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  1. #1

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    I am processing Real Book tunes data and as a side product I've got distribution statistic of approx. 1000 standards. Major and minor keys are not distinguished yet (in one bucket), so it needs more refinement.
    ***EDIT***: For refined statistics where major and their relative minor are in one bucket see this later post

    If anyone interested, the results are:

    F: 221
    C: 191
    Eb: 159
    Bb: 141
    G: 110
    Ab: 52
    D: 49
    Db: 21
    A: 9
    E: 10
    Gb: 3 (Twisted Blues)
    B: 3 (Giant Steps, at least it starts in B so I put it to the B bucket)
    Last edited by Gabor; 05-07-2019 at 05:08 AM.

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  3. #2

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    twisted blues is in Db

  4. #3

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    Quote Originally Posted by djg View Post
    twisted blues is in Db
    I am sure there are different versions both leadsheets and recordings but this Wes recording seems to be in Gb for me:


  5. #4

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    It starts on a Gb7 chord but works its way back to Db briefly then at the end it finishes on a Db. It’s one of those tunes that sounds a bit ambiguous.

    Both the iReal pro app and the Hal Leonard real Book give the key as Db.

    I can’t find it in the old real book.

  6. #5

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    Thanks! I find this interesting.

    I wonder what has been so unappealing or repellent about the key of Gb, to players and composers about over the years.

  7. #6

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  8. #7

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    Thanks for all the corrections. That's the drawback of computerized processing.

    I've never played Twisted Blues, and when previously I checked the recording for a few secs and heard Db as dominant, obviously I was wrong.

  9. #8

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    I would not have guessed that Eb appeared more often than Bb.
    "Learn the repertoire. It’s all in the songs. If you learn 200 songs, you will have no problem improvising."
    Frank Vignola

  10. #9

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    Quote Originally Posted by MarkRhodes View Post
    I would not have guessed that Eb appeared more often than Bb.
    That surprised me too.

    Also I though G might place higher. Or maybe it's just that I really like G.
    Jeff Matz, Jazz Guitar:
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    "Jazz is like life...it goes on longer than you think, and as soon as you're like 'oh, I get it,' it ends."

    --The Ghost of Duke Ellington

  11. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by Gabor View Post
    Thanks for all the corrections. That's the drawback of computerized processing.

    I've never played Twisted Blues, and when previously I checked the recording for a few secs and heard Db as dominant, obviously I was wrong.
    I think the final chord is a Db7 in order to turn back to the Gb7, so it is ambiguous. But maybe that’s why Wes called it ‘twisted’!

  12. #11

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    I’m a bit surprised Bb wasn’t higher.

  13. #12

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    Quote Originally Posted by Thoughtfree View Post
    Thanks! I find this interesting.

    I wonder what has been so unappealing or repellent about the key of Gb, to players and composers about over the years.
    Er... six flats?


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  14. #13

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    ISTM there are a couple of factors that affect having a tune in a key. One is the range of notes, because it needs to be in a key which makes it at least a little easier to reach all the notes, especially for singers. Another is that it needs to be in a convenient key for horn players, both because there are a lot of horn players and because a lot of the tunes were written by horn players. Key is mostly a matter of convenience. Thus bluegrass and country music tends to be in E, D, G, and A, because the instruments used there allow the use of open strings in those keys. Not much difference between E and Eb except for the ease of playing for some instruments.

  15. #14

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    Quote Originally Posted by Thoughtfree View Post
    Thanks! I find this interesting.

    I wonder what has been so unappealing or repellent about the key of Gb, to players and composers about over the years.
    Um ... 6 flats?

    (Clearly I didn't read completely before posting. My apologies to docsteve!)
    Last edited by M-ster; 05-05-2019 at 04:53 PM.

  16. #15

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    If these are standards with horns as the lead, or show tunes written for orchestration, etc., if might be more telling to analyze based on what keys the Bb and Eb instruments end up in. I think, more often, it's putting the horns into comfortable keys that influences the key choice. (Same goes for vocalists, of course.)

  17. #16

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    ...and pianists; they prefer keys with accidentals because their fingers can feel where they are on the key board through the playing of black keys... so the pianist may play without looking at their hands. Many pianists deliberately practice in the dark in order to develop this ability to never have to look at the keyboard. Contrary to popular assumption, the key of C major is the worst because all the keys feel the same (one may sneak fingers onto black keys and not play them to get a reference).

