Singers changing key: how much is too much?

Discussion in 'Band Management [BG]' started by Rottie Roo Roo, Jun 24, 2021.

  1. Never (0%)

    29 vote(s)
  2. Rarely (<10% of the time)

    77 vote(s)
  3. Sometimes (10-50% of the time)

    98 vote(s)
  4. Often (50-90% of the time)

    45 vote(s)
  5. Pretty much always (>90% of the time)

    27 vote(s)
  6. He's usually too busy eating carrots

    11 vote(s)
  1. Rottie Roo Roo

    Rottie Roo Roo Supporting Member

    Hey Tea Bee,

    So I'm in a band that been on a sorta kinda hiatus for covid reasons and in that time we have come up with a list of 20 new covers.

    In our WhatsApp group, the singer announced today he wants to change the key of 19 of those songs to accommodate his range. In some cases it's no stress, a string up a fret down etc, but in others it involves jumping octaves and rearranging whole passages.

    I'm just wondering what your thoughts were and if this is normal singer behaviour.

    Cast your votes now!
    obimark and Bass4Brkfast like this.
  2. JRA

    JRA my words = opinion Supporting Member

    i voted "pretty much always" even though that might be a stretch. but: females singing "boy tunes" and males singing "girl tunes" and finding keys common to both for duets, etc. = a lot of key changes!

    it's just a part of dealing with singers. :bassist: if we depend on them to 'sell' the act: we'd better accommodate the easy stuff! ;)
  3. 80jazz


    Jun 28, 2008
    My question here would be what has happened that is the change is being requested.

    I am a bassist/vocalist, so I can understand where this could be coming from. If your singer has always wanted this, I would wonder why the mention now. My other concern is that it is just arbitrary key changes.

    Key changes are an odd thing. I think they are best done on a case-by-case basis (i.e. try to avoid just changing them the same distance). Sometimes, just a half-step or a step is not quite what is needed.

    I would just roll with it. Having a singer be confident in what they have to sing is a big help.
  4. LBS-bass


    Nov 22, 2017
    Back in the day I always tried very hard to sing everything in the original key, and I had a pretty good range, so I was able to do it most of the time. But nobody ever complained if I wanted something up by a third or a fifth. As JRA said, if you're a female singer and the song was done by a guy, the odds are greater that some of the notes will be out of your range, and vice versa. I supposed if I'd been playing with people who didn't know how to transpose easily, they might have complained but that just meant I'd need different players.
  5. As a singer and multi-instrument player(hesitate to claim instrumentalist) I try to do songs in the key the version we are covering was recorded in. If I cannot sing Roxanne in the original key, I have no business singing it. So many songs, the original key is integral to the sound and feel of the song.

    Many songs do not suffer so much but if you cannot do Journey in the original key, try some other material. My brain hears the songs as they were recorded and struggles when the key is down a step or two.
    Transposing is not the issue but perhaps audio dissonance?

    I realize many songs have been covered in different keys and those are generally ammenable to changes.

    Seeing Queensryche when Geoff was still performing in the recorded keys was a far better experience than when he had to tune down( I get it, from an aging vocalist's perspective though.)
  6. Lesfunk

    Lesfunk Bootlegger guitars : S.I.T. Strings Supporting Member

    Apr 5, 2007
    Florida USA
    It’s not the percentage of songs changing keys that matter, change them all if you can achieve a better vocal performance, It’s the degree to which the keys are changed that matter.
    A whole step down, for example, is pretty common, but once the key changes drastically (a third/ fourth in either direction)the whole song starts sounding really different and can be weird .
    Not to mention guitar chord (break out the capo) voicings change (unless the band tunes down) and that can really mess with the overall sound of the music.
    If a song is in A for example, and I need to drop it to E in order to be able to sing it, I might consider picking another song.
    Dost, Bass Man Dan, obimark and 11 others like this.
  7. 4SG


    Mar 6, 2014
    It may bug me a bit if I've been playing the song forever and the new key makes me have to relearn it entirely differently. But if that's what it takes to keep the singer happy and the band sounding good then so be it.
  8. 80jazz


    Jun 28, 2008
    This may be the crux of it for me.

