My Band Plays Outside My Range!

Dr. Jahn,
My band likes to play our songs in the keys that they are used to, but often those keys are too high or too low for my voice, and require me to strain. What can I tell them to help them understand why singers need to sing songs that sit well in their range?

-Mike

Dear Mike,

Your problem is one of communication with your band. Some instrumentalists simply don’t appreciate what singers need to do.

In this context, specifically, they need to appreciate that singing in different parts of your vocal range is not a mechanical and arbitrary process like putting your finger on one key or fret versus another: you need to use different muscles in the throat, and you need to adjust your breathing and support.

So, while a song may be better for them in a certain key, either because it “sounds better” or is technically easier to play, you, as a singer have specific anatomic and physiologic constraints attached to every sound you put out.

Rather than make this into a contest of wills, here is how you can all be on the same side of the argument.

Let’s assume that you all want the song to sound good. Explain to them that you have a specific range where you can sing really well, with good dynamics and physical comfort.

Explain also that if you get outside of that range, your voice will be softer, less colourful and resonant, and generally less attractive.

You can add that singing at these extremes can also harm your voice, leading to vocal fatigue, voice damage, and eventually no lead singer.

If they can appreciate this, they may be amenable to transposing the songs up our down a bit to accomodate your needs.

They can always add dynamic and tecnhical excitement in other ways, since all the notes are at their fingertips.

But they are not at your fingertips, and your vocal folds, which are resilient but delicate, have certain physiologic limitations that need to be respected.

-Anthony F. Jahn, MD

Dr. Jahn welcomes your questions. You can send these to editor@voicecouncil.com

This discussion is for general information and not to be construed as specific medical advice that you should obtain from your own physician.


  • Jcd

    And what about trying to do it in that different key ? I’m actually facing that problem on a few covers, of course our singing can’t be as powerful as usual but can’t it be good exercice ? Or just a waste of time ?
    Thanks ;)

  • Wendy Parman

    Singer’s should always sing in the best key for them for any given song! You can work on your range, etc. in lessons or with your vocal exercises. However, you can work in different keys or parts of your range to give a song the sound you want, as long as you aren’t straining or singing improperly. The idea that a cover needs to be in the original key is ridiculous! Unless you are singing with a full orchestra and it’s a score; (musical theater or opera) musicians have to realize it’s their job to be able play in different keys. (capo anyone?)

  • Yep! I’ll have a CAPO tetleys tea, with 20 grains of sugar and a Tim-Tam bicky …….Tah!

    Poppa

  • Shucks Mister! I wish my noisy neighbours wuz like your band…and
    way outa my Range ….that way I would never have to listen to that
    stultefying, stupifying stressfully incessant “Bass Boom of the suburbs
    !”

    Oh…Home, home on the range
    Where the band plays in ways I can’t change.
    I’ll give them a yell
    That’ll scare’em like Hell!
    And maybe a key change they’ll arrange!

    Poppa
    http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/popp

  • Jcd

    You’re right of course, but that often piss off everyone in the band to learn a song in a different key… And as a guitarist too, I can understand, that’s why as long as I’m not hurting myself I try to sing on whatever key it should be ! (Ps : This band is totally amateur and for pleasure only, in a pro band I’m agree they should change key to fit the singer’s voice)

  • P definitely is for “Pro”, Jc.
    That surely includes as to how we publicly express ourselves……if you get my drift?

  • Wendy Parman

    If you are straining your voice to sing it in a key that is less than
    ideal for you, that can be detrimental to your voice. That is pretty
    important for amateurs and pros alike. If it is merely a key that is not
    the absolute best for you, but you can pull if off, without pain,
    strain or stress, then fine. If you are unsure, I would consult with a
    vocal coach. And I would stress to your bandmates this point: most
    people are listening to the vocals first when they hear a band, so if
    the vocal is not so good….? The whole band suffers.