    I don't trust the results of the list because it is not clear that the determination of the keys used a correct methodology or informed musical verification, and because the majority of what I'm called to play seems to be in Eb, while I only play a couple of tunes in F major.

    For the 30 million songs on Spotify... I don't trust their's either, looks like non-musician programmer product...

    Last edited by pauln; 05-06-2019 at 01:53 PM.
    "Bent my ear to hear the tune and closed my eyes to see."

  18. #17

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    Quote Originally Posted by M-ster View Post
    If these are standards with horns as the lead, or show tunes written for orchestration, etc., if might be more telling to analyze based on what keys the Bb and Eb instruments end up in. I think, more often, it's putting the horns into comfortable keys that influences the key choice. (Same goes for vocalists, of course.)
    But why is Take Five in Ebminor / Gb major ?

  19. #18

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    I think you would have to ask Paul Desmond that question, or perhaps Dave Brubeck, but it's too late for that.

  20. #19

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    Quote Originally Posted by pingu View Post
    But why is Take Five in Ebminor / Gb major ?
    Because it puts the alto sax (an Eb instrument) in C minor. Easy to think and solo in. And the B-section is in Eb (for the alto) - not bad.

  21. #20

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    Quote Originally Posted by pauln View Post
    ... the majority of what I'm called to play seems to be in Eb, while I only play a couple of tunes in F major.
    Concert Eb is C for the Eb instruments (like alto and bari) and is F for the Bb instruments (trumpet and tenor). No flats or 1 flat. They love it.

  22. #21

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    Quote Originally Posted by Gabor View Post
    I am processing Real Book tunes data and as a side product I've got distribution statistic of approx. 1000 standards. Major and minor keys are not distinguished yet (in one bucket), so it needs more refinement.

    If anyone interested, the results are:

    F: 221
    C: 191
    Eb: 159
    Bb: 141
    G: 110
    Ab: 52
    D: 49
    Db: 21
    A: 9
    E: 10
    Gb: 3 (Twisted Blues)
    B: 3 (Giant Steps, at least it starts in B so I put it to the B bucket)
    Gabor, thanks for doing this.

    It would be interesting to see the breakdown showing the relative minor vs. the parallel minor. So, instead of F (major & minor), C (major &minor), etc, show F/D minor, C/A minor, etc. But I don’t know how hard it might be from where you’ve started.

  23. #22

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    The key of F is the favorite key for tenor players to play the blues and such, because of the layout of the horn.

  24. #23

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    Quote Originally Posted by cmajor9 View Post
    Gabor, thanks for doing this.

    It would be interesting to see the breakdown showing the relative minor vs. the parallel minor. So, instead of F (major & minor), C (major &minor), etc, show F/D minor, C/A minor, etc. But I don’t know how hard it might be from where you’ve started.
    You are right, it makes more sense to put major and its relative minor one in bucket, I am going to do that also in the next few days.

  25. #24

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    Gabor and pauln, thanks for posting the stats.

    I recently did the same exercise based on my own repertoire (more than 100 arrangements/transcriptions) for solo guitar (not including my band compositions/arrangements).

    It's a fascinating subject that leads to a couple of interesting questions:

    -Is there a preferred key and if so; -why and in what context?

    There are a couple of references in this thread aiming for rational explanation.

    My personal reflections on the subject;

    When I write, arrange or transcribe, I have the power to decide the key. The choice is not a coincidence.
    The decision is based on one or more of the following factors; Sound, Emotion, Feasibility, Convenience, Tradition, Trend.
    These factors are in turn dependent on the target instruments/setting and style.

    Feasibility is obviously of major importance, the chosen key must support the viable range of the target instruments. Important passages of the arrangements mustn't be outside the range.
    Maybe less obvious is, what's feasible or not depends on the player/ vocalist. Also, certain instruments can only play a certain key.

    Convenience on the other hand could be me being lazy or even perfunctory, idiosyncrasies of the composer instrument (e.g intonation, the feel of a particular piano key, a dead spot, open strings) or just attention to the fact that certain instruments are designed in a certain key.

