You could lose your voice if
pick the right key for each song
How do I find
which key I sing in?
This must be the most frequently asked question we
get from singers who are just starting out. It can also be a
difficult one for a beginner to understand if he/she doesn't
have any knowledge of music theory. But in this article, we're
going to try our best to give you an explanation that will help
you choose the right key.
First, what you need
to understand is that you don't have just ONE key that you sing
in. Every song you sing will have a different key, so rather than
picking ONE key, you need to choose a key for every single song
you want to sing.
This is because, although your voice has a set vocal range which
never changes (ie how high you can reach and how low you can go),
every song is made up of different notes and words, so the notes
that you need to pitch for each individual song will be different.
You need to choose a key for each song so that you can be sure
that the notes you are going to sing in that song are neither
"above" your vocal range (ie too high for you) or "below"
your vocal range (ie too low for you).
Enlist the help
of a musician friend
The easiest and best way to find your key for a song is to ask
a musician friend (a piano player or a guitarist) to help you.
He/she should be able to play the song for you in a few different
keys and then you can pick the key which feels most comfortable.
Always make sure you sing the song all the way through
because very often the really high notes don't come till near
the end of the song. This is especially true of power ballads
and "big production" songs which usually save the highest
note till last to give the song that "big finish".
Another important thing to remember is that a key which feels
comfortable when practicing at home, may not suit you when you
sing in a large venue environment. For example, if you are singing
the song in your own home, the key that you pick may well be much
lower than the key you will sing it in if you are working as a
professional singer in a large venue full of people. This is because
when the stage-lights are on you, the music is blasting out loudly,
and the audience are making noise, the adrenalin starts to pump
through you and you'll find that you can often sing anything up
to half an octave higher than you did at home when you were practicing.
In many of my live
gigs, I regularly play keyboards to accompany amateur singers
and many of them don't know their key (which is perfectly understandable
- they're not professional singers). The singers who don't know
their key usually try to sing a little bit of the song softly
in to my ear before they start, so that I can find their key.
It only takes me a couple of seconds of hearing them sing and
I've found their key.
But, when they put the microphone up to their mouth and start
singing, they usually proceed to belt out the song 3 or 4 semi-tones
higher than they sang in to my ear a few seconds before!
Of course, this means they are now singing in a completely different
key to the one we worked out for them a few seconds ago and I
now have to find the key all over again!
To make matters worse, our hapless "wannabe superstar"
(who usually thinks she's gonna be the next Mariah Carey, minus
the looks and talent), usually glares at the musicians like they're
stupid, as if to say..."I thought you had already worked
out my key when I sang a little bit in your ear earlier......"!
Of course, this seldom happens to me nowadays because years of
experience has taught me that when a singer sings a little bit
of a song to me in a "quiet" voice, I simply work out
the key, raise it by a couple of semi-tones, so when I play the
song intro and they start to sing, the key is just about right
for them (and they don't even know I've done it)!
So, the moral of the
story is, if you're trying to find your key while singing the
song at home, don't sing in a quiet insipid little voice - sing
out loudly, the same way you intend to sing when you're up there
Guide to keys
If you don't know a musician friend who can help you find your
key, don't despair. There are some little tips and tricks you
can use which well help find the right key for you. They are not
guaranteed to find your exact key but rather, should be considered
more as a rough guide only - we strongly recommend that you use
a musician to help find your key whenever possible.
All keys are relevant
to each other. You will see from the picture below that we have
taken a section of a piano keyboard and labelled the notes. You'll
notice that there is a red line a little over half way along.
This red line is a dividing line to show that we are entering
the next octave.
You don't need to know what an octave is - all you need to know
is that there are only 12 notes in an octave which means that
there are only 12 keys to choose from. Every single song
you ever sing will be in one of these 12 keys.
Step up through the keys one by one, starting from C (at the extreme
left hand side), going right up to B (to the immediate left of
the red line). Moving further to the right (past the red line),
you'll notice that the notes then just start to repeat themselves
again (C, D flat, D...etc). So, all you need to concentrate on
is the 12 notes to the left of the red line.
No matter what song you want to sing in the world, one of these
twelve keys will be the key you sing it in.
Now we have to figure out which one of these 12 keys you
need to pick for each song!
The simplest trick
I know to finding the right key, involves playing the original
recording of the song and singing along with it. If you can sing
along to the song comfortably and ALL THE WAY THROUGH with the
original singer, then the original key of the song will be the
right key for you. This may seem a bit obvious but it's amazing
how many singers don't think about doing this!
However, if you sing
along to the original recording and find that it is too high for
you (which is often the case), then you need to pick a key which
is lower than the original recording. In our catalogue,
we list the key beside every single song. If it's in the original
key, you will see (orig key) beside the song title and
Let's say for example, you want to sing Whitney Houston "I
will always love you" and you find that the original
key is too high for you. You will see from our catalogue that
the original key for this song is A. Look at the chart above and
find the key of A. Lower keys than this are A flat, G and G flat
(lower keys are to the left, higher keys to the right).
Decide for yourself just how much lower you need the song to be
and choose a lower key. You'll find our catalogue very helpful
when choosing a key because, not only do we tell you the key of
each backing track, but we give a guide to who this key would
be suitable for. Songs in a key to suit a male singer have (male
key) next to them, while songs in a key to suit a female singer
have (female key) next to them. If it's in the original
key, it will have (orig key) next to it.
It's worth noting
that, in general, a male singer will usually sing 5 keys lower
than a female singer (and similarly, a female singer will usually
sing 5 notes higher than a male singer). So, when choosing
a lower or a higher key be careful about how much higher
or lower you go.
In the above example above, if you had found the Whitney Houston
will always love you" to be too high in it's original
key of A, be careful not to go too much lower - because if you
took the key down to F or E (4 or 5 keys down), you'll be in the
vocal range of a male singer and you'll probably find those keys
too low for you.
There is no doubt that finding the right key is essential not
only to giving a good vocal performance, but is of great importance
in protecting your voice.
Your vocal chords are very sensitive and should not under any
circumstances be subjected to unnecessary strain by singing in
the "wrong" key. As well as offering many of our backing
tracks in a variety of keys, we offer a Trax
Editing Service where you can order any song in any key, so
there is really no excuse for risking your vocal chords by singing
a song in a key that is not suited to your voice.
We only charge £10 to re-record your song in to a key that
suits you and is completely comfortable for you so please, please,
don't risk damaging your voice (and your career) when it costs
so little and takes less than 3 working days for us to produce
the song for you in the right key.
Article Written by Kenny Campbell
PS Also see my other article on choosing
keys from your highest note
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