For Music Therapy Students: Choosing the “Right” key by Margie La Bella of Music Therapy Tunes

I thought I’d write a post on choosing a key to sing in when facilitating a  music therapy experience.  This is for student music therapists and new practitioners.

One of my tricks is that I turn my guitar one full step “too low.”  I don’t think of letter names, actually, I just perceive my guitar as a step down. But, in reality, rather than EADGBE, my guitar is actually tuned to DGCFAD.  After that, I play it on capo 2.

You may think that that negates the tuning. Yes. It does BUT it lets me remove the capo if a song is too high for me to sing comfortably. Singing in a key that you sound pleasant in is significant.  And it makes the strings easier to press down on which can be a great side effect/benefit.  That’s a guitar playing trick in and of itself if you have a guitar (or fingers) that make pressing on the strings a challenge!

Secondly, use the capo. Capo 2 too low? Raise the capo and sound better in the new raised key.  Men and women find it hard to sing in each other’s keys and a capo can really remedy this issue.

Another thing to remember regarding keys is how far away the recipient’s ears are! If a song is too low for you, then you won’t be able to project so the group can hear.  If a song is too high and you are in a hospital for an individual session you might hurt that persons ear and come off as yelling to them.  Capos can help here by raising the capo and key or taking the capo off and being able to sing a whole step down.  This assumes you had tuned your guitar down a step and were utilizing the trick described above. I mean the…. adaptation.

Lastly, using the capo might make you think that pre-tuned melodic instruments would no longer be in the correct key and therefore sound bad.  Not necessarily the case. Think about this:  with the guitar in G major the pentatonic scale is g,a,b d, and e.  What if your song in G is too low to sing.  Well, if you sing the song in C major more comfortably ….your pentatonic G scale still contains g,a,c,d, and e.  These notes are all much in your C major scale! They will blend in well enough to make the key change worth while.  Any dissonant notes can function to resolve nicely in C. Not too bad in D major as well.

Transposing by hand (if ya’ll still do that kind of thing without internet help) is a lot like algebra or chemistry. Didn’t that make you feel better ????!  NOT hard: just keep adding or subtracting the same amount of steps from each side of the equation depending on if you want to go up or down.  If you’re going from the key of C to the key of D, then just add a whole step to each chord.  From G to E would be 3 half steps or 1 1/2 steps down.



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