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Thread: Why keys of B and B flat?

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    Default Why keys of B and B flat?

    I'm working with Jack Tottle's Bluegrass Mandolin (great book). He provides music with some breaks in dot and tab form for Careless Love, but the music is in the key of B flat. Same with Nine Pounds Hammer, but in the key of B. I fiddle a bit and understand the advantage to fiddlers of playing in the keys of A or D. And I understand the reason to use a capo on guitar to suit the singers's range, yet let the guitarist use the C or G shape chords. But what's the reason for keys like B or B Flat or F? When I learn the breaks, I can't play with anyone else in another key, since some/many of the notes in the breaks use open strings. Just curious....

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    Default Re: Why keys of B and B flat?

    Someday someone is going to call out a song in a jam in one of Satan's keys and you'll have an idea as to how to play them.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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    Default Re: Why keys of B and B flat?

    Quote Originally Posted by MikeEdgerton View Post
    Someday someone is going to call out a song in a jam in one of Satan's keys and you'll have an idea as to how to play them.

    We did more in those keys than open G, I use to fret it now I don't sweat it.

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    Default Re: Why keys of B and B flat?

    Funny,I play a lot in Bb but hardly never in B.....

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    Default Re: Why keys of B and B flat?

    Quote Originally Posted by RickPick View Post
    And I understand the reason to use a capo on guitar to suit the singers's range, yet let the guitarist use the C or G shape chords. But what's the reason for keys like B or B Flat or F?
    Okay, I'll TOFTT and offer a more boring and comprehensive answer

    If you've never studied the Circle of Fifths, take a gander. Twelve keys to play in (and three have more than one name, so arguably 15 keys) ... and your mandolin is able to play tunes in all those keys. So why would you?

    Well, as you mentioned, in a band or in a jam when the guitarist puts a capo on 4 and plays a G shape are you just gonna sit out? That's the key of B. Capo 3, play G shape, he's in Bb. I think you'll find guitarists capoed all over the neck and usually playing with chord shapes of the G, C or D as the key chord. So it's a good idea to learn a few tunes -especially sung tunes - in more than one key, and to learn to play breaks without using open strings. Short answer: it's all relative.

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    Default Re: Why keys of B and B flat?

    I used to write a lot of songs in Bm, G and D, because they just fit the tone of my voice . . . but when I hit the age of 50, my voice dropped a 1/2 step - so now my stuff is in B flat minor, G flat or D flat. I was at an open jam recently where I sang a blues version of Ricky Nelson's 'Hello Mary Lou'. When I announced to the house band that we were going to do it in G flat, I thought they were going to throw me out of the building!

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    Default Re: Why keys of B and B flat?

    And I understand the reason to use a capo on guitar to suit the singers's range,
    This.

    These are breaks for vocal songs that, in the bluegrass canon, are often sung in these keys. And riffs learned in these keys can be used in any number of songs.
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    Default Re: Why keys of B and B flat?

    Instrumental written by a mandolin player in Bb...

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    Default Re: Why keys of B and B flat?

    It's a marketing scam of the capo industry.
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    Default Re: Why keys of B and B flat?

    Keying those tunes up leads to the “high lonesome” sound that hardcore grassers seek. The higher pitch lends a more cutting tone to the singers. That’s why the kids these days always want to “mash it up” to Bd or B.

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    Default Re: Why keys of B and B flat?

    I think Mike's Satan explanation serves best. I'd have suggested "perversity" myself..... But WHY -- in a mandolin instruction book -- would Tottle pick these keys to present tunes for mandolin learners? He even explains where guitar players should place capos and what "corresponding" chords to play, knowing they would never play directly IN those keys. I guess I still don't understand. Why wouldn't he teach the songs in G or D or A or whatever, and then tell the guitarist where to put the capo (uh oh, that's not what I meant). I've heard C referred to as "boring old C" -- presumably because it has no sharps or flats. But what's the appeal of BFlat or B. Is there any "music theory" advantage to these keys? BTW, I enjoy learning to do things I don't understand, but I'd enjoy it even more if I understood why I'm learning it!

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    Default Re: Why keys of B and B flat?

    I think Wakefield wrote New Campton in Bb out of sheer boredom of normal mandolin keyes,,it says he used to play in G ,then take it to G# and then to A and then Bb,,,that's someone who is very familiar with moving around keyes,,and playing in G and taking it to G# is a great practice tip,,,I do it constantly thanks to Frank...

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    Default Re: Why keys of B and B flat?

    edited: removed too basic for this forum surely
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    Default Re: Why keys of B and B flat?

    It helps to be able to play in the common bluegrass keys, and both B flat and B are pretty common. Also there are a lot of nice tunes in B flat or G minor, which is the relative minor key of B flat. Think “New Camptown Races” (B flat) mentioned above and “Kentucky Mandolin” and “First Day In Town” (G minor). Lots of open strings to drone or ring in B flat/G minor if you like. And in B there is “Rebecca,” a popular jam tune. When you are not playing the open strings, much of the playing in B or B flat is in closed positions, which you can easily shift to play in other keys. Finally, it never hurts to know more about the instrument.

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    Default Re: Why keys of B and B flat?

    If you're ever going to play in a band or backup for a female singer get ready for those keys. A, Bb,& B. They are commonly in female singers voice range, also be prepared for capos by the singer being on ANY fret, and progressions from your wildest dreams or nightmares. Especially when they say " I just wrote this new one last week"
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    Default Re: Why keys of B and B flat?

    Kenny Baker, probably Bill Monroe's favorite Blue Grass Boys fiddler, was reportedly asked what it was like playing with Monroe. "It's great if you like playing in B for 25 years," was his reply. Monroe picked keys that fit his singing, and he didn't mind playing in B.