    I think if you are going to do a drastic change like this, then it may make sense to also approach the song differently as well.
    Ralph Manak, Groove Doctor and DrMole like this.
  9. ArtechnikA

    ArtechnikA I endorsed a check once... Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 24, 2013
    Depends on what key they're in originally, and what key the singer needs.
    So - at most, once per song, as suits the singer.
    In a couple of projects, we change very little, because of similar vocal ranges.
    In another, we change about half the stuff due to singer vocal range - about 25% of that material is re-gendered...
    Once they're transposed to the singer's range and on the setlist, leave them alone unless some obvious live performance issue is discovered.
  10. gln1955

    gln1955 Supporting Member

    Aug 25, 2014
    Ohio, USA
    In my last band, we had a singer who could handle any thing we'd throw at him. Tremendous range and never an off note. It made things easier for everyone else.

    At church, we have a revolving group of singers, none of them especially strong, and are constantly changing keys depending on who shows up that week.

    You do what you gotta do. It's always easier for the players to change key than for a singer to sing out of their range, but some songs should just be off the table if they don't work.
    jefff100, Chipbutty74, Koog and 4 others like this.
  11. Gustopher

    Gustopher Supporting Member

    Jul 30, 2018
    If you have the change the key of well known songs too much, they lose their “magic”… but that’s just me, I like to hear things in the original key usually. Sometimes it’s awesome, but if they have to change every song, maybe a discussion about song choice is warranted too?
  12. Singers can have them in any key they want. Anyone that doesn’t like it is welcome to sing.

    really though I’ve played gigs behind 9 different singers in the last couple of months. There tends to be lots of overlap and sometimes it can be hard to keep track of all of the different keys. The hardest part is differentiating between what they say the key is and what it actually is sometimes, especially on the fly. What’s the first chord of the verse on Sway when the singer calls it in F. We might have to talk about that on the break because it’s almost guaranteed that someone on stage has a different idea
  13. Esteban Garcia

    Esteban Garcia bassist, arranger, aelurophile Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2018
    Portland, OR
    Jazz/blues/standards project: pretty much all the time. Her best key is Eb; our book is probably 25-30% in Eb right now.

    In standards land, this is par for the course. If you're featuring a singer, you arrange around them. If you're good, you can just play whatever key the singer calls on the spot (I'm not that good).

    And of course in rock land, aging rockers are known to lower their songs half step by half step over the years as they lose their upper vocal range.

    The good news is that bass is a 12-key instrument, so it's not a big deal if you've been diligently practicing your scales and arpeggios in 12 keys every day.:thumbsup:
  14. Chrisk-K


    Jan 20, 2010
    AZ, USA
    OP, you are a bass guy and your job is to support the singer.
  15. Cdnbassnut


    Jan 18, 2021
    Seanto, Mr_Moo, newwavefrank and 13 others like this.
  16. We change keys for about half the songs we play. Most songs I don’t care what key, but……

    We added Footloose to the song list recently. Original is in A, female singer asked for it in C.

    I said - no, just alter the occasional low notes of the melody in the verse (I have performed it with several other female singers who have all done that).

    We’re doing it in A.
    Last edited: Jun 24, 2021
    dannnnn, dkelley and DJ Bebop like this.
  17. How many key changes in this song?
  18. My dad told me this and it's not a hard and fast rule but he noted that most women that sing a male song will sometimes sing a fourth or fifth above the original key and the reverse in the case of a male singer covering a woman's song :)
  19. Hounddog409


    Oct 27, 2015
    Well, either change the key or don't try to force songs that the singer can't sing.

    Would be smarter to find out of the singer can song before wasting time on it.

    Who picked the songs out of the singers range? There's were the blame should rest.
  20. InhumanResource


    Dec 28, 2012
    I’ve been in bands that do everything a half step low and some that actually so want a few tunes in different keys…current band does everything as recorded and it makes things a lot easier.
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