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  • Keys of songs

    Hey everyone, I'm new here so if this is in the wrong section go ahead and move it. I am a electric guitar player in my churches band. We are a smaller church and do not have a specific worship leader/Pastor, we just have one person who volunteers to pick the songs and the keys. Lately me and the other musicians have had some trouble practicing because they keys are different than the original, often times even 5 steps lower. This is also causing an issue with he singers as they cannot practice their parts because they have nothing to sing along to. I told the person who picks the music out about this issue and that it would help everyone out if we used the original keys and they said that we must change the keys or else the congregation will not be able to sing along. Does anyone else change the key to help the congregation? I can understand if the song is a little high to help the singers the key could be lowered, but I'm taking about huge key changes not small ones. I'm looking for advice or evidence to show this person that we shouldn't be changing the keys or if I'm wrong I'd like to know how we can help the singers practice in these different keys. These odd keys have been messing up our practices and Sunday Morning worship sets and I know we can do much better. Any advice is appreciated even if its telling me I'm completely wrong.

  • #2
    Short answer- we don't change keys that often- and if we do it's not more than a step either way unless it's some unusual situation.

    The 'congregation can't sing it' is more often than not a red herring- what I often refer to as an artificial barrier. If the team can't sing it, it's kinda moot whether the congregation can sing it.

    If we want to go places we haven't been, we will have to do things we haven't done.

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    • #3
      Originally posted by Mike on Bass View Post
      Short answer- we don't change keys that often- and if we do it's not more than a step either way unless it's some unusual situation.

      The 'congregation can't sing it' is more often than not a red herring- what I often refer to as an artificial barrier. If the team can't sing it, it's kinda moot whether the congregation can sing it.
      Ok, that is very understandable to me. Thank you for the response.

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      • #4
        I'm going to disagree with Mike a bit, here. "Singability" for the congregation is critically important, and most modern worship tunes are recorded by tenors with pretty high ranges. If you look through an old hymnal, you'll notice that most of the tunes top out at a "D" with an occasional "E." I try to follow the same rule of thumb with worship songs, which typically means lowering them a step or so. We play very few of our tunes in the original keys. I would agree that the types of drastic adjustments you're talking about seem unnecessary for most songs, although if you have a female lead singer, I could see where she might need to make some more significant adjustments to tunes that were originally recorded by men. For example, I used to lead "Holy Spirit" in A (Bryan Torwalt's key), while my female co-leader would do it in D (Kim Walker's key).

        Either way, I think it falls on the leader to provide resources (charts, rehearsal tracks, etc.) in the proper key if it isn't the original. Just as the musicians and vocalists are expected to prepare for the rehearsal, it's the leader's responsibility to prepare the team. I make sure my team knows what key we'll be in well in advance and I make sure everyone has the necessary resources, and then I expect them to be ready to play the tune as I sent it out.
        Eric Frisch
        www.ericfrisch.com

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        • #5
          I can explain my thought process in a little more detail...

          Originally posted by efrisch View Post
          "Singability" for the congregation is critically important, and most modern worship tunes are recorded by tenors with pretty high ranges.
          I agree with the importance of singability for the congregation, but I also contend that it has to be singable for the team as well. If your team is tenor-heavy and you try to change it to a baritone range and they struggle, that doesn't make sense, either. Common sense should prevail. If the team is struggling to sing/play it, maybe it shouldn't be done in that key-whatever key it is. Move it to where it makes sense.

          Without going down a rabbit hole, my concern that singability can be an artificial barrier is because it's so subjective. Different people have different methods to determine what 'singability' is. And there's no real method to gauge success- other than the "Complaintometer", which is again subjective. Where it gets to be an artificial barrier is when common sense goes out the window and it becomes a 'thus saith the Lord' mandate that we 'only' sing in these keys because those are the only keys the congregation can sing.

          I also agree that gender of the singer can make a difference in what key a leader would do it in. As Eric's example of "Holy Spirit", that makes sense. But I think a key element of that process is picking a key that someone else has recorded so you can get material for the team to rehearse. There are usually enough covers of most P&W tunes that a leader can find a key that works best for their team. And their congregation.

          Originally posted by efrisch View Post
          Either way, I think it falls on the leader to provide resources (charts, rehearsal tracks, etc.) in the proper key if it isn't the original. Just as the musicians and vocalists are expected to prepare for the rehearsal, it's the leader's responsibility to prepare the team. I make sure my team knows what key we'll be in well in advance and I make sure everyone has the necessary resources, and then I expect them to be ready to play the tune as I sent it out.
          I also agree with that. The leader needs to send out not only the right key of music but a recording of someone singing/playing it in that key so the team has a common point of reference. The team needs to adapt to that kind of adjustment.

          Good luck- hope your team can come to a little better consensus.
          If we want to go places we haven't been, we will have to do things we haven't done.

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          • #6
            If you study how Praise and Worship has changed through the years, you will notice that in the beginning, the key of a song wasn't all that problematic. Most songs kept within a very particular range that made it easy for both sopranos and basses to sing along. But once CCM began co-opting with modern worship songwriters, this changed. CCM has to be radio-friendly, and radio-friendly often means demonstrating a professional singer's quality singing chops. Too low for radio, it becomes uninteresting. Being higher range allows for greater interest.

            On top of this, a particular trend over the last decade-or-so involves the rise of the octave-bump song, where the song starts low, and then jumps a full octave. This allows for an extremely limited range of singing (not to mention an extremely limited melody options). Most of the time, such songs work best in the key of Bb.

            So my heart goes out to you. No song should be higher than high e-flat, unless there is good reason for it. Because of this we won't sing "10,000 Reasons", with that high "f-sharp" note. Unless yours is the church that prays healing over your congregants vocal cords directly after.
            Nick Alexander
            Host, The Prayer Meeting Podcast
            Worship that is Contemporary, Traditional, Charismatic, Contemplative, Spontaneous, based on the Church calendar, play it whenever you want.
            Find out what Nick Alexander can do for your conference, retreat or workshop.

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            • #7
              At our church we change the keys all the time depending who is singing that week. We can go as far as 5 steps lower than the original key. We usually do not have more than 3 singers on stage any giving week with each of them possibly leading a song. I am currently the only lead guitar player so I play every week. Who ever is leading the song will pick the key. We will do about 5 to 6 songs and try to keep most of them close to the same key. For me, I learn the song in the original key and then transpose it to the key the singer picks. I have multiple guitars so sometimes I will tune one down so I can play the song the way I learned it. We normally do not have any issues with the congregation being able to sing along.

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              • #8
                We probably change keys in about 75% of the songs we cover. Usually just a step or two, but sometimes we'll move a whole fifth or so depending on what we're wanting to do with the song. If it's a Chris Tomlin song, we either bump it up a step or two and let the altos take the lead, or down a step or two so the guys can sing it. In comparison, most Hillsong songs seem to be in a good key for us/our people.

                Nate
                Practical Worship

                Please Pray For My Wife

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                • #9
                  I will say, the other thing we often do is give the lead on one song to multiple people. There is no rule that says the only one group is allowed to sing lead on one song. If a single song has a wide range, we might give the baritones the lead on the verse and the altos the lead on the chorus.
                  Practical Worship

                  Please Pray For My Wife

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