    Not to start a ruckus, but you can always get a capo and play in G or A. Hide it from the Capo Police, though.
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    Default Re: Why keys of B and B flat?

    A lot of blues tunes are in Bb. It also is a good key for horns so if the tune originally written with horns in mind you will often see it used.

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    Default Re: Why keys of B and B flat?

    B flat is very common with winds and brass instruments. If you're playing with them, it's nice to have. And accordion players like all the keys. (Yes, I play with both accordions and wind instruments.)

    It's one thing I've improved on while working on mandolin the last year. Playing in a lot of different keys. There are still some I don't like (C minor being my least favorite). But am a lot more versatile now than when it was just guitar.

    All that said, there are certain tunes that I think sound better in certain keys. Am just learning a Danish tune that's usually played in G. Have to learn it in A for a different fiddler. While it works, am not sure I like it as much. But he's the leader so I'll defer to him.
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    Default Re: Why keys of B and B flat?

    Anything that was arranged for horns originally is likely to be in one of the "flat" keys-- F, Bb, Eb, Ab, etc....... If you aspire beyond fiddle tunes, be prepared for these keys......

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    Default Re: Why keys of B and B flat?

    There are more than several traditional Irish tunes in Bb. O'Carolan tunes many of them. Once I got used to them i grew to love how they feel to play. I love engaging the pinky on that Eb. It gets to be kind of fun.

    But yea, I do get it. Upon first look I say to myself, "are you serious?"

    There are some fiddle tunes in E as well that I have grown to love. Looking at those four ugly sharps is kind of intimidating, but, like playing in two flats, soon enough it gets kind of fun to work your hand that way.
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    Default Re: Why keys of B and B flat?

    Thanks, folks. It might be making sense now, or at least, your comments make it seem worthwhile to just learn how to play these tunes in B Flat and B! Maybe I'll understand it some day.....

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    Default Re: Why keys of B and B flat?

    Quote Originally Posted by Josh Levine View Post
    Keying those tunes up leads to the “high lonesome” sound that hardcore grassers seek. The higher pitch lends a more cutting tone to the singers. That’s why the kids these days always want to “mash it up” to Bd or B.
    Those keys also explains why they were lonesome.
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    Default Re: Why keys of B and B flat?

    A Cafe member began a thread asking the same thing about songs / tunes in the key of 'E'. Why not ??. If you want to be ''as good as you can be'',you need to nail tunes in every key that comes along. Two of Bill Monroe's 'classic' tunes - ''Northern White Clouds'' & ''Southern Comfort'' are in the key of E (please forgive me if i have either of those 2 tunes wrong - i'm on the verge of recovery from a massive dose of bronchial flu, & my brain's a tad scambled from all the coughing). One of my favourite practice tunes,is the title track one from Alison Brown's CDs ''Fair Weather'' - in Ab.

    Here's another favourite practice tune of mine - ''Bootleg John'' in the Key of B .I began playing mandolin 13 years ago,after i'd been playing banjo for 42 years. I'm 100 % self taught & i did what i did on banjo - tried to play everything,even if sometimes it was bit above the level of my playing skill. I'd maybe get 10 % of it,but the next time around,i'd get another 10% of it = it builds on itself,
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    Default Re: Why keys of B and B flat?

    I heard that someone on the same concert as Monroe said in passing that a certain song he sang suited his voice I a different key but the band coundn't play in that key. Monroe told him he needed to fire that band and hire one that could. I agree the band should back the singer where it suits. That is the reason we should be able to play in B Bb E or even Fb if that's where the singer sings.

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    Default Re: Why keys of B and B flat?

    Quote Originally Posted by RickPick View Post
    I'm working with Jack Tottle's Bluegrass Mandolin (great book). He provides music with some breaks in dot and tab form for Careless Love, but the music is in the key of B flat. Same with Nine Pounds Hammer, but in the key of B. I fiddle a bit and understand the advantage to fiddlers of playing in the keys of A or D. And I understand the reason to use a capo on guitar to suit the singers's range, yet let the guitarist use the C or G shape chords. But what's the reason for keys like B or B Flat or F? When I learn the breaks, I can't play with anyone else in another key, since some/many of the notes in the breaks use open strings. Just curious....

    Why use these keys? Because they're there.

    Not sure what you´re saying in the last sentence, but ultimately, of course, you're supposed to create (and even improvise) your own solos. And in a Bluegrass band you're supposed to master at least any key from B (2 flats) to B natural (5 sharps). Sometimes the key is dictated by the desired range for the vocalist, at other times by the special possibilities offered by this or that key.

    The key of B natural is something of a signature key in Bluegrass and I'm not sure how that came about. The earliest Monroe example I know is Goodbye Old Pal (by Cliff Carlisle) recorded with the accordion band and I can hear no other reason for that key except that it seemed to suit Monroe's voice. Comparing the two recorded versions of Georgia Rose (the first in C, the second in B) I tend to say that Monroe was tuned in B, something to do with resonances and breaks between registers. However, today that key is favored by fiddlers and mandolin players more because of the nice blues pentatonics involving the open d, a, and e strings.

    The keys of F and Bb sit *very* naturally on the mandolin fretboard, as does Eb. But you won't know until you've tried them. I suppose mainly guitarists oppose Eb because they get a fuller sound in E.

    The Baker quote was a joke, really. He was certainly at home in that key and Monroe's fiddlers took far more solos than Monroe on songs in B. And, well, Bb: when Bill Keith brought Sailor's Hornpipe to the band Baker insisted that it be played in Bb (try it!)

    For some good, fairly simple, mandolin in B I suggest you consult Monroe's I Saw the Light album, IIRC four of the songs are in B. The songs on that album are included in a JSP box, as part of disc D, 1957-1958. You can easily find it on Spotify. Start with I Am a Pilgrim.

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