I remember when I was a younger and hearing the words, “I think we should change the key” from my vocal coach. I would never ask why and just go along with it but it left me in a constant thought of, ‘is it because I am not good enough?” This stuck in my mind for a while until one day, the key change went from lowering to raising. Was I now better than the original singer? Could I sing higher and more powerful than them?
The be all and end all of changing the key of the song is, it sounds better, suits you better and feels better.
Why Should You Mess Around With The Key?
Let me ask you this. Would you buy a pair of jeans, some new shoes or an expensive jacket without trying it on first? Overall, I would guess the answer will be no. Why? Because you want it to look good! Think of keys of a song as trying on clothing. Like clothing you want it to feel comfortable and (look) sound good.
If you sound and feel good then your confidence grows. Simple.
If you are struggling in a song and you know where the struggle point is then, as singers, we like to panic and over think these bits. Our mind is no longer focused on delivering a gripping and emotional performance but on “am I going to be able to sing this bit?”
You Don’t Have To Lower It…
Sometimes songs just sit in awkward spots like, on the passaggio for example. It is just a damn right pain if the voice is dipping in and out of this area and can make a singer feel very uneasy. What would be the usual solution to this though? Lowering the key. Many singers do not like to hear the word ‘lowering’ since they all long for an extensive, powerful range. Have you ever tried raising it instead? Many of my students often give me a perplexed look when I say were are going to raise the key forgetting that they can sing adequately in their higher register. So, to address the fear I make them sit a little higher just over the passaggio using their lower register less. This allows them to ‘settle’ into a certain pitch area of their voice aiding development in self-confidence and muscle control. Just because your voice cracks in the original key it doesn’t mean the key has to be lowered.
The Singers Tone.
Some singers suit lower keys and some higher keys but this is not down to ability. It is down to tone. I have plenty of singers whom have ranges of 3,4 and 5 octaves but their best voice quality in songs may sit a little lower or higher than expected.
Tone gives a gripping performance, not how high you can sing.
Everyone is built different and everyone’s voice has its own unique ‘sound stamp’, enjoy your voice and don’t be downtrodden by overproduced studio vocals. If you want a true representation of a singer then view a live performance on youtube. Often (but not all the time) you will hear a completely different tone, changes to the melody to make it easier and quite often, a change in key so it suits their live abilities more. The biggest cheat you will see is the singer offering their microphone out to the audience for them to sing the song. This could be down to fear of the key or their confidence but mostly, it engages the audience helping them feel involved (it also gives the singer a break).
How To Change The Key.
This can be done in any number of ways. If you are an instrumentalist then shift the chords up or down a semitone at a time to test where your voice works best. Any good chord sheet website can do this automatically for you. Try keys out – even if you feel comfortable in the start key.
My Favourite App.
In my opinion, the best and quickest app for changing the key is the ‘Amazing Slow Downer”. It can change pitch, speed and even loop sections all from the music that you have on your phone. If it very quick and can instantly help you find a new key.
Be careful with apps though – you can gain a false model of vocal tone. Use for pitching only and develop the tone on what you feel is fitting for the song. Let the music, emotion and wording dictate the tone.