Songs for Worship: How Do We Determine the Best Keys for Congregational Singing?
The Reason why many people are not singing in worship is because we are singing songs in keys too high for the Average person
Selecting Song Keys for Maximum Congregational Participation
Today, congregations in great numbers have quit singing in worship. One of the greatest reasons for their lack of participation is that congregations are often invited to sing in keys too high for the average singer. The people we are leading in worship generally have a limited range and one that is not high. 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 problem is that many modern worship songs are written and performed in keys which sound great on the radio, but are not in keys that the congregation can sing well.
Here’s the bottom line. The sweet range of the average voice is the octave C to C–seek to pitch songs with an octave range in this zone. 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.
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?”
A worship leader’s calling may require musical sacrifice for the sake of the congregation
Mighty to Save is often done in the key of A (the original 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.
How to Determine the Best Keys
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Information about this series
- How do we find the BEST songs in a pool of hundreds of news songs?
- How do we filter possible songs to see if they are suitable for our congregation, knowing that every congregation has its unique DNA?
- How do we introduce new songs in a way that will capture the hearts of our people and help them adopt the song as their own expression of worship?
- Why is the original, artist version of a song usually not a good idea for our congregation?
- How many songs should be on rotation in our church–i.e. how many songs should be on our song list from which we plan worship?
- How do we help our congregations REALLY sing the songs (active participants) in worship rather than be spectators?
- What does the song repertoire look like in a church that seeks to be unified/multigenerational?
There is so much to unpack here, but I invite you to journey with me as we sincerely seek to be the best worship leaders we can be in helping our congregations truly worship. Kenny