Why choosing a key for a song
on the "highest note" you can sing
doesn't always work
The "Highest Note"
method of finding the right key
If you are a singer but not a musician, finding the
right key for your songs can be a little bit tricky. One method
that is popular with singers is to first discover the highest
note in your particular vocal range and then kinda "work
back" from the highest note in the song you are going to
sing. The idea is that you will be able to then choose a key
for that song which doesn't exceed your top note...
While generally this certainly does work, unfortunately there
are enough exceptions to the rule to make it worth looking at
this method in a bit more depth.
In cases where you have worked out the top note in your vocal
range and compared that note to the highest note in a song in
order to find the best key, ISN'T always the best way to choose
the right key for a song.
The exceptions that prove the rule
Some songs have a very small range of notes making up the whole
vocal that is sung in the song. So if you try to select a good
key for that song by simply working out the top note you can
sing and keeping within those confines, you will be singing
that particular song all the way through at the very top
of your vocal range. All the notes will be within your vocal
range, yes, but because you'll be singing the whole song all
the way through right up there near the top of your vocal range,
this will put great strain on your voice. The result is you
will have chosen a key which is within your vocal range,
but too high for you. You would have been better off choosing
a lower key in cases like this.
In another scenario, the highest note of another song may be
a note that you hit (sing) very quickly and slide off again
very quickly. So by making this note equal to the top note in
your vocal range will result in the key being too low for you.
This is because if you are just going to quickly hit and/or
slide off the highest note in a song, there's every chance you
will be able to reach a note which is a little bit higher
than your normal top note. The result is you will have chosen
a key which is too low.
Similarly, if the highest note in a particular song is a note
which has to be hit, held, and then vibrato introduced to it,
you may need to choose a key that makes the highest note in
the song 1 or 2 semitones BELOW your normal top note
in your vocal range. This is because it's generally easy to
hit very high notes, but it's NOT so easy to hit, hold,
and control very high notes for any length of time (even a couple
of seconds). The result of choosing your key will be that you
have chosen a key which is too high for you even though the
highest note was within your range.
Working out keys for songs based on where in that song the highest
note is and comparing that to the highest note in your vocal
range can work sometimes. But there are enough occasions and
exceptions to the rule to make it far from an ideal way for
choosing the key of a song.
Always the best way to choose the right key for any given song
is to enlist the help of a musician friend to play the song
in a variety of keys for you while you sing along until you
find the most comfortable key for you.
Also remember that when
choosing a key, it's also good practice to sing the song in
a large venue rather than in your home. Unless you live in a
Hollywood mansion(!) your living room will be much smaller than
the venue you'll be eventually singing the song in so you're
unlikely to "project" your voice as much at home as
you would when you sing out there on stage in a large venue.
It's not uncommon for singers to be able to sing 3 or 4 semitones
higher at a gig than they managed to achieve when practicing
a song at home.