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la bam

Why can't singers sing in the original key?

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Ok, this may be slightly pedantic, but why cant a lot of singers sing simple songs in the key they were made famous in?

I get it if its anything ridiculously difficult and high or low, but why cant they sing simple basic stuff that doesnt really go up or down an octave in the original key?

Surely any singer can cover one or two octaves of A-G# ?

....and as a cheeky dig, why do they choose covers to do then want to change the key!! Why can't they just pick ones in a key they can do!! :)

Edited by la bam

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Depends how good they are at singing.

There are singers, and there are people who sing, the two aren't necessarily the same.

Edited by ambient

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There are probably fewer singers than even bass players who have had any formal training in their chosen discipline, and thus do not have the technical know-how as to how to use their instrument (the voice...). [i]Good [/i]singers can, indeed, choose the range in which to perform, and match their voice to the song (within limits, naturally...). Lessons would solve most, if not all, the issues one has with many singers, I reckon, but try convincing some of 'em of that..!

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[quote name='Dad3353' timestamp='1499175770' post='3329696']
There are probably fewer singers than even bass players who have had any formal training in their chosen discipline, and thus do not have the technical know-how as to how to use their instrument (the voice...). [i]Good [/i]singers can, indeed, choose the range in which to perform, and match their voice to the song (within limits, naturally...). Lessons would solve most, if not all, the issues one has with many singers, I reckon, but try convincing some of 'em of that..!
[/quote]

You're absolutely right. At uni the vocalists used to spend ages going through warm up exercises before singing. They would never just get up and grab a mic.

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Isn't it a little ironic that those of us playing instruments which are engineered to cover a three-octave range, and laid out in such a way that figures and melodies can be easily transposed by simply moving a pattern up or down the neck, should be unhappy that someone whose instrument's range is partly determined by their genes, and whose ability to transpose is dependent on a lot of ear training and muscle memory? [INSERT LOTS OF SMILIES]

Obviously a dedicated singer can train to hit any note within a range that can also be expanded with training. But in the same way that you can change the timbre of a bassline by playing it up or down an octave, some of those notes are just going to sound "better" at certain points on a singer's register. Remember that in jazz, blues, rock, pop, the "character" of the vocal line is almost as important as its being technically correct.

(I can provide a case study of two different singers, if you'd like.)

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Some very odd replies here.

The main reason is simply that people's vocal ranges vary hugely. Think Paul Robeson and Robert Plant.

I'm a natural baritone. I have a rather unexciting mid-ranged voice. Loads of rock songs are pitched far higher than my voice will go, because they're designed to be sung by tenors like Robert Plant and Bruce Dickinson. Plenty of songs are pitched way lower than my voice will go, because they're designed to be sung by Barry White.

I suppose I could sing (a version of) Stairway To Heaven if I really felt like it, but never in the original key. That's not because I'm lazy (I'm not) or have an untrained voice (10 years' choral work in a bunch of choirs, thank you very much). It's more a matter of physiology and, y'know, yer actual physics and that.

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[quote name='Happy Jack' timestamp='1499176799' post='3329714']
Some very odd replies here.
[/quote]

Quite. A vocal has a range. A song which sounds great with one voice (the one of whoever wrote it, say) might sound wrong with another. A shunt in one direction or another might bring the song alive for the singer in question.

A far better thing to ask might be about why some musicians are so fixated on the importance of the key a song was originally written in.

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I wouldn't have a problem with a singer wanting to go up or down a tone from the written key to suit their vocal range. You even get plenty of instrumentalists wanting a different key and I don't quite understand that.

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[quote name='bassace' timestamp='1499177674' post='3329721']
I wouldn't have a problem with a singer wanting to go up or down a tone from the written key to suit their vocal range. You even get plenty of instrumentalists wanting a different key and I don't quite understand that.
[/quote]

Oh I don't know, you should see the faces on some of the guitarists at my local jam when a singer asks for a song in Eb or F!

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I'm not sure that going up or down a tone would bring a Barry White tessiture into Robert Plant territory. I quite understand the different 'voices' we're born with; how does that square with a singer wanting to lower (or raise...) a semi-tone or so..? We're not discussing the same thing, here, I think.

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[quote name='Happy Jack' timestamp='1499176799' post='3329714']
Some very odd replies here.

The main reason is simply that people's vocal ranges vary hugely. Think Paul Robeson and Robert Plant.

I'm a natural baritone. I have a rather unexciting mid-ranged voice. Loads of rock songs are pitched far higher than my voice will go, because they're designed to be sung by tenors like Robert Plant and Bruce Dickinson. Plenty of songs are pitched way lower than my voice will go, because they're designed to be sung by Barry White.

I suppose I could sing (a version of) Stairway To Heaven if I really felt like it, but never in the original key. That's not because I'm lazy (I'm not) or have an untrained voice (10 years' choral work in a bunch of choirs, thank you very much). It's more a matter of physiology and, y'know, yer actual physics and that.
[/quote]

Indeed! I'm flabbergasted when musicians who don't have to go to the effort of singing are unwilling to change key to suit the singer's voice. I think I'm as miffed when I see trolls complaining that a singer with a long career behind them has to drop a key to still deliver their songs some 30 years after recording them.

I know that I couldn't sing any 2 hour gig even in my 'perfect' singing range, but to force a singer to keep pushing theirs to the limits whilst we just noodle away in our happy place is just insane. 'lol'.

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[quote name='EliasMooseblaster' timestamp='1499178051' post='3329725']
Oh I don't know, you should see the faces on some of the guitarists at my local jam when a singer asks for a song in Eb or F!
[/quote]

Aye, guitarists just love Eb. I can understand why as its the most difficult to transpose on guitar. If the vocalist asks for a key change before we all start working the song up it helps, leaving it till the first band rehearsal when we have all learned it off the recording, at home, will not make them any friends.

