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skycyclepilot 10-31-2019 07:23 AM

Playing in a Different Key
 
My vocal range is decidedly bass/baritone. Singing any note above middle "C" is a real stretch, and sounds even worse than notes sung within my normal range! (On the upside - if you could consider it that - I can hit the "C" two octaves below middle "C".)

Anyway, since the general public seems to find high voices more pleasing to the ear, it seems most popular vocalists sing in a range well above mine. As a performer, this leaves me with two options - sing only songs by artists with my same range, or change the key of most songs I want to sing. I usually have to drop a song anywhere from a second to a fifth.

So, is changing the key of a song considered a cardinal sin? It seems to me, that some songs just don't sound quite right in other keys. For example, "Rocky Mountain High" is in "E" - played in "D" with a capo on the second fret. For my voice, the key of "G" or "A" works best, but, I can't play the same licks Denver does, once I change the key, and the song just doesn't sound the same.

So, what do you folks do about this???

merlin666 10-31-2019 07:32 AM

High vocals are not more popular but simply more audible. That's why fiddles and mandolins make good lead instruments - they have high frequency and can be heard well among other instruments despite their small size. I sing tenor and can do that without the help of a microphone even in a crowded bar. And I very often change the key of songs to not have to strain my voice. But keep in mind that some cover songs can be difficult to transpose and play in lower key, for example needle and the damage done or wish you were here. In those cases you will have to capo up and then go an octave lower, which may have a strange effect mixing higher guitar with lower vocals. Also you may not be heard well without a lot of amplification.

The Bard Rocks 10-31-2019 07:44 AM

You are doing it right and are the rare one who actually knows what your range is. Either select your songs so they stay below that C or change the key until they do.

Most notation is written for the typical voice and that's not you. So in order to sing properly, you need to lower the key. It's necessary, but has disadvantages: if you are leading, everyone else with you must transpose to your key. But they can use a capo to adjust. You can't. It sometimes screws up the fingering as you have discovered. A potential solution to this for you is to use a baritone guitar as sort of a reverse capo which can enable you to retain the fingering you prefer and to make it singable.

Another potential solution is to search for songs that suit your voice well. That means many of the ones you like may have to be discarded, but it also means your singing can be much more effective if you make good choices. I have three friends who do this, and it limits their repertoire but, oh my, are they good at the ones they kept!

It's a "make lemonade when life deals you lemons" kind of thing.

Wade Hampton 10-31-2019 07:46 AM

I just put the songs in keys that suit my voice, and donít worry about matching the recordings.

Something else you might consider is looking into getting a baritone guitar. Iíve got one that I tune from B to B with the intervals between the strings the same as on standard guitar. What that means in practical terms is that the notes on the baritone are the same as standard guitar if I capo at the fifth fret.

I never capo there because whatís the point, right? But if I capo at the fourth fret that puts the baritone at a half step lower than standard, capo three gives me a full step lower, and so forth.

In effect this gives me a ďnegative capo,Ē all the way down to the nut, where playing a G formation gives me a D natural chord.

One song that I like to sing at capo three is the old Turtles song ďHappy Together,Ē which I can sing in the original key of A minor if Iím really warmed up. But putting the capo on the baritone at the third fret allows me to sing it a step down in G minor while still playing the A minor chord formations and playing the riff that goes with it.

So a baritone guitar might be something for you to consider.

Just a thought...


Wade Hampton Miller

skycyclepilot 10-31-2019 07:51 AM

Fortunately, I sing solo, and mostly for my own entertainment, so I don't have to worry about what changing keys would do to other musicians and vocalists. I'm doing it mostly as a hobby, and as a way to keep my 58 year old brain active. Unfortunately, I want to play the songs I love most, and almost all are out of my range! I guess I'll just have to change the key, and let the challenge be to make them sound right.

Thanks!

Quote:

Originally Posted by The Bard Rocks (Post 6199908)
You are doing it right and are the rare one who actually knows what your range is. Either select your songs so they stay below that C or change the key until they do.

Most notation is written for the typical voice and that's not you. So in order to sing properly, you need to lower the key. It's necessary, but has disadvantages: if you are leading, everyone else with you must transpose to your key. But they can use a capo to adjust. You can't. It sometimes screws up the fingering as you have discovered. A potential solution to this for you is to use a baritone guitar as sort of a reverse capo which can enable you to retain the fingering you prefer and to make it singable.

Another potential solution is to search for songs that suit your voice well. That means many of the ones you like may have to be discarded, but it also means your singing can be much more effective if you make good choices. I have three friends who do this, and it limits their repertoire but, oh my, are they good at the ones they kept!

It's a "make lemonade when life deals you lemons" kind of thing.


KevWind 10-31-2019 07:57 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Wade Hampton (Post 6199910)
I just put the songs in keys that suit my voice, and donít worry about matching the recordings.