    Tradition is when I follow the footsteps of other writers/musicians, like a proven concept, e.g "slow movements in Ab do have something in common."

    Trend is when someone wants to copy a model by using the same key.

    Leaving us with the final and truly important dimensions; Sound and Emotion.
    Different keys sound different (not a matter of perfect pitch). An instrument has a sweet spot within its range. Sometimes it's not possible to transpose a composition and maintain the original emotion.

    Anyway, comparing my guitar repertoire with the Spotify base it appears like the most popular keys (including their respective parallel minor key) are: C, D, G, A
    And I do see a lot of good reasons from the perspective of C-instruments including standard guitar tuning.

    The relative Spotify peaks at C# (bbbbb) and F# (bbbbbb) look weird to me.

    The Real book bias for flat-sign keys may be explainable from the perspective Bb-transposing horns, but not from any other view point. Not at all ideal for guitar, with the exception of F /Dm (b) which are pretty nice keys in standard tuning.

    The very low representation of Real book songs in the lovely key of A is a real shame (imo).
    Last edited by JCat; 05-06-2019 at 07:45 AM.

  26. #25

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    I used to play the tenor saxophone in a blues band and was forced to learn F# major (E major concert) and B major (A major concert). I would have loved G major (F major concert) but there was no arguing with the guitarists. Anyway, I was lucky - the alto player had to play in C# major resp. Db major (E major concert)!

    Later I played the guitar in a swing trio and was forced to learn Eb major. Again, I would have preferred G major but there was no arguing with the pianist.

    Every instrument has keys that the player is most comfortable in. For the piano, it seems to be Eb - several pianists I played with spontaneously preferred it to other keys with less accidentals. Horns love flats, strings love sharps.

    There is a film about the British blues scene of the sixties. Georgie Fame recounts that at his first encounter with Muddy Waters, Muddy wanted him to play in E major (or a similar sharp-heavy key) and Georgie had a hard time following him. When he said so after the event, Muddy just responded: "Why didn't you say so earlier? We would've moved the capo!"

    Bottom line is: it actually pays to learn scales and arpeggios in any key, even if some keys are more likely than others.

    But am I the only one who is surprised that C# / Db is the fifth most popular key on Spotify? Who ever plays in that key? Even in the horn-friendly Real Book, it's only on eighth place by a long margin. Or is that a mistuned C or D major?

  27. #26

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    Quote Originally Posted by docsteve View Post
    But am I the only one who is surprised that C# / Db is the fifth most popular key on Spotify? Who ever plays in that key? Even in the horn-friendly Real Book, it's only on eighth place by a long margin. Or is that a mistuned C or D major?
    Me too (see above). F# + D#m combined makes up 3,6% of the Spotify base. Doesn't make sense. Could have something to do with unstable tape recorders...

    But what's more alarming is 0.9% A major in Real book....

  28. #27

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    I have doubts about the Spotify data. Who has listened to 30 million songs? I would put the rent money on 'nobody'. How does one go about finding the key for that many songs using a computer, the only possible way to do it?

  29. #28

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    Quote Originally Posted by sgosnell View Post
    I have doubts about the Spotify data. Who has listened to 30 million songs? I would put the rent money on 'nobody'. How does one go about finding the key for that many songs using a computer, the only possible way to do it?
    Yeah, I heard about it on the radio about a year ago and it's a computer algorithm behind it. A Music professor was interviewed and he gave a number of examples why this could not be 100% accurate. For example sometimes its not possible to tell, just by sound, if a song is major or minor, hence not possible to identify key. But it gets even more complicated when we consider that the fundamental frequencies defining a key have changed over the years, and that some music was recorded on poorly tuned instruments as well as the fact that some recordings was deliberatly detuned.

    However, the big picture seems plausible and in line with a music reality not dominated by horns

  30. #29

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    Quote Originally Posted by docsteve View Post
    ... C# / Db is the fifth most popular key on Spotify? Who ever plays in that key? Even in the horn-friendly Real Book, it's only on eighth place by a long margin.
    Concert Db is Eb for the Bb instruments (trumpet, soprano sax, tenor sax) and is Bb for the Eb instruments (alto & bari sax). It's all deference to the horns.

    Is the horse dead yet?

