Monday, December 14, 2009

Keys for Singing

Leading a sing along with just guitar is relatively easy if you have a capo. As you get a feel for the range of the group you can adjust the key by simply using the capo on different frets. A G chord with the capo on the first fret is Ab, and is a Bb with the capo on the third fret. 

Adding in orchestral or band instruments complicates things because as a rule, most players can't transpose in their heads, and capos don't work on clarinets. So you have to print out the music ahead of time in whatever key you think will work. For the Christmas caroling I'd assumed that there would be mostly untrained voices, so took most songs down around a third, and used flat keys to make things easier for the Bb and Eb instruments.

Then a week before the event I found out a lot of choir and chorus members were being invited, so went back and put things in their standard keys, plus or minus a step or two to keep the key signatures in flats. (With very, very few exceptions, hymns and carols will be in the same key in every hymnal you find.) So for every carol we had a choice of at least two keys, and that worked out well as some folks were more comfortable with lower keys and others with higher ones.

The format for most of the arrangements was to have the melody line, the bass line and guitar chords. To play the guitar in Eb or F I usually used the key of D capoed on the 1st or 3rd fret. For Ab and Bb I used G capoed on the 1st or 3rd fret. The exceptions were when the ii, iii, and/or vi chords required too many bar chords, which I can play but would rather pay attention to leading the singing than complicated fretting.

One of the problems with sheet music is that if the key doesn't suit your vocal range you're out of luck. For my music materials to really be helpful I think all the songs should be presented in at least three or four keys using the melody/bass line/guitar chord format in smaller print for the extra versions. That would also be a spur to improvisation.

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