Wade Hampton Miller

Bingo............... My exact advice also

musicman1951 10-31-2019 08:00 AM

As one who has suffered through singer/guitarists butchering tunes because the range is too high - thank you for taking the trouble to transpose them into a useful range. I heard a guy performing outside on a restaurant patio a couple of weeks ago and the song was clearly at least a third too high - and painful to the ears.

It is true that there are a small handful of tunes with signature licks that are difficult to reproduce in alternate keys. If you work at it you can often find a pretty close approximation, but occasionally there are songs I just don't play for lack of a satisfactory work around.

With few exceptions, most people in the audience don't know all the guitar licks note for note.

As an aside, C is not a very high note - even for a bass. While it's certainly not necessary, you might find that a couple of lessons with a voice major quickly produces another minor third of useful range.

rokdog49 10-31-2019 08:02 AM

Unfortunately some songs just donít work very well transposed.
If your goal is to sing in your range because you like a song and wish to perform it, fine. It may not come off well, but most audiences donít care.
Iím a baritone by nature but I have worked very hard to reach notes I couldnít in the past and I have also developed the ability to sing very high without sounding awful in a smooth falsetto.
If you want to be humbled, try singing stuff by guys like Bob Seger in the key he did it. :eek:

skycyclepilot 10-31-2019 08:03 AM

Thanks! I can get above middle "C", but I have to use my "head voice" to do it, and it just doesn't sound good to me. I've been out of music for a while. A vocal coach isn't in the budget, but perhaps a few weeks of practice will help.

Quote:

Originally Posted by musicman1951 (Post 6199918)
As one who has suffered through singer/guitarists butchering tunes because the range is too high - thank you for taking the trouble to transpose them into a useful range. I heard a guy performing outside on a restaurant patio a couple of weeks ago and the song was clearly at least a third too high - and painful to the ears.

It is true that there are a small handful of tunes with signature licks that are difficult to reproduce in alternate keys. If you work at it you can often find a pretty close approximation, but occasionally there are songs I just don't play for lack of a satisfactory work around.

With few exceptions, most people in the audience don't know all the guitar licks note for note.

As an aside, C is not a very high note - even for a bass. While it's certainly not necessary, you might find that a couple of lessons with a voice major quickly produces another minor third of useful range.


skycyclepilot 10-31-2019 08:15 AM

Decades ago, I used to follow the Kingsmen gospel quartet around, and they had a guy singing what they called "tenor", but was actually soprano. His name was Ernie Phillips, and he could hit the Bb almost two octaves above middle "C". There is audio of it on YouTube...

https://youtu.be/x8TAqnQ3klY?t=161

Quote:

Originally Posted by rokdog49 (Post 6199919)
Unfortunately some songs just donít work very well transposed.
If your goal is to sing in your range because you like a song and wish to perform it, fine. It may not come off well, but most audiences donít care.
Iím a baritone by nature but I have worked very hard to reach notes I couldnít in the past and I have also developed the ability to sing very high without sounding awful in a smooth falsetto.
If you want to be humbled, try singing stuff by guys like Bob Seger in the key he did it. :eek:


JonPR 10-31-2019 09:22 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by skycyclepilot (Post 6199890)
My vocal range is decidedly bass/baritone. Singing any note above middle "C" is a real stretch, and sounds even worse than notes sung within my normal range! (On the upside - if you could consider it that - I can hit the "C" two octaves below middle "C".)

Anyway, since the general public seems to find high voices more pleasing to the ear, it seems most popular vocalists sing in a range well above mine.

This is the rock tradition, in which high tenor range in males (even falsetto) is prized, because it connotes passion, deriving from the gospel and soul singers emulated by singers like Paul McCartney and Robert Plant, which led to the mainsteam rock vocal style which is essentially screaming in tune. :(
And in folk/acoustic music there's Neil Young, who sings an octave higher than normal guys like you and I. Add Paul Simon, James Taylor...
Quote:

Originally Posted by skycyclepilot (Post 6199890)
As a performer, this leaves me with two options - sing only songs by artists with my same range

Uh-huh: Leonard Cohen, Johnny Cash, Tom Waits....?
Quote:

Originally Posted by skycyclepilot (Post 6199890)
, or change the key of most songs I want to sing. I usually have to drop a song anywhere from a second to a fifth.

So, is changing the key of a song considered a cardinal sin?

Nope, absolutely not.
Quote:

Originally Posted by skycyclepilot (Post 6199890)
It seems to me, that some songs just don't sound quite right in other keys. For example, "Rocky Mountain High" is in "E" - played in "D" with a capo on the second fret. For my voice, the key of "G" or "A" works best, but, I can't play the same licks Denver does, once I change the key, and the song just doesn't sound the same.

But that's point. John Denver isn't singing it, you are. Nobody expects or wants you to be a John Denver tribute act. They want you to do it your way. You can't be a "failed John Denver". You have to own it, make the song your own. You have to do it in the key in which you can deliver it to the best of your ability.
Of course the song will sound different. That's good.

