Judy Rodman - All Things Vocal Blog

Training & insights for stage and studio singers, speakers, vocal coaches and producers from professional vocal coach and author of "Power, Path & Performance" vocal training method. Download All Things Vocal podcast on your fav app!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

What Key Do You Sing In? Why That's A Dumb Question

When somebody asks, "what key you sing in?" What do you say? The best response is a question of your own: What key do I sing WHAT in?

Let me explain: There is no "right key" for you to sing EVERY song in! The key you sing best in depends on the melody of the song. Instead of asking "what key do you sing in?" the enlightened question is "what is your vocal range?". I'll use two songs most people are familiar to demonstrate:

The simple (no flourishes or vocal licks) melody line of "The Star Spangled Banner" melody uses a lot more vocal range than the simple melody of "Amazing Grace". The Star Spangled Banner uses 12 notes of the scale; Amazing Grace uses 8. Therefore, a singer would need to start the Star Spangled Banner a lot lower than Amazing Grace, so that the high notes are reachable. For instance, I would sing the national anthem in the key of "F", and I sing the hymn in "D".

So what key do I sing in? The correct answer... it depends on othe melody. Here are points to consider in choosing the key you sing a particular song in:
  1. What is the total vocal range of the melody? Where would the lowest note hit? Where would the highest?
  2. Will you be playing with the melody? Are you going to embellish the melody stylistically, going higher and/or lower than the simple melody? Those notes must be taken into account.
  3. Where is your sweet spot of vocal range? If you have a large range, enabling you to sing the song in several different keys, you need to figure out what key will put you in your richest vocal resonance. It's not about the high notes, folks-- it's about the tone quality. If you pick a key too low, you will sound dark and to put it bluntly, boring. If you pick a key too high, you will sound (and feel) vocally strained. If you pick just the right key, your voice will feel, sound and communicate so much better.
Hope this has been enlightening. Oh and one more point... don't let the guitar player pick the key, because their choice is often what key they play the song with open strings in (love to all guitar players, but you know it's true, haha!)

If you'd like to increase your vocal range, contact me at my website. Comments anyone?

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  • At January 22, 2011 at 9:53 AM , Blogger Andy Mawson said...

    Hi Judy -- Just wanted to let you know I found this post to be very helpful. It will (I hope!) Allow me to approach my frustration with singing 'in key', with a new tool.

  • At January 3, 2016 at 5:30 PM , Blogger Unknown said...

    Thank you thank you thank you - for the love of God and all that's decent, in the world, THANK YOU. You eloquently explained what I've been trying to explain to my lead guitar player FOREVER.

  • At January 3, 2016 at 5:37 PM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    hahahaha... you made my night with that comment:) And not all your keys should be open string keys, either! :)


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