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Automated chord transposing tool for campfire guitarists

Image credit: https://unsplash.com/photos/Yok76H_UBSY

jnikola Jul 26, 2021
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Some of you tried to play guitar, right?
I find it very entertaining, especially when I manage to sing the right note. But that's exactly the thing that can be very tricky. Sometimes the original key of the song is too hard to handle. In that case, I should sing it the way I am able to (a small range of keys), which requires changing/transposing the key I am playing from. Well, I don't know how to do that, probably because I am not very educated in music, but also because I drank 5 beers and can barely read chords on the Ultimate Guitar.

I suggest building a simple app that would collect the original chords of the song and be able to transpose them into any key needed. No need to Google/search again, just transpose and play!

The app could also have a tool to recognize and suggest the best fitting key from the input voice.

Creative contributions

Using a capo

Povilas S
Povilas S Jul 26, 2021
I like that you are into musical topics, Juran!:) A capo is a simple manual device that basically does what you are aiming for. Most guitar players use it quite often. The guy in the cover image is using it. However, the app that you proposed would have some benefits over manual capo. On the other hand, the capo also has some benefits over using an app instead. So I'll talk about pros and cons (from my point of view) of both below.

If you start playing on a "zero" (basic) fret, with a capo you can only raise the key up, you can't bring it down, since guitar is simply made that way. If you are playing a song composed of, let's say D, Bm, and G chords on a zero fret, but want to transpose them down to be able to sing lower, an option is to count the distance between chords and simply play different chords accordingly on the same 0 fret. So if you want to sing a tone lower, you can play C, Am, and F instead.

An app would let you do this without counting or knowing the distances between chords, you could simply look up and play. However, the problem here is that if you are playing on a zero fret the options of bringing chords down are already very limited, if there's an E chord in your song, you can't bring it any lower. I actually had to think a bit just to give an example of the combination of chords played on a basic fret which you can still conveniently bring down (and that's by one tone only).

You can transpose chords to be able to sing lower with a capo too - chords played on higher frets might let you adapt your voice by lowering it slightly and the song would still sound nice, but you would be singing lower while playing higher, so that's technically cheating.

You could use barre chords instead of capo and in some songs with specific chord combinations a capo would limit your possibilities of playing wider range of chords (e.g. a chord on an 8th fret and a chord on a 2nd fret in the same song). So the app could simply show you a transposed song in barre chords and you'd still have the freedom to play lower than the specific fixed key, which is not possible while using a capo. But for beginners using a capo is really the easiest way. Barre chords are the most difficult to press since you have to press down all the strings with one finger, so the wider range can be sacrificed for the ease of playing.

An app adapting the chords to your voice automatically, as you suggest, would be another advantage over a capo. But finding the right key for your voice with the help of a capo is also very easy - you simply slide it up fret by fret and try to sing, such experimentation is also playful and joyful, you often discover a few keys that are convenient for you, instead of one. If the app would do it automatically, you'd lose that discovery part.

Finally, using a capo might just be simpler, it's often tiring to look at apps while playing (similarly how you have to look at the lyrics or chords on the screen when you don't know them, then keep touching your phone from time to time in order for the screen not to turn black, or additionally adjust the display settings, etc.). A capo you can simply put on a certain fret (experimenting part is easy as I said and later you get the sense of where to put it in advance) and play without looking at the screen, interacting with your phone, etc. It's also nicer to use manual things while playing instead of digital ones similarly to how dj'ing on an actual mixer with keys and buttons feels and looks way better than using only a laptop.

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jnikola3 years ago
Hi Povilas S!

Thank you for your opinion and the analysis of the possible problem solutions!

Yes, I do use a capo and it's very useful. The thing I don't like with capo is that when I use it, I play the guitar in a higher key, as you mentioned. The new key doesn't always sound"natural" (because it's different from the original) and when I play it, I can find the right key to start singing from (yes, I'm still a noob). But that's the problem I would have with the proposed app if it was based just on that, I guess. That's the problem with the discovery part of the capo you mentioned above. I know exactly what you are talking about and it can be really fun, but I am not always successful in finding the right note while singing. Here comes the trouble for all the bad/average singers :D

The counting of the chords is the main reason why I came up with this idea. I would like to automate it and boost it up with few add-ons that would help you sing nicer, too.

The thing with the lowering the E... I think I can handle the low key better, so maybe I won't have to transpose the song that has an E in it.

Barre chords are a cool thing to play with. I must admit that the thing gets pretty complicated when you start learning them, especially if you learn them by yourself, but it's amazing how some things become clearer.

To sum it up, I think you highlighted few important things that could be together implemented in the app to make it useful for people like me:
- dynamic chord suggestions based on the singing input (can recommend using capo, barre chords (learning part!) or simply transposes the song if possible, all to match with your singing capabilities)
- always-on screen
- automated scrolling (based on the singing/playing input)
- easy-readable chords that follow the lyrics
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Povilas S
Povilas S3 years ago
Juran From what you described as your main problem, the app should then have a tone guiding function as a must (meaning it would play an initial note or a melody of the song in a transposed key to help you catch the tone and initially sing along). As you said, it wouldn't make sense to use an app that shows you transposed chords to play, but you still couldn't catch the tone after. It wouldn't be much different from using a capo, just that you'd know the chords you are playing without counting.

Also, how the app would even know what tone will be comfortable for you? Perhaps the user could choose whether they want a higher or a lower tone and the app would try raising/lowering it little by little and playing the note/melody of the vocals in that key for you to try it out.
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jnikola3 years ago
Povilas S I am not a musician and I would say I have an average ability to "catch the tone". Therefore, the app would be an AI-powered helper that would listen to my singing and based on previous inputs (my and other users' ), categorize me as a "narrow baritone" or "wide-range tenor". All of this would be done in the background and I would just see the recommendation of the new key of the tune I want to play. Based on the algorithm categorizations and user's feedback, the app would, in most of the cases, recommend a key that would suit me the best. The tone guiding function would not always work because my hearing is not that sensitive and capable of detecting the tones and reproducing them back :D
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