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The bass guitar, followed by electric guitar, are the easiest instruments to transpose on - you could ask why bass/guitar players struggle and moan when asked to transpose something!!!

Joking aside, the fact remains that a singer's "instrument" is quite limiting in that for most people, it has a sweet spot of not much more than an octave, with most decent singers able to extend it another octave or so without too much trouble, but beyond that and it becomes challenging. Sure, good talent and good training can extend the range and enhance the quality outside of the normal range, but its difficult, hence why singers would want to stay within their comforable range.

In fact, most instruments have a "sweet spot" which isn't that great - tessitura - and its only a handful (piano/keyboard, to a lesser extent guitar, accordian, etc) which are the same/not-too-much-harder to play in a wide range. Ask a trumpet player or french horn player to play something a fourth up or down and they'll be saying "nope, can't do it - give it to someone else if it needs to be in that key".

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[quote name='EliasMooseblaster' timestamp='1499178051' post='3329725']


Oh I don't know, you should see the faces on some of the guitarists at my local jam when a singer asks for a song in Eb or F!
[/quote]

No problem to a jazzer, Moose :-)

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[quote name='ambient' timestamp='1499175548' post='3329694']
Depends how good they are at singing.

There are singers, and they are people who sing, the two aren't the same.
[/quote]Very true. I can sing and hold a tune pretty well, but I have my limits (I'm another baritone and can manage a bit of low tenor). Our singer, on the other hand, is amazing and can go from tenor to mezzo soprano (Debbie Harry/Chrissie Hynde to Kate Bush) which is why she's the singer. However, she has her favourite keys where she can relax but, despite that, she's never asked to transpose a single thing.

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[quote name='Happy Jack' timestamp='1499176799' post='3329714']
Some very odd replies here.

The main reason is simply that people's vocal ranges vary hugely. Think Paul Robeson and Robert Plant.

I'm a natural baritone. I have a rather unexciting mid-ranged voice. Loads of rock songs are pitched far higher than my voice will go, because they're designed to be sung by tenors like Robert Plant and Bruce Dickinson. Plenty of songs are pitched way lower than my voice will go, because they're designed to be sung by Barry White.

I suppose I could sing (a version of) Stairway To Heaven if I really felt like it, but never in the original key. That's not because I'm lazy (I'm not) or have an untrained voice (10 years' choral work in a bunch of choirs, thank you very much). It's more a matter of physiology and, y'know, yer actual physics and that.
[/quote]

Very good post.

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[quote name='Happy Jack' timestamp='1499176799' post='3329714']
Some very odd replies here.

The main reason is simply that people's vocal ranges vary hugely. Think Paul Robeson and Robert Plant.

I'm a natural baritone. I have a rather unexciting mid-ranged voice. Loads of rock songs are pitched far higher than my voice will go, because they're designed to be sung by tenors like Robert Plant and Bruce Dickinson. Plenty of songs are pitched way lower than my voice will go, because they're designed to be sung by Barry White.

I suppose I could sing (a version of) Stairway To Heaven if I really felt like it, but never in the original key. That's not because I'm lazy (I'm not) or have an untrained voice (10 years' choral work in a bunch of choirs, thank you very much). It's more a matter of physiology and, y'know, yer actual physics and that.
[/quote]this ^, most people can only manage 2 octaves, just moving a song a tone to suit a singer's voice won't make a big difference, nobody will know, but bands that try say a Led Zep song transposed to a baritones range just ruin it and shouldn't try,(can sound good with a female vocalist though) we did move Merry Christmas Everybody down half an octave and got away with it, and it was easier for the crowd to sing along as well, most men are baritones apparently, but yeah you need to pick songs that your singer can sing in more or less the original key if you want to get it anywhere the original version

Edited by PaulWarning

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[quote name='paul_c2' timestamp='1499178809' post='3329736']
The bass guitar, followed by electric guitar, are the easiest instruments to transpose on - you could ask why bass/guitar players struggle and moan when asked to transpose something!!!
[/quote]

Indeed! I know quite a few guitarists with a rock/metal background who wouldn't know where to start. The folkies I play with just do it. We regularly try songs in several keys to find the right one to match the singer's voice

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I guess the classical operatic scores aren't transposed depending on the leading lady?

Very few singers in our world are going to train to that level, so what you get is, some voices are limited by physiology and some are just limited by their lazy owners.

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I used to go to an open mic night and the guy running it had heard me singing creep by Radiohead a few weeks earlier so he asked me up to sing it again. I suggested we play it in E as I'm comfortable with the higher bits when it's played in E, I think it's originally in G or A (can't remember). Anyway.... he was gutted. Genuinely disappointed in me he said "oh.... can you not sing it in the original key then?" To which I responded "yes I can but I sound crap". He then burst out laughing and together we performed in E and it was great. I don't see what the problem is, the original was composed in a key to suit the original performers voice it's not cast in stone til the end of time.

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[quote name='la bam' timestamp='1499175280' post='3329692']
Surely any singer can cover one or two octaves of A-G# ?
[/quote]

If it is so easy, why would you need to work with any singers as you could do it yourself?

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On my computer this post came up on the Forums entry screen under latest post.
Just by luck, or was it prophetic, the title read "Why can't singers sing"

It made I larf.

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There was a lady who came to audition for a jazz collective that I play for.

Lovely lady, very friendly etc, but a hopeless singer. Songs in one key were too high, down a semi-tone too low.

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It would be interesting to hear someone sing like Russel Thompkins from Stylistics to Isaac Hayes in original keys

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