One of the trickiest things a vocalist has to do is pick a key that works best for his or her voice. You want to pick a key that sounds as good as possible in your vocal range, while at the same time lead the congregation effectively. Here are just a few ways that you can know the song isn’t in the right key:

  • If you have to switch to a lower octave when the song gets higher
  • If you are consistently singing out of tune in the higher or lower parts
  • If you are not able to project because it is too low
  • If you have to yell/scream the higher parts

I am sure that you have come across at least one of these problems at one time or another. All of these problems can be easily fixed by selecting the right key. Here are some principles that will help you select the best possible key for your voice.

Know your range

If you have never sat down and figured out what your vocal range is, now is the time to do it. Determining your range means finding out how low and how high you can sing. The best instrument to use in determining your range is the piano. If you don’t know how to find your range using a piano, ask a trusted musician to help you.

Know the song

Along with knowing your range, you also need to know the range of the song that you are going to be singing. Maybe there are some tricky spots in the melody, such as octave jumps or difficult intervals, that might inhibit you from singing it in a certain key, or even singing it at all. If the song doesn’t really fit your voice, that is OK! There are many more songs out there for you to be able to sing. Make sure that you have listened to the entire song and identified the tricky parts before you pick a key or commit to singing it.

Try multiple keys

Even if the vocal melody fits within your range, there may be another key that will work a little better. This is why you should try singing the song in a few different keys. Doing this will help you pick the best possible key for your voice. Here are three things that you can try:

  • Try a key you know you can sing well in – Ex: C Major
  • Try a key you think you can sing well in – Ex: C# or D Major
  • Try a key you hope you can sing well in – Ex: Eb or E Major

You are most likely going to sing in the key that you can or think you can sing in, but it is still good to try a key you hope you can sing in. The more you sing, the more your range will grow and develop. With all of that being said, remember that the goal of leading worship is to lead others in the worship of God. Just because you CAN sing to a certain pitch, doesn’t mean that you should always go as high as possible, because the majority of the congregation may not be able to sing that high.

Record or perform

Many times, the best way to see if a key works is to hear yourself sing in that key. Even if it isn’t the best recording in the world, you will still be able to hear if you are straining to hit notes or stay in tune. Grab your phone or your computer and record yourself as you are picking keys. Along with recording yourself, it is very beneficial to ask someone to listen to you (before the rehearsal) and let you know what they think. It can be hard to judge yourself honestly, so having another trusted musician give you feedback will be helpful.

Meet with a music mentor and have them help you figure out the range of your voice. After you are aware of your range, pick out a couple of songs that you are familiar with and put them in the best possible key for your voice. For more help on this process, go here.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Watch the video together or invite someone to summarize the topic.
  2. What is your initial reaction to this video? Do you disagree with any of it? What jumped out at you?
  3. Write a personal action step based on this conversation.

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