Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Bluegrass Singing Keys

I’m not much of a singer, but I’ve found that I am frequently more comfortable singing songs typically done in A or G down in the key of F. The problem is that, at jams, no one likes playing in F, so I don’t wind up with very much instrumental support for those songs. I can’t decide whether its better for me to sing in a key that is a bit too high for me, but easier for everyone else, or sing in the key that fits my voice best and let everyone else fend for themselves. Anyone else find themselves in this position?

I’ve always encouraged people to sing where they sing best…even if I do have to play in C when the gals sing :unamused:

“Songs are about the lyrics/singing…the instruments are there to support that” Don Parmley, while we were sitting together listening to a band at a festival that could play great but sang very sadly.

I say go with the singer’s preference if possible, but not without exception. I also do the same thing for fiddle players on some songs. With that said, sometimes slight changes up or down give many more options. For example, you mention a preference for singing down in F. If you go to E, then it might be easier for some instrumentalists. Going to D provides even more options.

I count the same amount of options in any key, just different fingerings. I think it’s good to have to back people up in different keys and think outside the little box I build of what I think I’m capable of (whats easiest).

I think there are far more limitations on most of us vocally than there are on our instruments. Straining ones voice just to make someone who doesn’t want to attempt learning all the keys more comfortable on their instrument doesn’t make a lot of sense to me…

That being said, I wouldn’t normally move a song traditionally done in A to F in an open jam, I’d just skip it if I was limited to singing it that far away form where others expected it. I think it is best to stay with the familiar when jamming. In a band situation I’d move the key to wherever it fit the vocals the best.

Good feedback,guys. I’ve pretty much been thinking along the same lines. My singing is so limited, I like to give myself every advantage, but most of the fun of a jam for me comes from pickin’ with other folks, not from displaying my singing skills.

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you mention a preference for singing down in F. If you go to E, then it might be easier for some instrumentalists

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I actually stopped a song midway through last night (I was pretty much the only one playing at that point anyway), and did this very thing, Mike. I did pick up a little more support, but if I’m compromising on key, going back up to G would gain me a whole lot more.

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I wouldn’t normally move a song traditionally done in A to F in an open jam

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I’ve kind of followed this plan, too. If I want to do a song that I think everyone else already knows I’ll try to stay in a standard key (maybe sliding an A song to G) or skip it. If I feel like I’m bringing the song to the group, I tend to think about F a lot more, but it’s still kind of disappointing to bring a new song and have it flop because of the key choice. Of course, I’m not the only person in my jam who likes odd keys (We even did a song in Eb last night), but I have more fun when everyone is fully participating.

The Key of "F major shows up a lot in bluegrass…especially capo’d 3 and playing out of the D shape…can anyone say Tony Rice?

I think as bluegrass minded folks if we learn how to play out of the G and D position then use a capo then we cover the D,E, and F by playing the D position with capo for the E and F, and then Play out of the G position to add in the G and A (capo’d 2)…outside of this most others are not used much!

You would think that as prominent as “the blues” are in bluegrass that we’d be masters at playing out of E…but I am not!

I agree with F being a key that should definitely be learned.However, when at an open jam where participation is the main goal most novice mandolin and fiddle players will be lost simply changing a song traditionally done in A to G because of the difference in fingerings. The change of A or G song to F should be expected to confuse the majority of novice pickers.

I kind of like playing out of the C position (capo 5) for F, too, but I think I’m going to abandon F at jams for now. I’ve been trying to work up some good ol’ G songs for next week.

If you are the singer then you play in your key. Others should follow or get out of the way. The musicians have to follow the singer, thats just the way it is. That is why the singers are special and the musicians are a dime a dozen. My wife sings many songs in B flat and F and a couple in E…yea, I reaaly enjoy following her. And she doesnt always do them the same exact way everytime. Got love the singers