Choosing a Key or Register that Best Suits your Voice!

Mixdown Magazine Article

Have you ever sung a song and it just didn’t sound or feel right?! Well there is a good chance that the key of the song didn’t suit your voice. For example, Johnny Cash who is naturally a very low singer wouldn’t attempt to sing Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen in the original key. It is just far too high for Johnny Cash. If Johnny Cash was to cover Bohemian Rhapsody, he would definitely have to sing the song in a lower key, possibly one full octave lower.

aretha2A good example of this is the song “Natural Woman” which was written by Carole King (who is in my opinion one of the best song writers ever). The song originally appeared on her absolutely amazing Tapestry album but was later covered by Aretha Franklin who is one of the greatest singers of all time. Carole King is an Alto and Aretha Franklin a Soprano. Aretha Franklin originally recorded the song in the same key as Carole King. But the producer said that the song lacked passion, feel and that it just didn’t sound right. So when Aretha Franklin covered this song she changed it so that is was in a higher key to suit her voice. And that is the version that you hear today. It probably wouldn’t have been a number one worldwide hit for Aretha Franklin if the song wasn’t taken up in key!

The moral of the story is….

1. Please come to terms with and embrace the tone and sound of your own voice and accept your natural range. In other words, how long or how high your voice can go… for now. you can work on extending your range higher and lower by training it with various scales and techniques but please be patient – everyone’s voice and vocal range is different. Kind of like a fingerprint, they are unique, beautiful and distinctive.

2. Teachers generally categorize singers into three different types.
For Males: Bass (low voice), Baritone (middle voice) and Tenor (high voice)
Females: Contralto (low voice) Alto (middle voice) and Soprano (high voice).

Try to find our what your voice is from the above categories mentioned. If you are having singing lessons your teacher should tell you what type of voice you are in the first one or two lessons. If not, ask them what vocal type you are. If they cannot tell you or do not know then it is probably best to find a new teacher! Once you know this information you can now go and choose songs to sing or write songs in a key that best suits your vocal range.

3. Choose a vocal register that feels comfortable and that you enjoy singing in. If you’re struggling to sing the song in its original key up in your higher range or you start sounding strained, constricted, forced and does not feel natural – try singing in a lower key! The same goes for when you are singing in your lower range. If you are sounding muddy, muffled, unclear, lacked volume or sound unnatural you are probably singing in a key that is too low.

Remember it is much more impressive to sing to an audience a really basic song in a range or register best suited for you that brings out real emotion and expression than it is to sing a technically difficult song which you can ‘almost do well’ but has no depth. To be a ‘WOW’ singer it requires excellent song choice and one that is in the right key for your voice.

What’s my Key?

Many singers are often eager to emulate their favourite singing idols but forget that these challenging songs were written either by the artists themselves to suit their voice or written by someone else to cater the artists voice. They are not written to suit YOUR voice! Sure, keep practicing singing these challenging songs at home. It will help you improve your voice if done correctly but choose songs that are in your KEY WHEN PERFORMING!

Don’t be afraid to experiment with singing in different keys, sometimes even a half step drop can be the difference between hitting that really big high note in the middle of the song or your voice breaking under pressure. Remember, it is not about how high or how low you can sing – it’s not a competition – it’s about how well you can sing a song that suits your range and really brings out your authentic voice.

Not enough credit is given to using different registers or sounds of voice when singing songs. The best way to sing a cover song is to sing it in a register or SOUND that suits you. That way, you take more ownership of the song by delivering it with your personality and style. Again, don’t be afraid to experiment and change up the sound and vocal register of a song. Just because, Dave Grohl sings loud and dirty doesn’t mean you have to do that. For example, you could approach a Foo Fighter song in an acoustic set with clearer middle voice sounds rather than belting every second phrase. Also, approach each song depending on the type of gig you are doing. For example, you are singing in a rock and and its loud and hard, you might want to cry more using throat register and crossover register. But if you are doing an acoustic gig, you may have to adapt and use more falsetto or head voice to suit the environment or the mood for the same songs, especially those high notes.

So remember, it isn’t about imitating your favourite artists range or tone – it is about finding out what will best suit you and your voice. Knowing your range is imperative when it comes to singing. In some cases, this will require you to change the key of your chosen song whether they are covers or originals. Whatever you do, just listen to and feel what is best for your voice.

Rock on!

By Peter Vox