The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #85297   Message #1579539
Posted By: Don Firth
09-Oct-05 - 02:43 PM
Thread Name: Changing Keys in Middle Song: Best way?
Subject: RE: Changing Keys in Middle Song: Best way?
Chico, if the material in question is comprised of traditional folk songs and ballads, the idea of changing keys as an adjunct to musical interpretation is totally inappropriate.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm no "ethnic purist." I've spent a total of five years in music schools and conservatories, have studied voice and classic guitar, and although most of what I sing consists of traditional songs, I don't limit myself to that. I sing other things as well. But even with traditional songs, I sometimes use essentially classical music devices to enhance song accompaniments. For example, with a ballad such as The Three Ra'ens, I play a carefully worked out lute-like accompaniment on the guitar (I use a nylon-string classic, by the way). But it's a matter of fitting the accompaniment to the song. On a song like I Ride an Old Paint, I use straightforward chords and a simple "boom-chug-chug" right hand pattern, no more complicated than something Burl Ives might have used.

As far as modulating is concerned, the direct route is to play the dominant 7th of the key you want to move to, resolve it to the tonic, and there you are. For example, if you're in the key of C and you want to move to D, play an A7, follow it with a D, and take it from there. As for moving up the fingerboard by half-steps (one fret at a time), you have little choice but to condemn yourself to a lot of difficult barre chords. That's just the nature of the guitar and miscellaneous other musical instruments. Pausing to shift a capo, no matter how swiftly you manage to do it, is going to be pretty clunky, and it will tend to defeat the effect you're trying to create.

No, when it comes to folk songs and ballads—traditional songs—trying to create extra tension is best achieved by using your voice. Do it with phrasing. Emphasize the right words. But don't "ham it up." One way I use my voice to create greater intensity at the conclusion of a song is to move to a higher harmony line. With Sinner Man, on the last verse and chorus, I take a high harmony and end the song on the tonic note an octave higher than I would have ended it had I just stuck to the regular tune. Very effective!

But a little of this can go a long way. And if you do very much of it, you can expect the "ethnic purists" in the vicinity to start giving you the fish-eye.

Don Firth