I see many charts for praise and worship songs charted in sharp keys (A#, F#) major. One song is charted F# Major. I would think the guitars are tuned a half step down and they are playing like it is in G Major. Would it be more appropriate to be in Gb Major?

It looks so odd to see so many sharps in pop/rock transcriptions. Looking at cycle of fifths the Gb seems more prevalent then F#. What is the preferred or correct key when the song has guitars a half step down?

  • I would say that a practical answer to your question is that if you like playing in E, then put a capo on the second fret and finger your chords the same way as you would in E, just one step up. Whether you think of it as Gb or F#, you would do the same.
    – BobRodes
    Commented Jul 13, 2014 at 2:45

5 Answers 5


When it comes to choosing a key signature, there is no standard. Except that most players are loathe to read music in keys with more than 7 sharps or flats. Aside from a few diehards who insist that F# is a different key than Gb (and it was, before the equal temperament system was developed), one rule of thumb is to use the key most commonly used for the instrumentation, or just to use the key with the least accidentals if there is any doubt.

Since Gb and F# have the same number of accidentals, then you want to consider the conventions for guitar. Since the open strings of the guitar fit into the keys of C, G, D and E major, guitar music is very often written in a key signature with sharps. From this perspective, a guitar player is used to reading in keys with four or five sharps, so adding one or two more may be easier for some guitar players to read than switching the whole key to flats. By this logic, I would probably choose F# over Gb for guitar music, unless there was something in the music itself that would be notated more comfortably in Gb. For instance, if the music has alot of raised notes, that could be difficult to read in F# and I might opt for Gb.

  • There aren't any keys with more than 7 sharps or flats. (?)
    – BobRodes
    Commented Jul 13, 2014 at 1:55
  • 2
    Sure there are. You've got G# major, Gb minor, etc. In fact theoretically there are an unlimited number of keys and an unlimited number of sharps and flats.
    – Grey
    Commented Jul 13, 2014 at 2:00
  • 1
    Well, it's hard to get away with because your band will throw the music right back at you. So that's probably why we don't see it. But you can also have more than 7 not just in the key signature but by combining the key signature and the music. For instance if you write a tune in F# major, then take a quick trip to the relative D# minor, and now you start to use the leading tone (C##), so now you're at seven. One more funny move and your total sharp load could be 8 or more! :)
    – Grey
    Commented Jul 13, 2014 at 2:23
  • 1
    Yes, you're right about that. I just don't think it's possible, though, since seven is a hard limit to the number of symbols in a key signature. I suppose that there's a theoretical component that would allow you to have infinitely sharped notes in the signature, though. Here's an interesting link on the subject, by the way: extremes of conventional musical notation. They give a few examples of triple sharps and triple flats as accidentals, but don't go beyond 7 sharps or flats in their key signature examples.
    – BobRodes
    Commented Jul 13, 2014 at 2:58
  • 1
    By which you mean 5 sharps and two double sharps? Ok then. I wouldn't put it past my alma mater's harmony professors either, at least the one who left in my freshman year. He was a bit of an avant garde evangelist. LOL
    – BobRodes
    Commented Jul 13, 2014 at 3:16

Not sure whether you mean if a tune is in, say, F#, but the guitar is tuned differently, what key should that part be written in. If so,the guitar is in G.

Or, do you mean is Gb a better key than F#.Pretty well as bad/good as each other.But if a piece HAS to be in one of those, it begs the question why? Most songs will not have such a great range of notes (low to high) that they need to be written to within a semitone. So a song in Gb/F# would be just as playable in G or F, both with a far less crowded space after the clef sign.And far less to remember to adjust.

Another reason may be the other instruments in an orchestration. With Eb saxes, or Bb trumpets/clarinets, the original key for them may be easier.Used to play Pretty Woman, written in Ab. Good for the horns, rubbish for guitar - particularly the intro, which had to be played (in standard tuning) almost an octave above the original. Sounded terrible !


Another way of looking at it in these situations (since you are on a guitar) is to ask yourself, "What common key starts just below the chords as written?"

Enter the capo.

Here, you can clearly see that the key of E is two semi-tones below F#, so you can capo on the 2nd fret and play in the key of E. Or play in D (four semi-tones below F#), with the capo on the 4th fret.


I very much doubt you've ever seen a chart written in A#, unless it was written down by a guitarist with a very narrow grasp of music theory and notation. But I'll believe F# major.

Now, once you're past the elementary stage, one chord's as easy as any other for a guitarist. If a singer finds F a bit low, G a bit high but F# just right, a professional band will have no problem at all in playing in F#. Maybe the music your praise band has is designed to match a professional recording.

A less advanced player may want to avoid those frightening-looking F# and C# chords, preferring to play in E, capo two frets up to F#. It's rather less likely that a player would choose to play in G, detuned down a half-step. It's easier to shift a capo than to re-tune the whole instrument!

  • I doubt very much a contemporary worship band would play songs that are in any key of A# or F#. They are tuned a half step down. The transcriber doesn't realize it and prints the sheet music off in the odd keys.
    – r lo
    Commented Mar 6, 2019 at 21:48
  • Remember that guitarists who work out notes by fret-counting often speak of A# when Bb would be more appropriate!
    – Laurence
    Commented Mar 13, 2019 at 20:51

The preferred key depends largely on the instrumentation for the arrangement.

If a song is written to include (or arranged to include) brass instruments the preferred key will usually be the one that uses flats in the signature. That's because brass instruments use one, two, or three sharps to play in the key of concert C... if you're in a flat key they'll use one, two, or three fewer flats than a C instrument. So the guitar part for a tune like "Take Five" will almost certainly be in Gb, because the sax part will be written in Eb (or Ab if it's arranged to use tenor, or trumpet).

If it's just for C instruments you see F# more often than Gb.

As a guitarist it makes no difference to me. Six accidentals is six accidentals.

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