How To Choose The Right Worship Song Keys (Podcast Ep. 26)

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Choosing keys is important

You can choose a great song, create an amazing arrangement, and perform it perfectly.

But in the end, if you didn’t pick the right key, you and/or the congregation won’t be able to sing it.

Have you ever loved a song that came on the radio and you wanted to sing it? But then you discovered it was too high for you in some parts? So then you had to drop an octave on the chorus and it just wasn’t as fun to sing anymore.

This is how the congregation feels when you pick a key that’s too high, even if you can sing it.

Or, you could choose a key that’s too high for your range. You end up sounding bad.

Here are ways to pick the right key for you and the congregation.

Find your range

You want to intimately know what you can and can’t sing.

Go to a piano or guitar and figure out the highest note you can sing.

Write down your highest and lowest notes.

Now find a song and put it in the key so that it uses your highest note.

Make sure you can sing this note in a song. Sometimes you can sing a note, but when you have to put words around it, you can’t sing it well.

If you need to change your highest and lowest notes based on this exercise, do that.

Now you know to check the highest note in a song and drop the key if it goes above that note.

This can be disappointing because 95% of a certain song can be within your range. But then it hits a higher note on one word of the bridge. Guess what – you have to drop the key for that one note.

In some cases, you might be tempted to change that note, but most of the time you don’t want to teach the song the wrong way. And, it’s not kosher to change a copyrighted song. So just lower the key.


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Determine the congregation’s comfort zone

Remember our radio analogy.

You don’t want to do that to your congregation. You might have a bigger range than they do. But you probably can’t go around and test everyone’s range.

But there are guidelines that will help you make sure you’re in the right vocal range for a typical person.

As a worship leader, you have to accommodate men, women, children, adults, and different age ranges.

This becomes a challenge because everyone has different ranges.

However, a common recommendation is that you keep your songs ranges between middle C and the next C.

These are also called C4 and C5 notes.

So on a piano, if you find middle C, you can use that note, all the way up to and including the next C on the keyboard.

On a guitar, those notes are on the 2nd string, 1st fret up to the 13th fret. Or 2nd string 1st fret up to the 1st string, 8th fret, which is C5.

Keep in mind these are guidelines and you may want to expand or even contract this range on either end depending on your congregation.

I personally don’t mind going up to a D on the high end. Sometimes even higher if I’m just touching that note once or twice in a song. But even D can get tiring if the song stays there too long.

Keep in mind that it may be hard to find a range for both men and women.

However, there are still things someone can sing if the song is out of their range. They can sing harmonies, or an octave lower or higher.

You can’t choose a perfect key for everyone, so just do your best to get in the middle somewhere.

Bottom Line

Choosing the right key can make the difference between your congregation singing or not singing.

If you choose songs within the range between middle C and up one octave, you have a good chance of most people being able to sing it.


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