  31. #30

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    Quote Originally Posted by JCat View Post
    However, the big picture seems plausible and in line with a music reality not dominated by horns
    Regarding Spotify, I am afraid that it dominated by the recent musical garbage (I mean listening for example the top 10 on Spotify is practically a poison for both ear and soul, don't try this at home). This mass of tunes represents a different musical "culture" than jazz standards, probably different trends and rules apply.

    Also there are the classical recordings (which are not garbage of course) but their statistical weight is corrupted by two reasons:

    - say an "a minor" variations opus counts 30 "songs", all in a minor. In general: all movement in an opus counts separately, because it is a "tune" itself.
    - more known the opus, more separate recordings exist (sometime 50s - 100s) which all counts

    (btw the latter may corrupt jazz tune statistics on Spotify too)

  32. #31

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    I think the C# Db anomaly is all the tunes from the 60's in C and D when tuning was apparently optional.

    Yeah, I'm looking at you, Rolling Stones
    Jeff Matz, Jazz Guitar:
    http://www.youtube.com/user/jeffreymatz

    "Jazz is like life...it goes on longer than you think, and as soon as you're like 'oh, I get it,' it ends."

    --The Ghost of Duke Ellington

  33. #32

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    They clearly didn't ask Blooz Daddy guitarists, or there would have been more in E.
    Build bridges, not walls.

  34. #33

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    Quote Originally Posted by Gabor View Post
    Regarding Spotify, I am afraid that it dominated by the recent musical garbage (I mean listening for example the top 10 on Spotify is practically a poison for both ear and soul, don't try this at home). This mass of tunes represents a different musical "culture" than jazz standards, probably different trends and rules apply.

    Also there are the classical recordings (which are not garbage of course) but their statistical weight is corrupted by two reasons:

    - say an "a minor" variations opus counts 30 "songs", all in a minor. In general: all movement in an opus counts separately, because it is a "tune" itself.
    - more known the opus, more separate recordings exist (sometime 50s - 100s) which all counts

    (btw the latter may corrupt jazz tune statistics on Spotify too)
    Fair enough, but rest assured my humble repertoire is not garbage and it happens to coincide with the Spotify stats, albeit mine is a very tiny sample, a drop in the ocean, but a very nice little drop that inspires to bias confirmation

    (Regarding music available on Spotify, I have no idea of the quality/garbage ratio. The Spotify AI is not clever enough to recommend adequate music, so obviously I have to make my own playlists, i.e quality every time.)

    Another music professor was head over heels delighted over the fact that an astonishing number of contributions to the Eurovision Song Contest were submitted in C# minor. -"How mostly unusual, and inspiring!"...Hmm...Isn't this just a guitar singer song writers approach to minor as the parallel key to E Major?

    Anyway, horns are nice, but no way I'm gonna let them decide what key to play in. A horn player worth his salt has no problems with C, D, G, A....

    0.9% A major in Real book. eek.
    Last edited by JCat; 05-07-2019 at 01:20 AM.

  35. #34

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    Spotify has albums by every artist imaginable how can you call it garbage?
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  36. #35

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    Quote Originally Posted by joe2758 View Post
    Spotify has albums by every artist imaginable how can you call it garbage?
    It is maybe my English.

    I used the word "dominated" and what I meant is the ratio. Of course all my heroes are there both the historical ones and the recent artist. I also appreciate and listen not only the jazz standards and jazz recordings, but Beatles, Led Zeppelin, ELP and many country music too. Also all my classical listening comes from there and it (Spotify) is invaluable listening resource.

    I was talking about statistics, that the top 10 has 30 million listeners per month and the jazz is not dominated there so not dominated neither in the statistics.

    @JCat: this explanation also goes for you, my intention was not to degrade other styles than jazz standards.

