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I'm working on a solo guitar version of She's Always a Woman by Billy Joel. I bought a lead sheet from guitarinstructor.com. It's in Eb. I'm planning to come up with my own arrangement of it based on my own ability, or lack thereof.

What I'm wondering is, would it be a good idea to change the key of the song to make it better to play for solo guitar? If so, how did you come to the conclusion that it should be changed, and how do you decide which key? And when I ask "better" for solo guitar, perhaps that would mean easier. I guess I would ask how a more accomplished guitarist would make the decision to change the key for any reason.

edit:

Sorry about that... I actually meant to link to the ukulele version which is in Eb. Here is the G version that I accidentally posted in the original question.

Also changed the title from "easier for solo guitar" to "better for solo guitar"

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  • The link you provided appears to be in the key of G major, which should be pretty friendly for any level of guitar playing, from a chord standpoint. – wabisabied Apr 18 '20 at 20:49
  • Unless the guitar is tuned down a semitone, why the heck would it be in Eb. Seems like madness to me. I saw G, whch isn't too bad.Something isn't making sense! – Tim Apr 18 '20 at 20:50
  • @Tim and wabisabied, sorry about that. I linked to the wrong version. I actually have the ukulele version which is in Eb. I updated the question. – Frank Henard Apr 18 '20 at 21:53
  • Now I’m confused. If you want to transcribe uke chart in Eb to a “better” key for guitar, why don’t you just use the existing guitar chart in G? – wabisabied Apr 18 '20 at 21:57
  • @wabisabied I want to use lead sheets to come up with my own arrangements based on my ability. My question is how to make the decision of which key to transcribe the song into to make it better for guitar, and not about just finding someone else's arrangement. – Frank Henard Apr 18 '20 at 22:03
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I’m primarily a bass player but started out on guitar and know enough about the instrument to offer what I think is a useful answer. The link shows a guitar arrangement in G but you say you got a lead sheet in Eb and want to do an original arrangement so I’m basing my answer on that.

If the song doesn’t need to be played or sung in Eb, Billy Joel’s original key then it’s worth experimenting with different keys at the very least, in particular keys that allow you to take advantage of open strings and chords. If you want to stay close to the original key try D and E first. You might need to change octaves at times so you don’t have to play the melody too low or high on the instrument.

Another consideration is where does the melody sound good on guitar? I think G or A are also a good keys even though they’re not as close to Eb because the melody sits in a nice register of the instrument and you can also take advantage of open chords and strings.

Since you paid for the sheet music guitarinstructor.com might give you the option of transposing the song into another key or two, it’s worth checking.

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  • Thanks for this answer @John Belzaguy. I updated the question with some fixes. – Frank Henard Apr 18 '20 at 21:58
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    @FrankHenard, my pleasure, I noticed your edits but it doesn’t really affect my answer. Just make sure you use a chart with an accurate melody and chords to build your own arrangement from, good luck! – John Belzaguy Apr 18 '20 at 22:05
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In most cases what you need to seek out are open strings: they ring out nicely, and they can free up a fretting finger. For bass notes, you can't beat E and A. An open D won't sound as rich, but it's OK. So, E, A and D make good go-to keys for a guitar arrangement. Often in an arrangement you may be fretting a chord a fair way up the neck but still incorporating open strings, so it will pay to think about where you can use, say, an open G,B or first string E. Guitarists commonly incorporate the dissonance of, say, an A with the adjacent B a tone above. That can be a stretch if you have to fret both notes, but not if you play the A on 4th string, 7th fret, along with the open B, so that's the sort of thing you can hunt for when choosing keys.

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There are multiple reasons you might choose a particular key for guitar. Here are a few:

  1. As in the guitar chart you linked, G major is friendly because it has easily played open chord voicings.

  2. C major could be another good choice, as it utilizes all the open strings of a standard tuning.

  3. If you are intent on singing along, you might chose a key that is most comfortable for your own voice. If this results in a difficult key for guitar (ie: the original Eb) you might consider an alternate tuning (ie: with that Eb, a drop tuning of a half-step and just play like it’s E natural.)

Hope that helps.

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