I was just discussing with my Yacht Z band mates how I have a strange and irrational hatred of doing songs in keys other than the originals. I know this will likely get me some flack as so many bands do it, usually to make it easier for vocalists. Now to be clear, this is not meant as any kind of attack on anyone as this is just my personal preference and it is a subjective opinion that is not “right” or “wrong.”
Firstly, if I can’t sing a song in the original key, then I just won’t do it. I subscribe to the school of thought of only doing songs I can do. I find it interesting that altering keys for vocals is a standard practice but yet it would not likely be cool if someone was like “Eruption is too hard to play. Can we do it 20 BPM slower? That will make life easier for the guitarist.”
Secondly, often altering the key makes life hell for other instrumentalists, especially guitarists where chord voicings are often very key dependent. Especially if they use open strings or such. Sure you can use a capo if you’re going up but if you take a song down (usually the way it goes) a lot of guitar parts become impossible to play without completely retuning (a MAJOR issue if you have a floating vibrato system) or using some artificial digital detuning which never sounds or responds quite right.
Thirdly, and this is probably the most subjective of the bunch, different keys just literally have a whole different sound, feel and vibe. I’m always amazed at how altering even a single half step can make something suddenly just feel completely different and off.
One caveat here is when a band plays in a different tuning. For example Guns N’ Roses, Stevie Ray Vaughan and other liked to tune a half-step down, so in those instances if you are in standard tuning , you will actually be playing the song a half-step up if you play the correct chords, voicings, lead lines and such. While that will still be affected by my third point, that’s the least important and it’s far more important to be able to play the parts as they were played. For example SRV’s “Pride And Joy” has lots or low E string and open strings in the leads and such, so playing that in Eb in standard tuning is a ridiculous and impossible prospect. In instances where a band detunes, the playability far outweighs the sonic differences of playing it in standard tuning.
I will admit that one recent gig had a song lowered by a half-step which made the piano part WAY EASIER for me, so I just counted my blessings on that one.
Thanks for coming to my TED talk on Pedantic Music Nerdery.