  37. #36

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    Oh ok, so that's just a critique on musical taste, not spotify
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  38. #37

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    Here are the refined statistics, where major and its relative minor are in one bucket:

    F/D-: 194/37 (23.1%)
    Eb/C-: 154/43 (19.7%)
    C/A-: 153/8 (16.1%)
    Bb/G-: 134/24 (15.8%)
    G/E-: 88/8 (9.6%)
    Ab/F-: 50/40 (9%)
    Db/Bb-: 19/13 (3.1%)
    D/B-: 12/1 (1.3%)
    Gb/Eb-: 2/9 (1.2%)
    E/C#-: 2/4 (.6%)
    A/F#-: 2/0 (.2%)
    B/G#-: 2/1 (.3%)
    -----------------------
    Total of 1000 tunes

    I've also processed a completely other source of 1350 jazz standards, just for cross checking. I mean it is mainly the same set of tunes, but the source is different, so the typo-s, some key transpositions and potential processing errors could be different, so ideal for cross check the main trend:

    F/D-: 240/37 (20.5%)
    C/A-: 235/25 (19.3%)
    Eb/C-: 204/49 (18.7%)
    Bb/G-: 175/27 (15%)
    G/E-: 113/12 (9.3%)
    Ab/F-: 75/36 (8.2%)
    Db/Bb-: 37/18 (4.1%)
    D/B-: 23/8 (2.3%)
    A/F#-: 10/0 (.7%)
    E/C#-: 4/2 (.4%)
    B/G#-: 4/2 (.4%)
    Gb/Eb-: 1/13 (1%)
    -----------------------
    Total of 1350 tunes

  39. #38

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    Gabor, thanks for providing the stats...0.2% A major...it's getting worse

    I quote docsteve: "Horns love flats, strings love sharps."

    (My repertoire I was referring to is 90% Jazz standards, but transcribed for solo guitar in any appropriate key decided by me. For rhythm work and improvisation, key doesn't matter.)

  40. #39

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    Quote Originally Posted by Gabor View Post
    I am processing Real Book tunes data and as a side product I've got distribution statistic of approx. 1000 standards. Major and minor keys are not distinguished yet (in one bucket), so it needs more refinement.
    ***EDIT***: For refined statistics where major and their relative minor are in one bucket see this later post

    If anyone interested, the results are:

    F: 221
    C: 191
    Eb: 159
    Bb: 141
    G: 110
    Ab: 52
    D: 49
    Db: 21
    A: 9
    E: 10
    Gb: 3 (Twisted Blues)
    B: 3 (Giant Steps, at least it starts in B so I put it to the B bucket)
    Which version of the Real Book did you pull this from? In many editions/versions, some of the tunes are not in the "standard" keys. The original (illegal) Real Books also have a bunch of tunes that nobody ever plays (I'm lookin' at you Harrison Crabfeathers). So this might not really be a clear picture of the breakdown of what keys people actually play in. FWIW, in my experience Eb, Bb, and F, is probably 75% of what gets called. C, Ab, and G gets you somewhere close to 99.9%.

    John

  41. #40

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    Quote Originally Posted by John A. View Post
    Which version of the Real Book did you pull this from? In many editions/versions, some of the tunes are not in the "standard" keys. The original (illegal) Real Books also have a bunch of tunes that nobody ever plays (I'm lookin' at you Harrison Crabfeathers). So this might not really be a clear picture of the breakdown of what keys people actually play in. FWIW, in my experience Eb, Bb, and F, is probably 75% of what gets called. C, Ab, and G gets you somewhere close to 99.9%.
    John
    Please see the more refined versions in a later post where EDIT link jumps in the original post (or use this link)

    - the original 1000 sample summarizes the Jazz Standard Progressions Book (google for phrase, 1st link will be, or at least on the top)
    - the 1350 sample summarizes the IReal Pro forums 1350 jazz tunes list, google for [1350 irealb]

    I think both based on the Hal Leonard Real Book, but I am not sure

  42. #41

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    Quote Originally Posted by Gabor View Post
    Please see the more refined versions in a later post where EDIT link jumps in the original post (or use this link)

    - the original 1000 sample summarizes the Jazz Standard Progressions Book (google for phrase, 1st link will be, or at least on the top)
    - the 1350 sample summarizes the IReal Pro forums 1350 jazz tunes list, google for [1350 irealb]

    I think both based on the Hal Leonard Real Book, but I am not sure
    I did see that, but didn't quite follow. I'm old, so when people say "The Real Book," assume they mean the original illegal Real Book(s), hence my comment. SFAIK, the 1350 iRealPro tunes are not from a single source. They're crowdsourced -- it's a mix of people's transcriptions and changes pulled from published sources (legal and not). That also has some non-standard keys set as defaults, but IME fewer than the (illegal) Real Books. I've never actually used the legal ones ...

    John