Saturday, February 28, 2015

Have You Found Your Key???

"Alone in the darkness…before the crack of dawn...The angler will rise and put the coffee on".  

 I wrote a song with my KY buddy Dale Pyatt called "The Angler".  It could have been called "The Songwriter" as the line applies to me and my songwriting and I think others find the quiet of the morning a perfect time to sit and try to fill a blank page with a new song :)

Remember my songwriter's mission statement:  To drink coffee...and make stuff up!!! 

So, sitting with a blank page I follow my usual procedure of pulling my guitar out, take a sip of java, make sure the pen and paper are at the "ready" and start strumming and "noodling" on the guitar.  I think everyone has a "pet key".  A chord when you pick up the guitar you automatically maybe a big old G chord...or maybe a D chord...or maybe I slap on the "drop D capo" and hit that big ol' E chord letting the low E just RING!!  I go "AHHHH...all is right with the world :)  

These are MY keys!!!  I would say that most of my songs are written in one of 3-4 keys.  Their sound is familiar to me and I'm comfortable with them.  They reside in my "songwriting box"  BUT sometimes we need to venture "outside of our songwriting box" to explore new sounds and maybe that will result in new sounding songs!  So this morning I might put the capo on the 3rd fret and playing out of a C position resulting in playing in the key of Eb.  Actually, Eb is a GREAT sounding key...I just don't go there often enough on the is one of my "go to" keys on the piano.  So, if I decide to write at the piano maybe I'll try Ab or maybe Db.

Every key has a distinct sound!!!  With that distinct sound will come more and more musical ideas.  You see, if you just tend to write in one key you are cheating yourself of so many other cool sounds!!!  It is kind of like having more tools in your songwriting "tool box"!!!  If all you have is a hammer...then all the world is a nail"!!!  I have to remind myself of that all the time.

So, today when you pick up your guitar I challenge you to start out in a different key!!  Put the capo on the 4th fret and play out of a D position so you are playing in the key of F#!!!!  Whoa!!!  How wild is that?????  It just might be the key to writing that great song you've had in your gut for a long time but never could get the "sound" right.  You songwriters we all have a "fingerprint" or "style" no matter how hard we try to avoid it.  Sometimes many of my songs start to sound kind of similar.  When that happens I need to take my own advice and get out of my "comfort keys" and explore that uncomfortable zone"!!

So today I challenge all of us to get in the key of F# and write a might be surprised how it will turn out with an entirely new sound!!  Get wild and crazy and add some new tools to your toolbox.  Have you found your key???

Have a great day and remember:  Write more...whine less!




  1. This is a great suggestion. When I started writing the songs all tended to sound the same. The change for me came when I let the band listen to the lyrics. The changes in keys, chords and timing started rolling and the music and songs improved significantly. I just started reading your blog and look forward to it.

  2. Brink : Great blog posts, Ive written songs > mostly instrumentals, but here's my keys so far, : G ( G - Whiz ) , Am ( The Macabees' ( Isralei - theme " see " folk dancers ),
    D ( American River Bike Trail 2014 : Americana not bluegrass ), a few others... have you been to Walnut Creek Festival , KS ? It is my dream to go there some day ...

  3. Thanks for reading my blog Ron and Matt :) I appreciate the comments!

  4. Great idea - I need to do this :D

  5. After leading songwriter's workshops for many years, I realize there are almost as many ways of writing songs as there are songwriters. I've written major portions of songs in my sleep (and I am NOT taking my guitar to bed,) and many, many songs driving my car. It's just the way I write, and a result of the way I live. It's also a result of not usually setting out to write a song.

    Back in the early sixties, when I first got serious (as serious as I ever get,) about writing songs, my friend Tom Paxton encouraged me to write a song every day. Worked for him, wouldn't work for me.

    I'd guess that more than fifty percent of the songs I've written were almost finished, before I picked up an instrument. That said, I agree 100% that each key on a guitar suggests its own rhythms and melodies to me. The key of E has a ringing bass line, and drives a song, for me. The key of G has a fullness to it, especially moving the F chord formation up and down the neck. It also lends itself to sliding into notes more, for some reason. I don't write a lot of songs on banjo, but the ones I've written sound so different than if I'd written them on guitar, that I can't successfully transplant them to a guitar arrangement.

    As a singer, I don't have a favorite key. When I joined a Male Chorus at a black Baptist church many years ago, the director tried to find "my" key. I sing songs in A, B (A capo'd,) C, D, E, F, and G. :-) It depends on the range of the melody.

    I REALLY like your advice, Brink. And by the way, although a lot of people have recorded songs of mine, no one ever made any money to speak of, doing it. :-)