17

I am planning to sing a song and which has a vocal range of D3-D4.
I want the crowd to join in too. Should I raise or lower the tune of this song to better fit the crowd's range?

Which key or vocal range is recommended for a crowd (comprising of men and women)?

10

Just about everyone can manage an octave from B♭ to the one above. Women and men will find their own octave. Take it up to C if you like. By D some will begin to fall out, but this should be compensated by the louder tone of those who CAN get up there!

Having said that, crowds enjoy 'going for the high note' in some types of song. Keep 'All things bright and beautiful' in an easy range. But 'Walk through a storm' NEEDS at least an E♭ or F, even if some of them can't quite make it! (Not G though. That gets ugly.)

2
  • 1
    I actually like this suggestion as well, although the sopranos are really reaching for that Bb.
    – Ootagu
    May 29 at 23:44
  • But few people find "and the rockets red glare" an easy reach.
    – Barmar
    Jun 1 at 14:13
19

One other place where we find large crowds of people singing songs together is worship music- so perhaps we can find relevant advice there.

The general consensus* is that the most friendly keys for congregational singing will be the keys which place the melody in the range of C to C, roughly. It doesn't technically matter which C's, really, as men will generally sing C3 to C4 and women will generally sing an octave up, C4 to C5. For readability, you should notate C4 to C5 on a treble clef. You can reach beyond this range a little if necessary but go too far and you'll start to lose people...


* Link 1 Link 2 Link 3 There are many more...

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  • 1
    This makes no sense, -1. One man's voice doesn't have the same range as another man's voice, nor is this true for women. Even the division of men into tenor and bass, and women into soprano and alto, is totally arbitrary. It's very much like height. Men's and women's heights are bell curves, and the bell curves overlap. There aren't disjoint categories of tall women and short women, etc. For a song with a wide range, like the Star Spangled Banner, there will always be some people whose vocal range fits it better in F than in C, and vice versa.
    – user9480
    May 30 at 13:00
  • 8
    @BenCrowell That's not a fair criticism. Different people have different voices, obviously, but some kinds of voices are more common than others. Therefore, there is probably one range in particular that will be better than all of the others, in the sense that more people will find it easy to sing in that range. And that's exactly what this answer says. May 30 at 14:47
  • 13
    @BenCrowell Well yes, and the middle of the bell curve (for both male and female voices) is generally comfortable with C to C. What's the problem here? What kind of answer do you want?
    – Edward
    May 30 at 17:33
  • 2
    @BenCrowell It makes perfect sense. Every man's voice includes C3 to C4, and every woman's from C4 to C5. And the division into bass, tenor, alto, and soprano, is certainly not 'totally arbitrary', nor is it 'very much like height' at all.
    – user207421
    May 30 at 23:58
  • 1
    @BenCrowell: no, everyone's range isn't the same. However, this recommendation is talking about only a portion of that range. And most people who sing at all have a low C and a high C within their range. I actually think this is better than the accepted answer, as I do know tenors and sopranos who can't sing both a high and low B-flat. But most can sing middle C and either an octave above or below that note (and all the notes in between). .
    – trlkly
    Jun 1 at 7:22
6

Oddly enough, I was reading an analysis of this a couple of weeks ago: Finding The Best Keys For Congregational Songs.  (That page is for worship leaders and analyses lots of popular worship songs; but I think the principle applies equally to most sorts of contemporary singing.)

Its conclusion is that the average singer's basic range is the octave-and-a-fourth from A up to D, with the most comfortable part being the octave C–C.  If necessary, the occasional top E♭ may be allowed; but many people will struggle to exceed that range in either direction.  And a song that spends time near the top of that range will be tiring for many singers even if it doesn't go over D.

So: stick to C–C where convenient, and to A–D if at all possible.  That may mean some compromise between what's best for you, and what's best for the average member of your audience, if you want them to join in.

5

I'm going to take a different tack on this...

