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Unread 03-16-2011, 07:27 PM   #1
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Overused Keys in Songwriting

As a songwriter, it makes me cringe when i hear keys overused or generically used or used in similar patterns. Which keys do you hear overused in music?

off the top of my head G (or Em), C, D, E, and A are grossly overused.

I personally would like to see some musicians use the keys of F#, C#, or G#.

I've heard Mae, Secret and whisper, and anberlin use these keys successfully but not many others.

what do you guys think?

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Unread 03-16-2011, 07:55 PM   #2
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IMO. If you think there are overused keys, you're paying too much attention to something that just doesn't matter all that much.

What might be overused are patterns which are specific to the mechanics of specific instruments, for example the keys of E, A, G, and D are easy to write with on a guitar, while keys such as C, G, D, F and Bb are keyboard friendly, while wind instrument players generally go for flat keys, and string instruments go for sharp keys, etc.

But in the end, you should place a song in the key it best registers in, and not obsessively attempt to avoid some keys on principle, but just stick a song in a key and call it good. You should be able to be sufficiently creative in any key. Generally, I find that the songs I write just "fit into" a key, it just is a matter of figuring out what that key is.


On a completely different tangent, what I feel is completely overrated is sticking to a single tonal center or tonality of one tonal center when writing. There's no reason not to switch tonalities, modes, and keys fluidly while writing. Classical composers and the great jazz composers certainly didn't.
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Unread 03-17-2011, 09:50 AM   #3
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I do see your point. often it is not so much the key as progression. often that is the case. however I would like to see both progression and key mixed up a little more often. There is a lot of originality in indie rock but many well known bands just use generic progressions.
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Unread 03-17-2011, 11:53 AM   #4
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Perhaps, but consider the enduring truth of the 12-bar blues progression. Millions of songs have probably been done with a 12 bar blues progression, though they can become very unique in their own way.

For example, in the subset of minor blues we have examples as diverse as these:
YouTube - Pat Metheny Group - Have you heard
YouTube - Blue Train
YouTube - Since I've Been Loving You - Led Zeppelin

So perhaps it really isn't a chord progression, but it's what is done with the chord progression.

Not to mention, there have been some great songs written with only one or two chords.

Case in point:

YouTube - stevie wonder "superstition"

YouTube - Michael Jackson - Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough
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Unread 03-17-2011, 11:57 AM   #5
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The jazz world is also a great place to find new inventive ways to play the exact same song:
YouTube - 1. Everything In Its Right Place
YouTube - Robert Glasper - Everything In It`s Right Place
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Unread 03-17-2011, 06:24 PM   #6
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So perhaps it really isn't a chord progression, but it's what is done with the chord progression.
i can definitely feel you on that one.
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Unread 03-17-2011, 08:47 PM   #7
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Where does one go after chunking away on E for the first hour and a half, or so?? Turnaround back to E, of course...

I love playing a first position E5 thru a Marshall; gets my pants flapping; but, F#6/9 has it's own very special apeal as does an Ab13. I'm an equal opportunity fretboardist, I like to abuse all the notes on the neck. Writing songs in "the strange" keys is just sick fun and makes the vocalists sweat... profusely. Ah, yes...Or, if the vocalist says for the 5th time, can we take it up a half step... one can say, "WHY NOT THREE AND A HALF!!"

And, most importantly, when you play songs you've written in other keys... ...it looks cool.

On a serious note, the guitar has incredible timbres all over the neck. The various keys unlock this potential.
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Unread 06-14-2012, 10:38 PM   #8
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as i am not really a song writer and, mostly a lead player, i have noticed we change the key to suit the various vocalists. the challenge for me is changing keys constantly. i am a fan of the simplified keys as they contain alot of open string notes so if you just happen to hit a string unintentionally , in say a solo it still sounds ok...maybe even surprisingly good . it allows me more freedom and to play more spontaneously . unfortunately i have also noticed that mixed vocalists (men and women) work best together sometimes in a key with limitations for my present, skill level
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Unread 06-19-2012, 07:50 PM   #9
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How 'bout anything strictly in a I, IV, VI, V progression or variants thereof?

My personal gripe, particularly with Christian Contemporary, is that so many songs sound the same and have limited harmonic development based on that chord structure. I swear I've played whole worship sets that didn't have one single blue-note or accidental.
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Unread 06-20-2012, 02:39 PM   #10
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My personal philosophy on song keys.
I write in oddball keys because I understand my vocal range... If the melody doesn't go above to G - Male High C then I just feel weird singing it because it's like I'm not giving my all. So I try to fit different intervals fit in that range somewhere in the chorus to get a good punchy song.

I think common chord progressions are the big issue. How many songs use a I V vi IV or it's twin cousin the I IV vi V? It doesn't matter what key it is, if it's the same chord progression the song is going to sound similar to lots of other songs. With that said, there's a reason why so many people use some of the same chord progressions, and that's simply because they have lot's of easily accessible possibilities.

To quote Guthrie Govan "Nothing ever became a cliche without being good first. If something is rubbish it will never become a cliche because no one will want to copy it. etc." So there's stuff you can learn from cliche songs that you can break apart and then twist it to your own means. I did this with a song I'm writing lately... I took a traditional "4 on the floor" pop beat and added a cool progression with some jazzy mixolydian stuff. It sounded similar enough to capture the essence of that cliche, but presented the song with a completely different melodic feel.

"...and if it gets too abstract, you start loosing people. I know this; I play jazz gigs." - Guthrie Govan

Anyway, my point is you can learn from cliches, and learn what to use from them and what to avoid.


Guthrie Govan - Writing Cliche Songs - Session 7 Licklibrary - YouTube
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Unread 06-20-2012, 02:47 PM   #11
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If you are writing or playing for public worship...you want to keep it within the vocal range most people are comfortable with. That will limit it somewhat.
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Unread 11-07-2012, 02:54 PM   #12
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This.

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Originally Posted by Mr. RM View Post
If you are writing or playing for public worship...you want to keep it within the vocal range most people are comfortable with. That will limit it somewhat.
Also, I find it's often a limitation of voicings. I checked my chord database and I have used over 30 forms of the 'G' chord in my lessons but often players stick with 1 or 2. You can write a simple chord progression but then keep messing with the voicings until the song has its own unique signature. Just a thought.
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Unread 11-07-2012, 03:15 PM   #13
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This.

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Originally Posted by Mr. RM View Post
If you are writing or playing for public worship...you want to keep it within the vocal range most people are comfortable with. That will limit it somewhat.
Also, I find it's often a limitation of voicings. I checked my chord database and I have used over 30 forms of the 'G' chord in my lessons but often players stick with 1 or 2. You can write a simple chord progression but then keep messing with the voicings until the song has its own unique signature. Just a thought.
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