Does the “key” choice for your song really matter?

OMGosh, I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard a singer say something like, “I usually sing in the key of G,” or “I usually sing best in the key of D.” I cringe when I hear this because the singer doesn’t really understand the full extent of what they are saying. As a musician, I know that the key of G (for example) could have a melody weaving in and out of G, B, and D, and the key of D would be D, F# and A. We, the singer, can’t predict what the notes are from the key signature…therefore, how can any singer state they sing best in a certain key. We can’t even assume the root (first note) is the highest note.

Plain and simple, it’s not reasonable for any singer to assume what “key” they sing best in.

All singers should try to learn the language of music so they can truly understand the statements they are making about the keys they are singing in. It will undoubtly stop you, the singer, from making any of the above statements.

However, there are many reasons, in my opinion, why the key choice is a very important consideration for your song, and I’ll try to shed some light on them here. If you are one of those who can’t stand to hear a song sung in any other key than the original artist’s, then you are not going to appreciate my recommendations!

1. Obviously, first, you need to be able to sing the highest note and the lowest note of the song comfortably. The best way to find this out is by trying the song in a few different keys. You might be very surprised to find out that the best key for your voice is not the one you think!

2. My recommendation for the best key is to first determine where the most important part of the song is, and go from there. This is usually the chorus, but quite often there will be a bridge that requires a certain range, so you need to watch out for these sections.

3. Usually what happens is the song feels good except for a few notes or phrase. The big question is do you sacrifice the great comfort you have in the majority of the song, for the accomodation of one phrase or a few notes. Sometimes, with my students, we simply change the melody slightly to suit the voice. However, you need to keep in mind that if these few notes are the highlight of the song (such as in a build-up in a chorus), then sacrificing this melody would not be a good idea. In this case you would need to lower the key.

4. The reason you need to play around with the key choice is because the voice quality can change dramatically in the chest register, versus the head register. Also, the area in the middle of the voice is one of the trickiest areas for most singers to handle. That’s why if you move it up or down a tone, you will sometimes find yourself saying “Wow, I’m singing in a higher key, but it’s actually more comfortable!” Yes, this can be absolutely true!

5. It’s a good idea to get someone else’s opinion.

6. Make sure you are being “you” when you sing. Don’t try and imitate the original artist’s tone or inflections. Your voice is unique enough. Let it shine.

7. Learn good vocal technique so you know how to keep your cords together as you ascend into your high register. The ability to do this will allow you sing almost any song you want (in many different keys!!).

2 thoughts on “Does the “key” choice for your song really matter?”

  1. I agree with your comments. The key should be chosen to best suit the singers voice. Sometimes the tonal range of the song is greater than the tonal range that the singer has consequently no key choice will really suit the singer.
    This is all fairly straightforward stuff, what is more difficult to establish is whether a song, in itself, works best in one key or another. Are there innate qualities associated with the key a song or tune is played in? Are these qualities the same for all listeners? I would like to know if there has been any serious research on these questions.

    • I’ve never heard of serious research being done, but I do think key changes matter. I think each key can conjure up a different temperament in the listener…even though the listener may or may not know it.


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