Listen to a crowd singing along to a big ballad - one that springs to mind is Robbie Williams' Angels. They'll go for it whether they can reach it properly or not. The money note in that is an E5 with a more throwaway [or swung at & missed] F♯ after that.
The commonly returned-to bottom note [not literally the lowest but the others are fleeting & throwaway] is a D4, so only just over an octave, but pitched for a pop singer not an opera singer.

I wouldn't use hymns as any kind of reference - there's a different purpose in how they are pitched.

So, make your money note reachable by most. There's a reason it's a money note - it's the one people want to join in on. I think you're probably in safe territory with a D… but D3 to D4 feels like an odd octave for a pop song.
…or maybe it's not a pop song, you didn't say.

1
  • no its not a pop song.. more of soul genre.. May 31 at 20:24
5

The vocal range of people is an important topic to vocal science and speech pathology, and has of course received much research attention.

TL;DR

A2-C4 (adult males) and A3-C5 (others) normally work for most people, in line with both answers from Edward and Laurence Payne quoting standard practice. It's called standard for a reason.


Summary of results

Studies which are not open access are not included. Note I'm specifically going to take the most inclusive range, i.e. approx -2 stdev or 5th percentile for upper limit and +2 stdev or 95th percentile for lower limit.

Dienerowitz et al., 2021 [1], studying 1578 mostly untrained children, report A3-C5 for most, except about A2-C4 for older boys. Wuyts et al., 2010 [2], with 74 younger children report A3-E♭5.

In adults, Hunter and Titze, 2005 [3], reported 4 untrained subjects at G2-G♯4 (male) and D3-E5 (female). Siupsinskiene, 2010 [4], reports A2-G4 (untrained male, n=38; Table 2) and G3-D5 (untrained female, n=89; Table 3). Ma et al., 2007 [5], reports E3-G5 (non-dysphonic female, n=35; Table 2). D'Alatri and Marchese, 2014 [6], reports F♯3-B♭4 (non-dysphonic female, n=40; Table IV - mean used for upper limit).

Remember most of these are reporting extreme ranges, so going straight to the edge is not going to be fun for most people.


Figures

High and low voice limits of children High and low voice limits of children. Figure 1 from [1].

Vocal range profile of boys From [2].

Vocal range of trained and untrained adults Vocal and hearing ranges of single subjects. Figure 1 from [3].


References:

[1]: Tobias Dienerowitz, Thomas Peschel, Mandy Vogel, Tanja Poulain, Christoph Engel, Wieland Kiess, Michael Fuchs, and Thomas Berger. "Establishing Normative Data on Singing Voice Parameters of Children and Adolescents with Average Singing Activity Using the Voice Range Profile." Folia Phoniatrica et Logopaedica: in press, 2021.

[2]: Floris L. Wuyts, Louis Heylen, Fons Mertens, Marc De Bodt and Paul H. Van de Heyning. "Normative voice range profiles of untrained boys and girls." Journal of Voice 24(2):153-160, 2010.

[3]: Eric J. Hunter and Ingo R. Titze. "Overlap of hearing and voicing ranges in singing." Journal of Singing 61(4):387-392, 2005.

[4]: Nora Siupsinskiene. "Effects of Vocal Training on Quantitative Voice Parameters in Healthy Voice Adults and Children." In Laryngeal Diseases: Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatments, Oldrich Nemecek and Viktor Mares (eds.), Nova Science Publishers, 2010.

[5]: Estella Ma, Jennie Robertson, Claire Radford, Sarah Vagne, Ruba El-Halabi, Edwin Yiu. "Reliability of Speaking and Maximum Voice Range Measures in Screening for Dysphonia." Journal of Voice 21(4):397-406, 2007.

[6]: Lucia D'Alatri, and Maria R. Marchese. "The speech range profile (SRP): an easy and useful tool to assess vocal limits." Acta Otorhinolaryngologica Italica 34:253-258, 2014.