Naturally, it's still possible that changing the key will somehow mean the song loses whatever magic it had for you. Maybe some essence of the song is not in its lyric, its melody or chord changes? Maybe it's in the fact that it's sung by a man with a high voice?
Personally I don't think would apply to a John Denver song, but there are some Neil Young songs where a big part of the appeal is that plaintive cracked tenor he sings them in. He sounds lonesome up there, more than you will in that bass cellar you're occupying.

I mean, you can be lonesome in a cellar too...;) so in that case, that would be the vibe to go far. Think about the emotional appeal that Cohen, Cash and Waits each have - each different in their own way. Make them (and similar singers) your lodestar. Cohen and Waits wrote their own material of course, but Johnny Cash covered lots of other people's songs, making them his own.

skycyclepilot 10-31-2019 09:26 AM

Thank you for taking the time for such a lengthy reply. I appreciate the encouragement!

Quote:

Originally Posted by JonPR (Post 6200010)
This is the rock tradition, in which high tenor range in males (even falsetto) is prized, because it connotes passion, deriving from the gospel and soul singers emulated by singers like Paul McCartney and Robert Plant, which led to the mainsteam rock vocal style which is essentially screaming in tune. :(
And in folk/acoustic music there's Neil Young, who sings an octave higher than normal guys like you and I. Add Paul Simon, James Taylor...
Uh-huh: Leonard Cohen, Johnny Cash, Tom Waits....?
Nope, absolutely not.
But that's point. John Denver isn't singing it, you are. Nobody expects or wants you to be a John Denver tribute act. They want you to do it your way. You can't be a "failed John Denver". You have to own it, make the song your own. You have to do it in the key in which you can deliver it to the best of your ability.
Of course the song will sound different. That's good.

Naturally, it's still possible that changing the key will somehow mean the song loses whatever magic it had for you. Maybe some essence of the song is not in its lyric, its melody or chord changes? Maybe it's in the fact that it's sung by a man with a high voice?
Personally I don't think would apply to a John Denver song, but there are some Neil Young songs where a big part of the appeal is that plaintive cracked tenor he sings them in. He sounds lonesome up there, more than you will in that bass cellar you're occupying.

I mean, you can be lonesome in a cellar too...;) so in that case, that would be the vibe to go far. Think about the emotional appeal that Cohen, Cash and Waits each have - each different in their own way. Make them (and similar singers) your lodestar. Cohen and Waits wrote their own material of course, but Johnny Cash covered lots of other people's songs, making them his own.


FrankHudson 10-31-2019 09:48 AM

JohnPR covered a great deal of what I was going to say. The high voice=passion thing is something we've culturally learned. Culturally we most often "read" lower voices as deadpan. This actually can work if the words you're singing are shocking, disturbing, or dire. See Johnny Cash, Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits as has been suggested above. If one sings "I shot a man in Denver just to watch him die." as an excitable boy the character is sort of a jumpy neurotic (see Talking Heads/David Byrne singing "Pycho Killer") if one sings it like Johnny Cash, it's just the cold facts.

Since you're not performing for audiences this expectation from the original performance or conventional passionate singing is none of your concern. Sounds like you're playing with purpose, so you've got something interesting to play with here.

There's no law or rule against changing keys of someone else's song. Performers do it all the time, for reasons you're hip to.

Wade's suggestion of a baritone guitar is worthwhile. Even somewhat heavier strings and tuning down to D to D on a regular guitar.

I have a pitch challenged voice (see tune not in bucket) and despite this I'll often capo up to sing lower. This doesn't necessary help me find guide tones for my voice (bad) but texturally I like how that contrast sounds.

RustyAxe 10-31-2019 09:54 AM

I transpose the key to work with my voice (also a baritone). I'll find a way to incorporate any signature licks into my playing. Works for me (and my audience, evidently). :)

skycyclepilot 10-31-2019 09:55 AM

Thanks, Frank. And to everyone else. This truly is a great forum...

Quote:

Originally Posted by FrankHudson (Post 6200037)
JohnPR covered a great deal of what I was going to say. The high voice=passion thing is something we've culturally learned. Culturally we most often "read" lower voices as deadpan. This actually can work if the words you're singing are shocking, disturbing, or dire. See Johnny Cash, Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits as has been suggested above. If one sings "I shot a man in Denver just to watch him die." as an excitable boy the character is sort of a jumpy neurotic (see Talking Heads/David Byrne singing "Pycho Killer") if one sings it like Johnny Cash, it's just the cold facts.

Since you're not performing for audiences this expectation from the original performance or conventional passionate singing is none of your concern. Sounds like you're playing with purpose, so you've got something interesting to play with here.

There's no law or rule against changing keys of someone else's song. Performers do it all the time, for reasons you're hip to.

Wade's suggestion of a baritone guitar is worthwhile. Even somewhat heavier strings and tuning down to D to D on a regular guitar.

I have a pitch challenged voice (see tune not in bucket) and despite this I'll often capo up to sing lower. This doesn't necessary help me find guide tones for my voice (bad) but texturally I like how that contrast sounds.



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