Should the worship music keys be chosen for the congregation or for the main singer in the band?  This has been a controversial subject in our worship group.  The main singer has a very high voice and chooses keys that are high.  Because of this I believe that the majority of the congregation cannot sing along with us unless they sing harmony.  I think the  main question here is, "Are we performing or assisting others to worship with us?"

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Comment by David D Waggoner on December 3, 2012 at 12:24pm

Good question.

In general, it should be keyed for the congregation but if that puts it into a range the leader CANNOT sing, it needs to be adjusted.  That said, as musicians we should have the greater range and have flexibility for vocal range as compared to the average congregant who is not a vocalist.

  I have a very low voice. In a previous congregation, the other leader (a guy) could hit notes higher than our sopranos. So we had to be very careful to key the songs where we both could sing it and no one of the congregation was stretched out of range either at the top or the bottom.

Basically: if you as a leader cannot comfortably hit the notes, you  can't lead.

If the congregation cannot comfortably hit the notes, they cannot follow.

You need both.

Comment by Marsha Conley on December 3, 2012 at 4:15pm

Thanks for taking the time to answer my question. Good insights.   I would also appreciate some opinions from some others out there.

Comment by Alex Morris on December 3, 2012 at 9:09pm

What I was always taught (and generally agree with) is that songs should not hit notes higher than D or lower than A (this happens to be the exact melodic range of "In Christ Alone" in the key of D).

It's not a big deal if songs every once in a while it a low G or high E, but if most of the melody is in an unusually high or low range it will be physically difficult for the average person in the congregation (who is generally around a low tenor [male] or low soprano [female]) to sing.

Jesus clearly taught that leadership = servanthood.  We're supposed to serve everyone else first and ourselves last.  If we serve ourselves first by singing and playing in a style that is comfortable or enjoyable to us without any regard for whether or not it helps the congregation enter into worship then we're simply not exercising Christ-like leadership. We're exercising worldly, me-first leadership.

In the context of your current praise band, if the lead vocalist is not aware of these principles then someone needs to teach him, and then he needs to decide how to apply it to his current leadership context.

Comment by Stevo on December 3, 2012 at 9:55pm

I think it's a bad idea to key and pitch a song out of range of the congregation. We aren't here for us, we're here for the congregation so THEY can sing praises to God. We are here to assist and encourage THEM to sing. 

It's always good to know the general range of a congregation. In most cases, I seem to recall (like Alex) that for most populations in modern America, it's the "d" note at the high end of the treble clef. There will always be a note or two that is out of range of folks, but generally staying within a "generic" range is best.

In my case, I'm the voice in our group that most closely matches the congregation. So we generally gauge it that way.

Comment by Wulf Forrester-Barker on December 4, 2012 at 8:29am

I wonder if it wouldn't hurt to drop a little singing lesson into church services from time to time? For example, you could sacrifice one song and use that time to find out the range of the congregation or to try some simple exercises. People often discover they have a wider range than they expected when they start doing "silly" vocal games where they aren't worried about a predefined sense of how high or low they can sing. I had the privilege of attending a choir for a while with an excellent singing teacher and discovered that I have a much wider range than I originally thought.

There are also some simple mental and physical "tricks" that can help. For example, instead of thinking of a song as going up and down, think of the tune as swinging rhythmically from side to side. That releases you from stretching up for the "high" notes and down for the "low" ones which is, physiologically, the opposite of what you need to do to reach those pitches easily.

Anyway, back to practising the bass part for one of the songs we are doing this Christmas, where I have to get to the B below the E below the bottom of the bass clef stave!

Comment by Wayne Pau on January 5, 2013 at 1:37am

I find this a constant struggle for me. I don't know how many Sundays I'm distracted because the worship leader thinks they need to sing like David Crowder and hit a note that even a pro can barely do. The screeching and wailing turns my stomach. +_+

I'm torn because I'm a subscriber to 'colour' of keys theory. I'd much rather play Heart of Worship in Eb than D. Black keys are moodier/daker than White keys. Fingering/Chord Shapes on guitar matter to me, so finding a key isn't like a shoe size, it's more like picking a wedding dress maybe? It's a matter of size and fit.

However, I think it's not a compromise. 1st, you got to be able to leader the song. 2nd, people got to be able to follow. Don't think it's either or, but must be both. You can't be half pregnant. (Sometimes it's not a matter of the right key, but right song. There are many songs I'd perform, but never lead for worship.)

Lastly, I read this blog and thought it was very well written. Great insight. If you have time, have a read. Interesting how he talks about his vocal prof. says the average vocal range has shrunk in the last few decades:

http://worshipleading.zachjones.net/2009/08/03/song-keys/

w.

p.s. I was humbled many years ago though, playing on a worship team for a student worship conference in Southern Ontario around 2000. We had picked some modern, challenging songs, like Delirou5?'s History Maker and struggled with the key that the congregation could sing it easily. It really caused a lot of stress and conflict on the team. I can't remember how many times we changed keys. However, we made a consensus pick, and some prayer about it. Turns out later the congregation was so moved by the songs they *overcame* our limitations of keys and sung thru parts we thought were unsingable. (High volume and energy seem to be lubricant for vocal range issues...) At the end of the day God is Great and people can surprise you. I talked to some people in the seats afterwards and was humbled that they didn't see the issues we saw. They just had "pure worship". It was awesome and I was humbled.

http://worshipleading.zachjones.net/2009/08/03/song-keys/

Comment by David D Waggoner on January 6, 2013 at 2:01am

We had picked some modern, challenging songs, like Delirou5?'s History Maker and struggled with the key that the congregation could sing it easily. It really caused a lot of stress and conflict on the team. I can't remember how many times we changed keys. However, we made a consensus pick, and some prayer about it. Turns out later the congregation was so moved by the songs they *overcame* our limitations of keys and sung thru parts we thought were unsingable. (High volume and energy seem to be lubricant for vocal range issues...) At the end of the day God is Great and people can surprise you. I talked to some people in the seats afterwards and was humbled that they didn't see the issues we saw. They just had "pure worship". It was awesome and I was humbled.

I think sometimes the effort we put in up front like this makes the issue a non-issue for the congregation.  And that is a good thing.

And nothing can replace a God's anointing from on high and voices being warmed up by previous songs.

Comment by Marsha Conley on January 8, 2013 at 1:46am

Thanks for the blog info.  I did read it and it was helpful.  I have come to the conclusion that it is better to sing songs in congregation friendly keys if possible, but it doesn't always have to be done that way.  I like the idea of using different vocalists to lead some of the songs so they will be done in keys that will fit a variety of voice ranges within the congregation. That means some of the songs will be sung lower and some higher.

Also, God's anointing is what counts.  He will be honored no matter what key the songs are sung in.

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