[Harp-L] What key is the band in?

coolblues64@xxxxx coolblues64@xxxxx
Fri Nov 4 06:08:01 EDT 2016

Yep, I use the “looking at guitar players fingers” technique, works fine most of the time.  Fell apart when I played for a while with a fingerpicking guy who detuned his guitar and also altered tunings between songs.  And he always forgot to tell me the key of the song.  That was pretty messy!!  B

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From: Steve Power
Sent: 04 November 2016 00:10
To: harp-l at xxxxx
Subject: Re: [Harp-L] What key is the band in?

I noticed that in this thread there are answers that are reliant on a tuner
or an app or some such wizardry.   My experience with tuners that try to
grab the note out of the air is that they're fine if you pluck a guitar note
sitting in your bedroom but there's too much competing noise in a stage
situation.   For 45 years I've relied on:

 1 - Simply asking before the song starts.  Once in a blue moon I've had
someone try and tell me what key harp.  If it appears that is the answer
they are giving a simple, "Yeah but what key are you in," will suffice. BTW,
bass players and keyboard players and often even non playing singers will
know the key.

2- If they've left you at the starting gate, take a look at the guitar
players hand.  Since most songs, especially at jams, are in E, C, G, A, with
very different finger positions, you should be able to easily learn what the
fingers look like when playing these chords.  If they are playing bar
chords, again it's really simple to know where on the neck a barred G is and
simply go from there for A Bb C, etc.  . Works pretty much the same looking
at a bass player's hand.

3  - Again if they've left you at the gate and you can't quite figure out
where the guitar player's hand is take a guess on which harp then put a
finger in one ear and off mic play a little bit quietly.  This is the same
technique singers use to find harmony notes or even to pitch the melody
correctly.  You hear the note in your head.  With a little experience you
will guess the key first time at least half the time just from what the band
is playing.

4 - Finally, in the left behind scenario if 2 or 3 haven't worked go back to
one.  I work with a great old school blues man but sometimes he'll start
songs in a different key than normal and not being able to figure out from 2
or 3 I'll just look over to the bass player and mouth "Key?"  He'll usually
just say the key name followed by a word like, "G....George".  Helps
immensely if you're working with experienced sympathetic players that know
exactly what's going on.

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