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I have been to sing-alongs where a man, the leader, chooses to start in a low pitch (low for me as a tenor).

I can't sing that low. Why would a man choose a very low key for a sing-along? I mean, when you sing solo it is another thing, but it is as if they sing low so that other people cannot sing.

Too low is everything under Bb2. They sing A2 or Ab2.

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    Would it work for you to sing A3 or Ab3 whenever they sing A2 or Ab2? That might be something they assume you will do on your own: sing an octave higher than they. – Todd Wilcox Feb 3 at 20:48
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    I used to start "happy birthday" on quite a low pitch at summer camp because anyone else starting it would pick too high a pitch, causing the room to change keys in a very incoherent manner when they got to the octave leap in the third phrase. But I did generally try to pick something in the middle of my (low bass) range rather than something that would be low for me. – phoog Feb 4 at 19:23
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Reasons for starting too low:

  • They can't sing any higher themselves.
  • They don't realize that it's a problem for someone, and the people who have a problem don't complain, so the low key men could learn from their mistakes.
  • They start without accompaniment and don't have a pitch reference.
  • They do it deliberately to bully high-voiced people ... ;) Probably not.

Vocal range is somewhat dependent on language and culture. Check out where this popular Finnish melody starts: https://virsikirja.fi/virsi-971-maan-korvessa-kulkevi-lapsosen-tie/

start of virsi 971

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It would be an enlightenment to pose the question to the guy concerned. But more than likely, he just pitches at what he thinks is o.k., not having absolute pitch, and not being aware that what he's doing may not be the best.

We had a director of music in the county I taught in, and he would always sing falsetto when leading choirs, in the strange belief that because the pre-pubescent children's voices had not broken, they wouldn't be able to sing in another octave. Personally, I've never found that to be a problem - people naturally sing in whatever octave they find comfortable, even jumping the octave when a note is uncomfortably high or low, due to a small range, usually. Frequently, if I felt that the key didn't suit the singers, I'd change it, so everyone was happy.

I remember being at a school during singing practice, (not as the music teacher), and the music teacher was teaching a song that had quite a high range. He asked what should they do to reach the high notes, and suggested shoulders back, etc. I very nearly interrupted to suggest 'drop the key', but didn't...

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People's voices are all different. I've noticed that on average men tend to prefer higher keys than women but there is a great deal of variation.

My own experience is that trying to sing lower than my 'good' range (i.e. below A in the bottom space of the bass clef) just results in poor tone and volume, but never any discomfort, whereas the same is most certainly not true if I try to force myself to sing above middle C.

On that basis, I'd say your friend is probably doing the right thing by erring on the low side. No pitch will suit everyone, but at the very least you don't want to cause anyone to strain their voice by asking them to sing too high.

  • WHAT?! MEN PREFER HIGHER KEYS THAN WOMEN?! How? Do you mean "higher within their own range"? Because in my experience, most women have much higher vocal ranges than most men! But I do like your answer; +1 – user45266 Feb 4 at 23:39
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    @user45266 Fair point. I took it as understood that men would sing an octave below women :-) – Ian Goldby Feb 5 at 12:10

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