The Happy Third of the Circle of Fifths
By Jon Nicol
(This is a supplemental article for "The Burning Throat" series)
Some bands will make sure everything is in a happy third of the Circle of Fifths. Guitarists and bassists (and keyboardists who cut their teeth playing in a rock band) love C – E. The outskirts of that third can even get sketchy for some: C is OK, but you’ve got that darn F chord. The bassist loves E, but it’s out of some guitarist’s league if they haven’t learned to rock movable chords.
There’s another kind of keyboardists who grew up playing on one of those crazy keyboards you don’t have to plug in. (What are those called again?) These players actually can read those dots and squiggles not only one, but two clefs. Crazy. These different breed of ivory pounders usually prefer the quadrant on the other side: C – Eb.
No one really likes Db – B, which includes keys with 5 and 6 sharps and flats – that is, unless you’re 5-string bass player, a guitarist with a capo or a keyboardist with a transpose button.
So, does the band get a say on the key? Maybe. The good thing about the Circle of 5ths, if you’re in a key that makes you grouchy, you can zing across the circle to a happier key that’s only a half step up or down.
For example, if the best vocal key is F#, but F works, consider going with F out of deference for the keyboard players who think sharps are ebony knives sticking into the tips of their fingers. A few years ago, we transitioned from being piano-driven to band driven. Needless to say, we’ve had a turn-over of traditional piano players. B and F# are now fair game more often than not.
In part 3 of The Burning Throat, I spelled out the guideline of who and what serves who:
In congregational worship, the key needs to serve the song, which serves the worship leader, who serves the congregation.
As players in the band, we serve the worship leader who is serving the congregation. That means, ultimately, whatever key she feels is best for her and the congregation, the band gets on board and plays it. Whether we’re in our happy third or not.
December 2, 2011Tweet