I was trying to figure out the exact score of some songs I'm trying to cover. In a very similar case to this question (How do I distinguish my voice singing a c3 from a c4?) I've lost confidence that I'm in the right octave... the original doesn't sound that high but I end up straining.

Here's some sheet music: http://www.scribd.com/doc/59058418/Sheet-Music-Piano-Score-Oasis-Don-t-Look-Back-in-Anger#scribd

On this forum they discuss it and it is suggested the score is written an octave higher. The score as-is hovers around the top of the tenor range with G4 and A4 which is certainly not crazy, although I believe they sometimes perform it a tone up from this

Is this a valid concern that one needs to be conscious of? In this particular case is the music accurate and the singer's vocal timbre just makes it sound lower than it really is? I can't easily get each individual note from the recording to analyse the frequency.

  • 1
    The simplest answer might be that it is just a mistake. I have read music sheets books that have worse mistakes than this Nov 18, 2015 at 15:00
  • I mean you get score using the "8" clefs (treble clef with a little 8) to denote it's up or down an octave, which could easily get omitted... but is this a common type of mistake?
    – Mr. Boy
    Nov 18, 2015 at 15:06
  • I don't knot if this is a common mistake, but it's common to find mistakes in these books. The case here might be that someone transcribed it in a different octave for some reason and forgot to write it down in the correct one Nov 18, 2015 at 15:08
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    If you're singing along with the song and you're not sure if you're singing an octave higher or lower than the recording, then you can try singing an octave down and/or up and see if it sounds better or worse. If it sounds the same in two different octaves, then the only thing I can suggest is that as you sing and listen more, your ear will develop (making you more aware of your mistakes, sadly), and it will become clear eventually which octave you are singing and hearing. Others may have better advice on knowing your octaves, though. Nov 18, 2015 at 15:51
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    @Mr.Boy Don't associate authentic with exact. You won't be able to replicate the voice of every vocalist you sing exactly, but you can still be authentic by tailoring it for your voice. Most of your audience won't know if it's in a different key or octave as long as it sounds convincing on your end.
    – Dom
    Nov 18, 2015 at 15:53

3 Answers 3


The octave the notes are written in is irrelevant in most transcribed pop vocals as there are many different types of vocalist. Remember we typically generalize vocals into 4 different groups Soprano, Alto, Tenor, and Bass and we also typically like to perceive the melody as well within the upper section of the treble staff so typically pop lead vocal parts are written in that range. It's much more important to write out the pitch the and generalize it across different vocalist rather than create a version for each type of voice.

For example if you take a look at the vocal line for a song like Living on a Prayer, you'll find that the first note sung is notated as the G above the treble clef. Bon Jovi can't sing that high, but a female vocalist will most likely be able to and they do sing it in that range because it suites their voice well.

  • That's a very good point. I suppose I'm after the 'correct' version i.e. how the artist sings it because the nuances will change if I sing it an octave flat/sharp - it might sound great but it's not the same. Sounds like I just have to figure that out myself or find out on the web for each song. Any thoughts on the one in question?
    – Mr. Boy
    Nov 18, 2015 at 15:29
  • Maybe "irrelevant" is a strong word, but the point that the majority of vocal transcriptions are not meant to indicate the precise original octave is well made. Some transcriptions aren't even in the same key as the original, I assume in order to make the piano or guitar part "easier". And occasionally, transcriptions are as 100% accurate and authentic to the recording as possible. Those last tend to be hard to find, in my experience. Nov 18, 2015 at 15:30
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    @ToddWilcox It's like they expect me to know what I'm doing!
    – Mr. Boy
    Nov 18, 2015 at 15:31
  • Not just pop vocals; it's standard in art song books for treble clef to stand for "either treble clef or octava treble clef, depending on whether you're a woman or a man."
    – Micah
    Nov 19, 2015 at 4:13

The common convention is that women's parts are written in the treble staff, and men's parts are written in the bass clef. However, a somewhat common exception is that when you see a part written in the treble clef, which is to be sung by a male voice, it is taken an octave lower (the exception to this exception is countertenors, who sing treble clef at written pitch, in the same range as a woman). Sometimes this octave lowering is made explicit by adding a small 8 under the treble clef, but this is not always the case. This octave lowering works because, in general, men tend to sing about an octave lower than women.

So why notate in the treble clef instead of the bass clef? Simply because it makes the music more accessible. If a female vocalist, or any number of instrumentalists, wanted to play the melody line, notating it in the treble clef will be easier for them to read than the bass clef. Also, especially at the amateur level, it's more common to find people that can read the treble clef down an octave than can read the bass clef up an octave. Treble clef is something of a lowest common denominator among musicians.

In your case, the score is more or less accurate in terms of pitch and key (granted I haven't exactly proofread it note by note). As notated, it's range is G4 (G above middle C) to A5 (above treble staff). Using the convention above, though, where male vocalists take the treble staff down an octave, it's "concert pitch" range is G3 (G below middle C) to A4 (above middle C).

As you point out, the higher notes are rather high in the tenor range (though not uncomfortably so), yet they don't sound like what you would associate with a typical "high guy" voice. You ask about the vocal timbre, and you're spot-on with your question. I'm not a vocal expert, but I believe the singer is using a technique common in pop music, known as "belting". While voices typically have a lower "chest" voice and a higher "head" voice, my understanding is that belting is a forceful technique that produces a chest-like sound in the upper head-voice range. There's a lot written on both sides about whether belting is a dangerous technique, and how to do it properly. I'm not going to go into it any further because I don't know the details, and it's out of scope for this question (but it would make a great new question here).

One final thought: if you listen to the coda (~4:20), you can hear the difference between the belting timbre that was being used earlier, and a more regular sounding "head voice" sung in the same range. Because belting tends to produce a louder sound, and the coda is quieter, he switches to a head voice and you can hear how high the notes really are. If this were written an octave lower, the coda would not have nearly the same strained quality as it does.


I want to add my thoughts as someone who (like you) covers songs made famous by other artists.

From a practical point of view, there is no value for a performer such as myself, to know exactly what octave the melody in a given score, or sheet music is denoted in. The purpose of and value of the sheet music for my use would be to learn how the melody line goes. In real life, I'm going to transpose the melody line to whatever octave or whatever key I can sing it in and still sound as close to authentic as possible to the popular version I wish to cover.

In many cases I find that if I tried to match the notes sung by the original singer of a song I wish to cover, I am straining at the upper end of my range. Singing a full octave lower may either put me too low or not sound as authentic as I desire. So I will usually transpose to another key.

Since I play guitar - transposing to another key so I can sing it say a few steps lower involves more than just choosing a key that is x steps lower, because on guitar some keys contain chords that are difficult to play or don't go as well with the melody. So to sing lower than the original I might actually transpose to a higher key (say up 6 steps instead of down 2) and then sing an octave lower relative to the new higher key.

I also use a capo for transposing (either up or down) so I can not only choose the appropriate key for my voice, but select the most appropriate chord set to go with the melody and be easy to play.

Here is a handy chart for using a capo to transpose. capo chart

Bottom line is - for your purposes - being in the octave that is indicated by whatever sheet music you are reading is not "a valid concern that one needs to be conscious of". What you do need to be conscious of is that if you find yourself straining your voice, you should consider either singing an octave lower or transposing to a key that is more comfortable for you to sing in.

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