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Updates, news

Updates, news

Which key is higher?

Posted on August 1, 2015 at 9:35 AM

I had a message from Rod asking about the relative pitch of keys when playing chords on the guitar, but unfortunately he didn't include a complete email address so I can’t respond directly.

I'm hoping he may see this post - and someone else may have a similar question, too.

Here is the query:

"I have a simple question that I have been asking people for years and no one seems able to answer. Is the key of C lower than the key of G on a guitar playing open chords? Is there a way to list the keys in order of pitch from low to high. What is complicated about this, and why are people unable to answer it? I play guitar, but I have a hard time telling what key best suits my baritone voice. I want to know what key to transpose to, but no one seems to know what keys are the lowest and what keys are the highest. Can you help me?"

I’m no theory expert but I’ll try to address this question. It seems to be simple but it is complex because a chord is made of several notes - and on a guitar, there are 6 notes you can play together to make a chord.

A ‘normal’ open G chord on guitar has a low G, then a B, then a D, a higher G, a higher B and then an even higher G... whereas the C chord usually starts with an E at the bottom, then a C, then a ‘middle’ E, then the same 'middle' G as in the G chord, a higher C, then a higher E.

So the G chord has 3 different G notes; the bottom G is higher than the lowest note (E) in the C chord, and the top note (G) is also higher than the top E in the C chord – making the G chord generally 'higher' than C.

However, the notes you sing can be in a higher or lower octave depending on your voice. Some songs will have a smaller range of notes, so they're easier to sing in a few different keys, but others range from low to high notes so you may need to find a key that best suits your vocal range.

In our Friday Folkies group, we often try D as a starter key, as the girls can sing in a high octave and the guys can sing down lower... but if we went up to a 'higher' key (e.g. Eb or F) it might suit the guys better but if it's too high for the girls we'll try singing an octave lower and we may find it's too low for us!

For your voice, I'd suggest trying the key of Eb (e.g. D with capo 1st fret), then push the capo up further if it suits better. If you find it's not working, try key of G, then use the capo to try to find the best key for you.

I hope this helps - don’t hesitate to ask if you have any further queries!


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