I have heard that beginners need higher keys when singing. People sing too low today they say. Why then do people like organists and other people who studied the voice choose the lower keys? I though they did this because most people have lower voices. Most people, in my understanding, need lower keys. Isn't it just that the only people who need to sing in the higher keys are the higher tenors like me or higher sopranos?

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    What is a 'higher key'? – Tim Sep 19 at 13:25
  • Odd--there were fewer altos than sopranos (and I suspect mezzo-sopranos) in the junior high school choir I was in. (And I speak as one of the altos.) – Dekkadeci Sep 19 at 13:25
  • I think like this: If a melody has one octave eg C-C than it is a lowe key. IF it goes from E-E than it is a higher key. – Hank Sep 19 at 13:35
  • @Dekkadeci: I think a lot of kids find it hard to resist singing the tune when they're meant to be singing a harmony below it. Maybe you grasped the concept while many didn't and never do. – Old Brixtonian Sep 20 at 4:32
  • Am I the only one who's never heard the statement "beginners need higher keys when singing"? Because that seems a little weird to me. One would think that the correct logic would be "beginners usually have less range, so songs will tend to need to be lower for them, because popular music tends to be demanding on the high range more than on the lows"? Or am I missing something? Unless the argument is that beginners are on average younger and thus can't sing lower? – user45266 Sep 21 at 4:57

(Church) organists try to choose a key that the massed untrained voices of a congregation can manage without effort.

A would-be 'proper' singer may well find it easier to use a range that can be crooned into a microphone without really 'turning the engine on'. They might be obsessed with reaching the highest note of a song easily, brushing aside the possibility that this pushes the lowest one below their range. They may want to perform a song that requires both chest and head voice without addressing the technical demands of doing this, so they choose a key that keeps it all below their 'break'. (A lot of this mainly applies to the female voice.)

So yes, there's a certain truth in your proposition. But no key is 'higher' or 'lower' as such. Only in relation to an individual voice.

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  • I also agree with you that the problem exists especially for women voices, as the boys groups are singing almost in the same range as girls groups. – Albrecht Hügli Sep 19 at 18:32

What you meam is the range of the voices and the intonation key of the songs. I agree with you and those who say that the songs today are sung in “keys too low”.

There is a capitulation of song book editors and a trend to arrange the songs more and more lower to the fact that children and adults are only able to sing with their breast voice.
The majority of children doesn’t develop the head register and head resonance. Also the organists have to intonate the chorals lower in respect to the older generation and even the church choral books show a resignation by following this trend. The songs are all set a 3rd or 4th too low.

So the question is not whether “higher keys” are just for sopranos and tenors. The point is that music education and voice training in schools should help the new generations to develop their head register ... if the traditional western music repertory shall be continued. This is a big challenge for all music pedagogues of today.

I know just half a dozen of female pop singers like Whitney Houston, Janis Joplin, Shinead O’Connor, Mariah Carey who are/were able to sing in these higher ranges - apart all educated soprano singers, of course.

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I was roped into directing the Year Sixes at my kids' school three years running (Bugsy, Little Shop, Bugsy) and I found they didn't want to sing high because it was uncool. One year, luckily, the coolest kid in the place agreed to play Bugsy one year. (He may have been bribed.) Then all the others signed up.

This obsession with being cool has probably forced schools to use song-arrangements in lower registers. I agree with Albrecht about that trend.

And it seems to me that a great many women are speaking in a lower range than women used to. Margaret Thatcher famously hired a voice-coach and began speaking like a bloke, and it was commonly believed she considered the female voice as lacking command and authority. Today, it seems to me, most women in Parliament speak in deep voices, and when you hear one who doesn't she stands out.

It has been suggested that Vocal fry, or Creaky voice - which I first heard on Zappa's song Valley Girls - "is a product of young women trying to infuse their speech with gravitas by means of reaching for the male register." Many women no doubt resort to it because the loathsome word 'shrill' is still being used to discredit them. It is much discussed by feminists.

It's no wonder our singing-voices are getting lower.

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    When doing operattas, hymns and general singing in Junior schools, I quite often dropped keys down for certain songs. There was no point in trying to get kids to sing out of their range. If the mountain won't come to Mo... – Tim Sep 20 at 6:45
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    That’s the right point: it is uncool! In the eyes of kids ;). And it could be also an aspect of women’s lib that their voices become lower. – Albrecht Hügli Sep 20 at 11:15

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