3
  • @J.. says elsewhere that this answer states that every (adult) man can sing C3-C4 (ignoring men with health conditions). I couldn't find this claim in your answer or the cited papers. Do you know where I could find more information?
    – JiK
    Jun 1 at 19:59
  • Just to emphasize because it seems to be unclear: I'm asking for a source for the claim that every adult man with a healthy voice can comfortably sing C3-C4. My question is not about boys, or people who sing regularly, or the average range, or the ability to produce a C4 even if it hurts.
    – JiK
    Jun 1 at 20:36
  • 1
    @JiK - This answer actually does get quite close to saying that every adult male can sing C3-C4 (assuming all ranges in quoted papers are accurate and representative). Ranges for adult males and older boys given in this answer are "about A2-C4 for older boys", "G2-G♯4 (male)", and "A2-G4 (untrained male, n=38; Table 2)". All of these include C3-C4.
    – Dekkadeci
    Jun 2 at 11:30
3

The key is of no relevance, unless the range of the song is known. Then, it's of paramount importance! The range is, as already mentioned, the lowest and highest notes in that song.

OP asks about 'a crowd' singing. Quite different scenarios between a football match and a hen night, for starters. Or a kid's birthday party and a gathering of OAPs!

Most people - 'non-singers' included, will have a range of an octave or so. C3 to C4 for males, C4 to C5 for females, as a (very) rough approximate. Well oiled with alcohol, probably a little more at each end, and often with greater volume. Those who are outside this range will often compensate by dropping/rising an octave for the notes outside that range.

Now, back to key. Not all songs have the tonic as the lowest and highest notes. So that's not a god criterion - on its own. A common example will be 'Happy Birthday' - well crafted for all to sing - and why not?

In my 60-odd years of playing it, keys F and G have been the most accepted. The tune happens to have its 5th as the lowest, and an octave above that as its highest note. So, assuming C-C is an 'average' range, key F is perfect. OP's tune may use the same criteria, thus revealing the 'perfect' key.

-2

This is a very good question. Until a little more information is given, this should help.

The range you have given, D3 - D4, falls into the tenor vocal range. As such it also overlaps with the bass vocal range and the alto vocal range, however some notes will be hard for the basses and some notes will be hard for the altos. Roughly speaking, the basses will have difficulty with the D4; the altos will have difficulty with the D3; sopranos can not sing in that range; please read on for more on this though.

Will this be sung as a single unharmonized line? If so, most people automatically sing in their own octave (they will sing up or down an octave from the original singer) and therefore there is theoretically no problems regarding range. However, in practice, it is not that simple. Some melodies seem more inclined to octave transposition than others.

In order to fit better within each range, you might want to try the key of G:

Soprano: G4 - G5 (Perfect fit); Alto: G3 - G4 (stretch on G3); Tenor: G3 - G4 (stretch on G4); Bass: G2 - G3 (Perfect fit).

(the key of A would also be good; generally speaking the key of D is not good for untrained male singers. They have difficulty with low D.)

9
  • is this classification for untrained singers? May 29 at 19:38
  • Yes, those ranges are based on what would be most comfortable for untrained singers. Nothing is perfect but based on my experience that might work better. Would you beable do a test run on a small audience? Also consider having two or three keys practiced and you can change on the spot if you have to.
    – Ootagu
    May 29 at 19:41
  • 2
    This contrasts very sharply with my findings, so I'm curious how you came up with this... You don't mention baritone voices- I believe that most men would be considered baritones, and both G2-G3 and G3-G4 would be quite difficult for these voices.
    – Edward
    May 29 at 22:47
  • @Edward yes I focused on the main divisions of register. It got pretty complicated just doing that alone. Please feel free to fill out the registers. I tried covering the problem you mention by offering the key of A which brings everything up a bit on the low end (A2 - A3) but then that will push the sopranos up to A5, quite high for untrained singers. Basically nothing fully works which I suppose why singing in octaves is very rarely done.
    – Ootagu
    May 29 at 23:36
  • 1
    Singing in any key will not give the range you quote! It will depend wholly on the range of the notes in that song. It may just be that the particular song has a lowest note G, and the highest the G an octave above, but that song could just as easily be in key C!! And 'Happy Birthday' just happens to be a perfect example! -1.
    – Tim
    May 30 at 8:37

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