If you already know about keys, that’s great. If you don’t, don’t worry. You already intuitively know much more about keys than you think.
Here’s what I mean. You know when you start singing a song a capella and then quickly realize you started too high or too low because you’ve suddenly hit a part of the song that feels way too hard to sing? What you are in essence realizing is that you were in the wrong key for your voice.
If you’re just singing casually it’s no big deal to just start over, but where it gets really important is when you’re planning to perform or record. Singing in a less than optimum key will bring down your performance, lower your confidence and potentially close doors that could have easily been open to you.
One of the first things I listen for when I hear a client sing a song is how their voice is functioning in the key. Within minutes I can tell if a key change is in order. If there is too much straining or airiness or a huge and uncomfortable shift in tone or coordination, chances are something needs to shift.
More often than not, clients initially resist changing the key even though it will improve their sound. I know I did when I was first starting out. I was convinced that I had to sing my songs in the key that I wrote them in. I had a sort of mystical attachment to their original form and resisted any efforts by my coaches to change the key. While there is a lot to be said for holding space for the purity and integrity of a song and how it gets ‘downloaded’ through you, if it impedes your singing freely and powerfully, it’s no good and will prevent you from expressing the soul and message of the song.
Because my tendency was to push and strain, my coaches would raise the key, resulting in me having to move away from my comfort zone in my chest voice and move into my head voice more. I hated the way my voice sounded up there. It felt so light and weak compared to my lower end. I know many singers feel the same way at least initially.
The right key is empowering, fun to sing in, and makes you feel confident and sound fabulous. Time and time again I see how even a half step up or down can make the biggest difference instantly!
The problem is that there are still some myths out there about keys that get in the way-here’s a few and my two cents about them:
1) There is one key that will always be right for you in any song. Nope! The highs and lows within each melody of every song make it necessary for you to check out how that song feels in your voice. If there are spots that are uncomfortable for whatever reason, changing the key could be the solution. Even if you regularly feel good singing a song in a particular key, if you are getting over laryngitis for example, you may like singing it lower better. Or, if it’s that time of the month and your vocal cords are puffy, you may need to change the key to suit how your voice is. That is 100% necessary and vital to your successful singing of the song.
2) Having to change the key means you’re not a good singer. Nope! Not changing the key to suit the condition of your voice could mean that your performance or audition will suffer, or worse, you will do damage to your vocal cords. Great singers are great not because of the key they sing in, but because of their ability to sing in a way that makes us feel inspired, moved and understood. If they are struggling with the key, self-expression can get lost and there goes the show. Knowing when and how to change the key is one of the things that makes you a competent singer and musician!
3) You have to sing in the same exact key that the artist on the recording does or that the music is written in. Nope! Unless you are singing classical music where changing the key is not commonly done and not really an option, you can and most often will need and want to change the key of a song to match the way you sing. Even artists that record a song in one key will change the key when they perform live if it sounds better.
So now that you know what a key is and you know that you sometimes you will need to change the key the question remains, how? How do you decide what key to sing in?
That is not so easy to say in an article. Deciding which key to change your song into can be tricky and most singers need help with it. I know I did when I was first starting out despite my years in music conservatory studying piano. There are a lot of ways to technically change the key from computer software, to apps, to hiring musicians to transpose it for you, to simply buying the song in the key you want online.
But knowing what will work best takes the help of a skilled vocal coach who knows your voice and understands what and how you want to sing. If you’re serious about making your voice the best it can be and delivering your songs to your fullest potential, I’m here to help. I invite you to schedule a free phone call with me to find out more!
Copyright © Ruth Levy 2012