Just because I can physically sing a song in any key doesn’t mean the song comes to life in just any old key –says Kim Chandler.
In my working life as a session singer and vocal coach, the issue of key choice for songs is a constant theme (‘scuse the pun!).
If a songwriter books me to sing their song, then finding the right key for my voice on their song becomes an important decision for ensuring that the song ends up sounding the best it can.
As an experienced professional singer, just because I can physically sing a song in any key doesn’t mean the song comes to life in just any old key.
It’s worth the experimentation and exploration to find the right one every time.
When I’m working with singers in my coaching life, I’m regularly confronted with singers struggling to sing a song simply because it’s not in an ideal key for them.
Often they blame themselves thinking they must be a ‘bad singer’ just because the song doesn’t ‘sit’ right until the ideal key has been established.
A poor key choice can cause ‘breathing problems’ if it’s too low or range/register/stamina issues if it’s too high.
Change the key and voila, the vocal technique problems often simply disappear!
A Well-Fitted Shoe
I liken the process of finding the right key to shopping for well-fitting shoes.
If a key is too low it can be like shoes that are too big. The singer ‘flops around’ in a range that’s too low for them, they can’t get any energy in the delivery and it feels all wrong.
If a key is too high it can be like shoes that are too small or tight. You might be able to wear them around in the short term, but your feet end up aching and maybe get blisters, not a dissimilar experience for your voice.
Ah, the relief of shoes that fit perfectly the first time – you can walk around in them all day.
And the relief of a song in the right key – you can sing it and sing it and it sounds & feels great!
A note for songwriters: please don’t ask a singer what key they sing in. I’ve been asked this question many times but there’s no answering it because it completely depends on what the span of the vocal melody is (lowest to highest note) and where it sits most of the time (i.e. the ‘tessitura’) for any given song.
Kim Chandler is one of the UK’s top session singers and industry vocal coaches. She’s coached charting artists such as Courtney Love, Paloma Faith, Jess Glynne, Birdy, Marlon Roudette, Josh Franceschi (You Me At Six), Oli Sykes (Bring Me The Horizon) and more. Kim works regularly as a vocal coach at Abbey Road Studios, and in the academic world presents at workshops, master classes and national & international voice conferences. Her work can also be found in TC-Helicon’s The Ultimate Guide To Singing and Springer’s “Teaching Singing in the 21st Century”. She is also the creator of the Voice Cross Trainer App for iOS and Android. It’s based on her popular “Funky ‘n Fun” vocal training series. See her Website