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> Understanding Vocal Keys
Guitar1969
post Jan 13 2009, 12:38 AM
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Luciana:
I have a question that I've asked before in other forums and have never received an answer to help me understand better, and I think it is a question that other guitar players would benefit from. I play guitar at my church with a singer who doesn't know what key she sings in, and I am in charge of putting to together the worship songs that we play. We sometimes have this problem where I will show up with a lead sheet that the other musicians and I have practiced, but then she can't sing it in that key, so we scramble to change the key.

So when we talk about higher and lower keys, it really gets confusing. So my first question is, what is the lowest key of music from the perspective of a vocalist. From a guitarist perspective the E is the lowest note on the guitar. I understand the notes keep repeating in different octaves , but sometime she'll say she wants a song in a lower key. If I understand it correctly, it has more to do with the range of a song which can cause a problem for a singer.

Now a piano starts with middle C and goes from there. Is there a key that is considered the lowest universally for musicians, not dependant on the type of instrument being played. Is there a vocal exercise to determine your natural key.

Thanks for your help,

Michael


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Ramiro Delforte
post Jan 14 2009, 03:27 AM
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Every singer has a range of notes that he can sing, that's why you have a division like: Soprano/Mezzo-Soprano/Contralto/Tenor/Baritone/Bass. Each type of voice has a certain range (here I leave you a link). So when a singer tells you that he/she wants a lower tone that means that you have to get a half-step or a whole-step down (could be more); and the same thing happends to the other way if he/she tells you that the key is lower and you need to play it higher.
So here's an example: Imagine you're playing a tune in C (let's say La Bamba that is: C-F-G-F). So he/she tells you that's a little high to his/her voice. What you have to do now is lower the tune a half-step to begin. So now you'll have B-E-F#-E and these are the new chords you're going to play in order to make the comping. If it still high you get a half-step lower; this time the chords will be Bb-Eb-F-Eb (notice the degrees are the same: is a progression where you have I-IV-V-I).
Now suppose that is the other way and you have to get the progression higher in order to make it more confortable for he/she. You start increasing a half-step so the progression would be: C#-F#-G#-F#; if it's still lower then move one half-step more making it: D-G-A-G.
Eventually you'll get used to play with singers and transposing without a problem and searching the keys very fast.
The poing here is that there's not such a thing as a lower key, the singer has a range and he can sing in any key but the notes that he/she can sing in each key are limited. As in the guitar you have (in a 6 string) 4 octaves and that's it you cannot play an A1 so you could say that the most confortable key is the Em or E and A or Am (could be the relatives too) because the guitar tend to be more visual in those scales and the range is pretty usable. Now, that doesn't block you from playing in Bb or C#. With the singers happend to be the same, imagine that a song reaches to an A5 and you are playing for a baritone singer, he will tell you to transpose to key where he feels confortable.

I apologize to Luciana for answering in her board.
I'm sure she will tell you more about her experience as a singer and enrich a lot this post.


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Guitar1969
post Jan 15 2009, 01:15 AM
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QUOTE (Ramiro Delforte @ Jan 13 2009, 06:27 PM) *
Every singer has a range of notes that he can sing, that's why you have a division like: Soprano/Mezzo-Soprano/Contralto/Tenor/Baritone/Bass. Each type of voice has a certain range (here I leave you a link). So when a singer tells you that he/she wants a lower tone that means that you have to get a half-step or a whole-step down (could be more); and the same thing happends to the other way if he/she tells you that the key is lower and you need to play it higher.
So here's an example: Imagine you're playing a tune in C (let's say La Bamba that is: C-F-G-F). So he/she tells you that's a little high to his/her voice. What you have to do now is lower the tune a half-step to begin. So now you'll have B-E-F#-E and these are the new chords you're going to play in order to make the comping. If it still high you get a half-step lower; this time the chords will be Bb-Eb-F-Eb (notice the degrees are the same: is a progression where you have I-IV-V-I).
Now suppose that is the other way and you have to get the progression higher in order to make it more confortable for he/she. You start increasing a half-step so the progression would be: C#-F#-G#-F#; if it's still lower then move one half-step more making it: D-G-A-G.
Eventually you'll get used to play with singers and transposing without a problem and searching the keys very fast.
The poing here is that there's not such a thing as a lower key, the singer has a range and he can sing in any key but the notes that he/she can sing in each key are limited. As in the guitar you have (in a 6 string) 4 octaves and that's it you cannot play an A1 so you could say that the most confortable key is the Em or E and A or Am (could be the relatives too) because the guitar tend to be more visual in those scales and the range is pretty usable. Now, that doesn't block you from playing in Bb or C#. With the singers happend to be the same, imagine that a song reaches to an A5 and you are playing for a baritone singer, he will tell you to transpose to key where he feels confortable.

I apologize to Luciana for answering in her board.
I'm sure she will tell you more about her experience as a singer and enrich a lot this post.



Thanks for the clarification. That makes more sense.

Here's the scenario I have , I have a song thats written in B major - The singer comes back and says its too high for her, that she needs it in E or G. For the key of B, in the progression there is an F# and a G# and those are the parts she struggles with. I also had a version in the key of D already written up so I proposed that to her, but not sure if that would help the situation or make it worse considering D is 3 steps higher than B(Or also could be considered 9 steps lower) This is where I get confused and need to have a better understanding of what is the starting reference key. Unfortunately I won't get a chance to practice it with her before we play on Sunday. What confuses me is I always considered C being the key many singers are comfortable with, but if range is the real issue, then just knowing the key they sing in is not enough, right.

Sorry for all the questions.

Michael


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Ramiro Delforte
post Jan 15 2009, 01:22 PM
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Here I made some examples:

Imagine that you have a song that's originally in C major.

Attached Image

Now, imagine that the higher C (the one in the third space) is too high for your singer. So she asks you to lower the song in order to sing the piece. You can lower to Bb.

Attached Image

Now the higher note, that before was a C, it's a Bb, that means that is a whole tone lower than before.
Notice the chord progression still have the same degrees I-IV-I-IV-I-V-I but this time in Bb.

If it's still high you can keep lowering it.

Attached Image

Now we are in A major a key with sharps. So, I'm not following the circle of fifths the only thing I'm doing is transposing the progression so the higher note and the lower note she sings is into her register.

Let me know if this clarifies you a little bit more. If not keep comming the questions and I'll try to help you.

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JamesT
post Jan 27 2009, 05:45 AM
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QUOTE (Guitar1969 @ Jan 14 2009, 04:15 PM) *
Thanks for the clarification. That makes more sense.

Here's the scenario I have , I have a song thats written in B major - The singer comes back and says its too high for her, that she needs it in E or G. For the key of B, in the progression there is an F# and a G# and those are the parts she struggles with. I also had a version in the key of D already written up so I proposed that to her, but not sure if that would help the situation or make it worse considering D is 3 steps higher than B(Or also could be considered 9 steps lower) This is where I get confused and need to have a better understanding of what is the starting reference key. Unfortunately I won't get a chance to practice it with her before we play on Sunday. What confuses me is I always considered C being the key many singers are comfortable with, but if range is the real issue, then just knowing the key they sing in is not enough, right.

Sorry for all the questions.

Michael



It might help to know the highest note that she can comfortably hit. Then find the highest note in a song that you're wanting to perform. If the highest note in the lyrics of the song is higher than the highest note she can hit, you need to lower the key. Say she can hit "A" (fifth fret, 1st string) and the highest she can reach is "G" (3rd fret, 1st string). You'll need to lower the key you're playing in by a whole step. I hope that helps.


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