Finding the Best Keys for Congregation Songs (Free eBook)
Much of this post is reprinted from a previous post – updated and expanded. Free eBook offered.
One of the greatest reasons people are not singing in worship today is because many worship bands are pitching songs in keys too high for the average singer. The post, 9 Reasons People Aren’t Singing in Worship, has generated hundreds of responses, some supportive and some not so much. Reason 3 speaks to this issue:
We are singing in keys too high for the average singer. The people we are leading in worship generally have a limited range and do not have a high range. When we pitch songs in keys that are too high, the congregation will stop singing, tire out, and eventually quit, becoming spectators. Remember that our responsibility is to enable the congregation to sing their praises, not to showcase our great platform voices by pitching songs in our power ranges. The basic range of the average singer is an octave and a fourth from A to D
This reason is perhaps one of the greatest “transgressions” of worship leaders which leads to creating congregational spectators (pew potatoes). It is difficult to say just how huge this issue is, but I have experienced this problem in the majority of churches that I have attended that have a contemporary or blended style of music.
In order for people to sing the songs of worship, the songs have to be pitched in keys that the common person can sing. If songs are too high, many people just stop singing because it hurts to sing high. Some drop the key an octave for portions of the song if the song is pitched really high. The problem is that the average singer has a medium range, and many worship leaders have high voices and want to pitch the songs in keys in which they sound the best. Remember that worship is not about impressing the congregation with our awesome vocal skills, rather as worship leaders, our task is to enable the people to worship. As worship leaders, it is paramount that we do all we can to facilitate the worship experience in such a way that the congregation can become involved in worship, setting an environment for people to encounter the transformational presence of God.Is your congregation singing in keys too high? Click To Tweet
Here’s the bottom line. Select keys for songs that have the lowest note the congregation will sing at an A. The highest note should be a D (or occasional Eb). The average person will struggle with E and above. (This is such an important concept that I have participants in my worship conferences to raise their right hands and pledge that they will never again lead the congregation in inappropriate keys!) If parts of the song stay at the high end of that range for a lengthy period, it will tire voices fast, so those songs need lower key considerations if the lowest note in the range is in acceptable limits. The sweet range of the average voice is the octave C to C. Where possible, pitch keys in this range.
What does that mean for your worship band?
Once you have selected music, determine what keys are acceptable for the voice range. There may be 1-3 keys that work, depending upon the range of the melody. Then always use those songs in the keys that you have determined are best.
Also realize that the keys we need to select may not be the ones that make our bands sound the best. We then have to ask ourselves, “Is my purpose to sound the most amazing or is it to enable the people to voice their worship and praise in the best way they can?” As worship leaders, I believe our calling is to help the people sing with all their being, even at the sacrifice of some things we, as musicians, would prefer.A worship leader's calling may require musical sacrifice for the sake of the congregation Click To Tweet
Here’s an example.The song, Mighty to Save, is often done in the key of A. I have been in worship services where it is sung in an even higher key. The range of the song in A is within the guidelines until you get to the bridge, “Shine your light and let the whole world see….” Not only does the bridge go to a high E, but it stays high in the range throughout that section. The key of G works much nicer, and F is even better for the congregational voice. Conclusion, use the song in either the key of F or G (or endear yourselves to your musicians and do it in the key of F#/Gb).
Best Keys for 170 Top Worship Songs
To make things a bit easier, I have just completed a resource of the top 100 CCLI songs plus fifty additional top worship songs and the keys that are best for congregational participation. Check out this resource.Best keys for 170 top worship songs! Click To Tweet
Look at your song list for Sunday. Are the keys appropriate for participatory congregational singing? If not, make the change and see what a difference it can make. If your congregation is used to not participating, it may take a while to break the cycle, so have patience, submit your worship planning to God, and lead the congregation to where they need to go.
Notes: Singing early in the morning necessitates lower keys than later in the day. Music from a hymnal most likely is already placed in good keys for congregational singing–some hymns may be pitched a bit high (especially in earlier editions).
Our ministry partner, WorshipPlanning.com (this application has revolutionized my work as a worship planner and leader) and Renewing Worship teamed up to produce an eBook with details on selecting the best keys for congregational singing. The book includes some examples to help tackle the issue. Take a look.Free eBook on selecting the best keys for congregational worship Click To Tweet
I welcome your comments.