The music world took a hit Saturday afternoon after the tragic news about Whitney Houston was announced. You can argue about the talent (or lack thereof) of current Top 40 artists for days, but it when it comes to a powerhouse voice like Whitney’s, it’s hard to deny the impact she had on the music industry.
She was truly one of a kind, and she inspired – and will continue to inspire – many singers and artists. And while you may or may not have Whitney’s amazing vocal range, taking a moment to evaluate your own range is one important lesson we can learn from her. What if you can’t quite hit a certain note? Well, the beauty of being a singer is the ability to adjust a song as needed, without the complicated process of transposing the notes on paper. Since a song’s key plays directly into the energy of the song, as well as your ability to sing it well, it may make or break your next performance!
Here are a few questions to ask when choosing a key to sing in:
What are the lowest and highest notes in the song?
Determine the song’s range. Make sure to fit the song within that range. If the song’s range is larger than your range, you might be able to change the melody a bit to rein in the notes that are outside your range. Make sure that when you sing the lowest note, you aren’t pushing at all. And make sure that you don’t have to strain to sing the highest note. When you think you’ve picked the right key, make sure to try at least one whole step up and down in each direction, to be sure.
What is the song’s genre?
Sultry jazz with a small combo? You can probably afford to place the song nearly as low as you can comfortably sing it, if you want to, because you don’t need much volume. Pop? If you are singing a Christina Aguilera cover, you might want to go high. Rock? Put it wherever you can sing the loudest – unless you are part of that rare rock band that actually plays at a medium volume.
What will the performance volume likely be?
This depends partly on the genre, but also on the musicians themselves, as well as the sound engineer, room acoustics and other factors. But if it’s loud rock music, you might as well forget your lower half octave or so (unless it’s very strong), because your lower notes may not be powerful enough to be heard at all in a loud setting, and you don’t want to push on them!
On the other hand, if the performance volume is extremely low – such as in an intimate restaurant – you may not want to choose songs that take you up into a higher range if you have any trouble controlling your volume, or if you sound at all strident, in that range.
Do you need to mask any technical challenges?
Sing the song in the key you think you want to sing it in. Does it present any technical challenges for you, such as flipping back and forth over a break you haven’t yet smoothed out completely? Does it tempt you to get caught in a forced chest voice, or sing in a weak range? If so, you can either: (1) Use this key and this song as a great exercise for addressing these technical challenges, or (2) change the key to avoid the problem.
It all comes down to this: How do you sound?
The single best thing you can do is record yourself singing in each key you’re considering, and see how you sound. As a vocalist, you should record and listen to yourself as often as possible. You have the only instrument in the band which you hear completely differently than everyone else, because of resonance in your head. You need to hear yourself as the rest of the world hears you, not as you hear your voice bouncing around in your cranium.
Singers – what other tips can you share for aspiring performers? Leave a comment below! Like these posts? Sign up to receive daily updates right to your inbox! Click here to subscribe.