Worship leaders should have one approach to their leadership:
Lead in such a way that only provides encouragement towards (not distraction from) an opportunity to join together in singing declarative truths about who our God is and who we are as His people.
That may seem very self explanatory, but think about the things that could be a potential distraction for someone wanting to engage in musical worship. Anything from inappropriately placed screaming guitar solos to lyric slides that show up a line too late (and everything in between) can fall into this red flag zone.
There are many things that can distract us from entering into engaged musical worship experiences, but I would say towards the top of “The Most Distracting List” can be the key a song is led in. If a song is too high or too low, what are people going to do? They’ll just stand there. If they’re wanting to be singing by they physically can’t, it can be frustrating.
REALITY CHECK FOR TRAINED VOCALISTS WHO LEAD: If you choose a key based on where it sounds best or is even most natural to sing in your range, it’s probably not a good key to lead that song in corporately.
Think about it — you spend hours upon hours training and pushing the boundaries of what your voice can do and understandably, over time, your range will extend on both ends (if you’re working at both ends). It’s just like your muscle flexibility, if you stretch on a regular basis, you’re going to be able to touch your toes more easily than if you never stretched at all.
I, personally, have a vocal range of just over two octaves (without breaking into falsetto). I can belch out a G (for my trained singing friends, you know what I mean so don’t judge me … I consider belching appropriate when necessary) an octave and a half below middle C, and can sit comfortably at a G, but can sing though an A above middle C. Where does my voice sound best? I would say I have most control and strength in that range from the B just below middle C up to the G at the top of my range. I love singing up there — it’s one of those “shake the room” kind of feelings. Can the average singer in the room on a Sunday morning sing songs where my voice sounds best? Not a chance.
So, we hit a fork in the road where we need to decide if we’re wanting to sound the best, or if we’re wanting to bring people along with us. The real question as a worship leader is, “Am I willing to sacrifice the strongest area of my vocal range for the sake of giving people a chance to sing with me?”
I know that there are some of you out there that will not agree with what I’m about to say, but I base the decision of song keys fully on this:
The average untrained voice (the ones we lead every Sunday morning) has a range that spans from C to C.
It doesn’t matter what octave — men and women alike generally have a singing range from C-C. There will be times that a song pops up to a D or perhaps down to a Bb or A — and you know what, that’s fine. If there’s one or two quick notes that pop out of someones range before settling back down (or up) into where they can sing, it won’t be too distracting for them. But, be wary of the songs that have a run of notes hanging out on the outskirts of the C-C range. It won’t be comfortable for the people singing and they slowly disengage from what we’re trying to accomplish.
To visually see where the ranges of trained vocalists typically land on the keyboard scale, click here.
As you can see, every one of those ranges has a C-C, regardless of octave. Some may lean towards heading into the lower B-Bb-A range and others lean towards the higher Db-D-Eb-E ranges. But still, generally speaking, trained and untrained voices alike, all have a C-C range.
You and I need to be sacrificial when we’re choosing the keys of the songs we’re going to be leading. We have to give up our comforts and generally sing in ranges that may challenge even us. If the untrained voice can sing it, it should be easy for us right? Well, like the saying goes, “use it or lose it!” If we’re not practicing singing in the range that is most appropriate for the average singer, it will become increasingly difficult for us to lead a group of untrained singers on a weekly basis.
For further reading on this topic, here is an article that I have found helpful: