With Or Without You: What is the official key sign?

• Mar 2, 2014 - 04:38

I have seen this in both D major and also E-flat major.

This is in E-flat major which i made from a midi which appears to be based on this score:



I also got the D major ver which I am working on as seen in attachment to this topic. So really which ver is the more official one? Seems like the only sure thing is that Clayton's bass guitar D–A–Bm–G is the only thing that's the same. Otherwise the "vocal" portion of the piece can be different? Much appreciated any thought. Thanks.


I think it is highly unlikely that U2 would write anything in E flat.

They're guitarists - guitarists hate flat keys!

What I suspect is that they recorded the song in D then the sound engineers used varispeed to raise the pitch of the recording.

This was done for 2 reasons:-

1. To deter people transcribing the song by ear
2. Raising the pitch of the recording brightens the sound and makes it punchier for radio.

Your SMF was probably transcribed by someone from the finished recording.

In reply to by ChurchOrganist

I have played bass guitar (badly) and usually it's easiest done with standard tuning. If the guys in these videos are using standard tuning (OK, so they're only using one string so we can't be certain) then watch the fingers:


Note that the guy in the bottom video is Dave Marks, contemporary bass player and teacher and not a past or present member of the Beach Boys.

In reply to by underquark

I see. Very interesting. So the Eb score on musicnotes.com is probably not the way it was written originally by U2 even if it says at the bottom from PolyGram?

The D major score is from Blue Moutain Music Limited. I have no idea who those guys are. Both scores are from 1986-7.

I guess if I weren't trying to transcript and play with musescore I would have never noticed.

Whilst some songs are in-between keys (e.g. 'Layla' by Derek and the Dominos), I'm listening to 'With Or Without You' on VEVO and it sounds like D, not E♭ or in-between.

Sometimes transcribers/publishers produce scores in keys not matching the original recording (my pet hate), or fail to mention the recording is higher or lower in speed or pitch. I try to think why the former is done; does the operator accidentally lean on the transpose control and fail to notice?

FWIW, it's extremely common to publish sheet music arrangements in keys other than the "original". After all, the published sheet music is for different instrumentation than the original, and many people's singing ranges differ from that of the original. So often keys are chosen to be piano-friendly, and songs may be published in separate versions for "high" (soprano and tenor) and "low" (alto and bass) voices. Not to mention the fact that these days, you can often transpose the song on the web site from which you buy it.

Plus for many songs, there is no single original key - the composer may have written in one key, then moved it to fit his own voice to record a demo, then the artist who first recorded the song moved it again, then the artist who first had a "hit" may have moved it again, etc.

It's really only the world of exact transcriptions of specific recordings where one would normally expect to have an exact match of keys.

In reply to by wildpig

In the Eb version the bass is changed, too (look at all those accidentals). I can't honestly see an advantage to the Eb version as I know of no mainstream transposing instrument in B. I know pitch rises as speed increases - e.g. if it were for a video - but this shouldn't be an issue in the printed version.

Singers seldom have a preference when it's just a case of a difference of one semitone. The key signature doesn't matter to them the same as it would to a piano, trumpet or violin player. In lots of musicals they start off in one key and change all over the place. I don't think many composers consciously write a musical in Ab minor but if that's what it sounds best sung then that's what the orchestra are forced to follow.

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