The band want to play it in the best key for them but you’re struggling. Why isn’t it working for you?
Think of your voice having three different ranges: total range, working range and comfort zone.
Each of these ranges is personal to you – your size of body, vocal tract and vocal folds.
Tip 1 – Finding your comfort zone
Use a hummer pitch glide or a gentle vowel sound to move up and down through your range. You want to find three things:
Your total range – including squeaks, shrieks, creaks and gear changes.
Your working range – your total range minus those ridiculous notes you don’t want to sing in public. N.B. notes you can sing to order every day are in your working range. Do not include notes you can get occasionally or through multiple takes in the studio – these are your pitch outliers.
Your comfort zone – the range of notes you are completely in control of. You can sing them loud, soft and anything in between.
Gillyanne’s PhD research revealed an average comfort zone of 14 semitones for female singers (for example, Middle C to the D a ninth above). By the way, don’t stress if you think you have more than one comfort zone. Some people do, particularly if they are changing sound quality (say from a chest-voice-based sound to a falsetto sound).
Tip 2 – Finding the song’s comfort zone
There are two things to look for in every song: the total range (every note) and the tessitura (the range of notes that occur the most often). An example would be Cohen’s Hallelujah. The written song has a range of 16 semitones (low A to C#) but most of the song sits in middle from C# to A (8 semitones). Even if you add some extra high notes, most of the song will still sit on those 8 semitones.
Hum any song through and notice which notes you sing most often. Does the melody have occasional top notes or are you sitting at the top of your range most of the time?
At the moment it doesn’t matter what key you are in, just notice where the song “sits” and whether it’s mostly written high, in the middle or low. That range of frequently occurring notes is the song’s tessitura and ideally it should be in your comfort zone.
Tip 3 – Match each song to your comfort zone
Your voice does not have a transpose button and you can’t clamp a capo round your vocal folds. So matching YOUR comfort zone to the song’s range makes everyone happy. Work your voice to the song’s comfort zone.
Experiment with different starting notes and find which key (or set of keys) works best for your voice on any given day. Whatever key you choose to sing the song in, make sure you’re comfortable with the notes in the song’s comfort zone.
EXAMPLE: in Hallelujah the song sits mainly over 8 semitones. If your comfort zone is average (14 semitones) this means that immediately there are six keys for you to sing the song comfortably. Experiment!
Knowing your comfort zone and knowing where the song “sits” will get you safely through your gigs, and for those songs that sit out of your comfort zone – plan carefully where they go in your set.
My Reaction to This Week's Singing Competition Entry
Maia Parada - Good Enough
You were singing without a backing track – so, well done for keeping the timings a cappella. Your sense of key is generally good but occasionally you wander off and that seems to be when you’re looking for a stronger emotion and more volume. You can do that with a change of sound without changing key. The original track has a more “twangy” sound at these points. You can practise finding twang in your own voice by singing those parts to “miaow miaow miaow” using a hungry cat voice. Try that in “I’ve been ripped down the middle”. Remember to work on your focus. Singing is a whole-body experience and you need to include your body (especially your right arm) in the performance! Your voice is still developing – you’ll get more tone colour and more volume with practice. Keep it up!
Voice experts, authors, team-teachers for 20 years, Gillyanne & Jeremy train performers and their teachers to find the most appropriate techniques to sing their best, whatever the style of the song. This Is A Voice: 99 exercises to train, project and harness the power of your voice’. Speaking, singing (opera, rock, pop, soul, jazz, country and everything in between), beatboxing, finding your voice (and someone else’s).
Special Opportunity! Gillyanne and Jeremy are offering a special 26% discount to VoiceCouncil readers for any of their 18 voice training webinars. There are lots of specific topics like Taking chest voice higher, Finding head voice and Troubleshooting breathing. Just use the code VoiceCouncil at the checkout – and the price will go down to under $30 (£20) for an hour’s voice techniques webinar, available online at any time. Just go here for the offer. The offer runs until the end of June.