[/B]
There are a lot of variable involved, but if we're talking about your average three chord song . . .

. . . .try starting it in B, then going to C when you want to modulate. B is a surprisingly comfortable first position key. I play a lot of songs in B so I can have that low E bass note when I go to the IV chord. But lets say you want to start out in D then go to Eb. No problem, capo three and use your B to C fingerings.
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Old 12-29-2020, 09:05 AM
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Often arrangements accomplished in a recording situation are not used in live settings.

I remember an old I-IV-V song Eric Clapton riffed over in concert that moved through seven keys to return to the original key.
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Old 12-29-2020, 10:56 AM
morningside morningside is offline
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That's what we musos call "up" a whole step.
Yeah, typo. I think I wrote "down" because my subconscious bassist brain thinks of E as "below" D, but obviously you're correct.

You don't need to be a musician to know that. Just know the alphabet.

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You just have to get used to barre chords, but also remember you don't need to play all 6 strings on every chord. Partial chords (with some strings muted) can work fine. There are movable shapes (no open strings) which are not barres.
Right. As I mentioned in my original post, I find it more comfortable to play the moveable C-shape up the neck than the moveable A-shape barre chord (at least if I have to hold the chord for a while). You lose the low E string, but that's usually fine. This was one of the possible solutions that I had considered.

Thanks for the links! I'll check those out.
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Old 12-29-2020, 11:49 AM
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Originally Posted by morningside View Post
In classic country (and to a lesser degree pop), it's quite common for the key to change in the middle of the song. I believe the technical term for this is "modulation."
Hi morningside…
Modulation is another tool in the kit.

Modulation is a device which holds interest, signals changes ahead (like bridge-coming-up or/and the-end-is-near).

Contrary to some who posted in this thread, modulation is not often the singer merely showing off vocal prowess. And if it is, and the singer is 'that-good' then why not show it off!! That's what most of us are doing when we sing or play - showing off.

It's used in both vocal and instrumental music.

From an arranger's standpoint it is to create nearly invisible (to the listener) changes which create/hold interest.

From a producer's point of view it extends the song longer, or bridges from one short piece to the next when building a medley.

From a listener's point of view, I particularly like modulations in-n-out of bridges. This allows the bridge to be shifted to another key, or from major-to-minor (vice-versa) etc and then returned to the original or to a new key from the original coming out of the bridge.

It's not limited to any genre. Classical, pop, rock, country, jazz all rely on modulation.

The simplest modulation which sounds pleasant/seamless to listener's ears (and sensible to music theorists) is to play the V7 chord of the target key (five-seven) followed by the new Root chord. I use this mode when arranging songs for main singers who sing the melody all the way through a song.

A second one is so play the root of the key you are in then repeat that chord as a 7th chord, and shift to the key 4 steps higher (5 steps lower).

Example-key of G…| G | C | D | G |…G7 to key of C | F | G7 | C | etc

Here's the same thing in Key of E moving to key of … … E | A | B7 | E |…E7 | A | D | E7 | A |

I use the key-up-a-fourth transition when duets want to swap roles so the other person (who was singing harmony) is now singing melody. Often used for a last verse/end of song.

When I studied music theory, we had a full section on very elaborate and ornate (fancy) ways to modulate.

That may serve the classical forms well, but for ordinary key changes within simple songs, long and elaborate modulations to avoid people noticing were fun exercises, but useless since they were often many measures long.

As for barre chords, that's also another tool in your tool-box…and why avoid it? Millions of players have conquered and utilized them for hundreds of years.




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Old 12-29-2020, 01:19 PM
morningside morningside is offline
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As for barre chords, that's also another tool in your tool-boxÂ…and why avoid it? Millions of players have conquered and utilized them for hundreds of years.
Thanks for the informative response!

To be clear, I am not trying to avoid barre chords altogether. I'm not a beginner, and I have no trouble playing a C#m or A#7 cleanly within a chord progression. Barre chords are invaluable, and my practice objective for the month of January is actually to develop my left hand endurance so that I can play more barre chords for longer. I practice for an hour or two every day, and I always spend some of that time just focusing on barre chords.

Having said that, capos exist for a reason. If barre chords were a perfect substitute for open chords, why would any professional ever need a capo? I am not trying to avoid ever using barre chords, but open chords have advantages for even the most advanced players. In the George Jones clip in my original post, he clearly moves his capo up during the song as the key changes, which I'm sure isn't necessary for a guy who had been playing guitar professionally for four or five decades, but he must have felt that it conferred an advantage. Or look at videos of Jason Isbell playing live (like this one). He's a monster player and is obviously capable of playing a I-IV-V song in F# without using a capo, but he still uses one on a regular basis.

If the answer to my modulation question is just that I need to get more comfortable playing barre chords, I'm all for it! I'd like to do that anyway.

Anyhow, thanks again for the informative post!
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Old 12-29-2020, 02:11 PM
Brent Hahn Brent Hahn is offline
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I used to think that modulations were gimmicky, but then I wrote this song that has a lyrical delineation between the past and present. At that point, bumping up a half step seemed almost preordained.

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Old 12-29-2020, 02:21 PM
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…Having said that, capos exist for a reason.
Hi morningside

Capos exist for several reasons. And many of us use them not for what they were apparently created for (musically that is).

To easily and quickly change one key to another…
…without learning the chords in the new key. By applying a capo so the original chords are now raised to allow that it allows one to do this nearly instantly.

This can be because of lack of experience (not a criticism) so a beginner can play in otherwise unplayable situations.

I've seen many a guitar player use a capo to play along with a church pianist so they can play in Key of G but sound in Ab (capo 1st fret and play in G sounds in Ab etc).

This only works partially…it becomes impossible to get the capo high enough up the neck sometimes to achieve the goal of playing in a lower key using the same chords. If you try to play in Eb by lowering the capo, it cannot because it would have to be on the 11th fret.

To shift the voicings of chords…
…so we are not all playing the same thing at the same time. I've seen amateur bands, and Worship Teams where three guitars are all playing the same chords and strum patterns at the same time.

Using a capo can allow them to play different chord voicings by shifting the apparent key.

To shift the timber of the guitar…
…by applying the capo further up the neck so the bass is not so low, and there treble notes are higher than usual using open chords.

To create unique voicings and backings…
…or the mood of a piece.

To change the apparent tuning of the guitar…
Using three string cut capos you can simulate a more Irish sound, or DADGAD-ish style runs.

There are many reasons to use a capo, including "I don't know how to effectively use barre chords…"




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Old 12-29-2020, 03:07 PM
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I just watched a Rush documentary, and they used key changes in some of their music (if not a lot), so it worked pretty well for them.
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Old 12-29-2020, 04:47 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JonPR View Post
It normally sounds like the singer (or composer) thinks the song is getting boring at this point, but it's too short to just stop there, and the composer couldn't be bothered to write any more. So, to keep going, it needs an injection of energy, and the obvious way to do that is just kick it up a half-step - yee-hah!
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