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I used to look at tunebat.com, until my guitarist told me most of the keys there are wrong. And here are two examples of wrong keys, according to him:

https://tunebat.com/Info/Soul-Man-Live-Version-The-Blues-Brothers/5z2F9FkKdhd9HOSTI1GxRq

https://tunebat.com/Info/Sweet-Home-Chicago-The-Blues-Brothers/5DjnapHOsR30xp0MJaj4u9

Is the guitarist wrong? If not, where can I find the correct keys then?

  • 4
    Correct key? What is that? There is a key that a number may have been recorded in, but when there are several versions by different artists - or even re-recordings by the same artist years later, the key may well be different.Generally speaking, the correct key will be the one the vocalist is happy with, and if there are 3 or 4 harmonies too, their range needs to be considered. f you are talking about a particular version of a particular song, do like a lot of us do. listen to it, and figure out the key for yourself. Soul Man says A, but it's played there in E. Don't believe any but yourself! – Tim Apr 16 at 15:32
  • Sadly, so is SHC - says A, but in E With 3 chord wonders, it's very simple to work out key, and chords. Don't believe anyone needs telling what they are - especially erroneously! – Tim Apr 16 at 15:39
  • The key of a piece of music isn't an entirely objective thing; sometimes people might disagree on what the key is. And yet those people could still all play the song well if they play the right notes (which you can do independently of knowinglanguages the key). Can you clarify why you need to know a key? – topo Reinstate Monica Apr 16 at 19:46
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You're not going to like the answer.

You should be learning to play songs in different keys.

Maybe not every song in every key, but being able to play several songs in several keys, especially several of the common keys associated with that song, will make you that much more hirable.

  • Absolutely true! Over the years I've been really fed up with some guys who 'only play this song in this key'. And cannot change. +1. – Tim Apr 16 at 16:20
  • That's why I practice Bach's prelude in Cis major in all 12 keys. – Albrecht Hügli Apr 16 at 17:20
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There is (at least in every band I have played in), only one rule. Play in a key that is comfortable for the singer. If this make the instrumental solos too awkward, transpose for the break and then back.

One must be able to play in different keys even for the same singer on different days.

The only time I played in a fixed key was when I had to sight-read some piece (and sort of hint to the rest of the players what the chord changes were.) After practicing a few days (by myself), I'd then adjust the keys to the rest of the band.

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For starters, absolutely do not trust any websites blindly. They tend to put a lot of (popular) music in the "wrong key" either to make it easier to play (conunterintuitively, mostly when it's a harmonically simple song), or just because they messed up. This problem ravages guitar tablature sites in particular.

To solve this, I recommend listening to whatever recording your source material is (e.g. Bing Crosby's "White Christmas" recording from 1942) and determining the key directly from that audio. Other options include simply checking a bunch of websites for independent verification (which could still end up being wrong) or learning to play the song in all 12 keys. I find that checking piano sites tends to be more fruitful than guitar sites, for multiple reasons that I'll not explain here. (the worst kind of site has to be ukulele tab sites; they post songs in approximately three of the twelve keys, nearly everything else is transposed)

Note that for some songs, there really isn't any correct key. Take Happy Birthday, for example. What key is that in? (Bonus points if you say "all of them simultaneously") Or "The Star Spangled Banner"? Or the "shave and a haircut" bit?

And if your band or you wants to play in a certain key for the song, then do that, whatever the reason may be. Transposition time.

  • Agree all along. However, therre are certian numbers that seem to stay in the same original key. Usually guitar driven songs, using particular open chords/strings. Sweet Home Alabama - never played it in anything but 'start on D' (not saying what key!) with any band. Beethoven's 5th always starts in Cm (!), etc. – Tim Apr 17 at 7:22
  • @Tim Very true. You'd think it would be that way for almost all popular music in D, since D is a pretty easy key for piano and guitar, but no, I've heard "Human Nature" in C on both instruments! I've no idea why, since D, A, C, and G is about as simple as it gets... And the converse, "Bohemian Rhapsody" in E major and also once in G major, both times with a capo! I mean, you're just going to play all the chords anyway... :) But yeah, some songs seem to be permanently in one key (though nothing is sacred to vocalists, apparently). – user45266 Apr 17 at 16:28
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Ever since sheet music for popular songs has been available (which is WAY before sound recording was developed) performers have had to come to terms with the fact that what they heard in the concert hall on Saturday is very often NOT going to match up with what they buy at the music shop on Monday. It might just be in a different key, it might be a substantially different arrangement. If you want to copy a particular performance or recording, a published version will probably help, but you'll still have work to do!

As to online resources, let's just say that somre are more reliable than others, in all respects :-)

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