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A Resource for the Aspiring Vocalist

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The Mystery behind Key Change

Singers have a comfort zone

All singers have a comfort zone, a range of notes that sound best and can be performed effortless. Despite of the ability to expand the vocal range through training, every singer has an individual physical quality which is responsible for the position of the comfort zone within the vocal spectrum. We may not consciously observe this, but the habit of speaking is already giving us a clue about this range. In classic musical education we classify this range by defining voice types, though this method is mostly a helpful convergence to reality.

For the singer it is therefore essential to spend some effort on song choice, especially to ensure that a song lies within his or her vocal abilities. Of course that is not the only consideration during song choice, and if you are interested we invite you to read our article "Improve Your Song Choice" to find out more. Another possibility is to simply change the range of notes to be performed by changing the key of the song.

For the pipe organ an open valve will trigger the sound of the pipe. The key of a song tells us which valves we can open safely to stay in harmony.

For the pipe organ an open valve will trigger the sound of the pipe. The key of a song tells us which valves we can open safely to stay in harmony.

The original key

Every song was written in an original key. The key we know for any of these songs could be the one it was written in, or it could be the key used when the recording we know was produced. We still refer to it as original key. Original keys are usually relatively easy to access. They may be documented in sheet music, or available in databases, per example for DJ's that research harmonic mixing, among other sources. It also can be determined by examining the chords and notes of the song.

It is to mention that a key can and oftentimes does change within a song. The key a song is regarded to be in is most often starting in the key and at one point returning to the same key before the end. Find out what exactly a key is, and how keys are transitioned in our article "Musical Keys and the Key Change".

Here is an example. A song written or performed in a G Major key is based on the tonic note of G, and includes a system of notes defined by the major scale that is also based on the tonic note. The chord progressions used in the song will to a great extent lie within the scale, with the tonic chord being the foundation of those progressions. What happens between the use of G Major may be harmonic movement and/or modulation.

Lead Vocals and original keys

Here at Lead Vocals we consider our practice section as a tool to quickly review and learn the melody, timing, phrasing, and mood of a performance. In addition we think that the tool enables vocalists to study other artists by paying close attention to ingredients like dialect and pronunciation in language, the choice of placing words or phrases within rhythm and beats, any habits, and style and musical influences.

Unlike other existing tools like per example some karaoke platforms we do not offer access to the same performance in multiple keys. But just recently we have introduced additional helpful information about many of the songs available here within the tagging system. At present we offer selection by tonic pitch, musical key, and scale information which can be helpful to explore new music.

We think that from an educational point of view the choice of the tonic pitch is most interesting, because many melodies in songs may start or end with the tonic note. If a vocalist can deliver that note in a rich, strong, and compelling tonal quality that makes the audience want to hear more, then the song choice by tonic pitch may lead to the discovery of suitable songs for the singer. You may give this a try by selecting a song to practice by tonic pitch.

Continue solving the mystery

Find out why vocalists change the key of a song and how they approach the key change. In an attempt to solve the mystery behind the musical key we define what a key is, and explain the background of harmonic movement, chord progressions, and modulation. We also include the consideration of emotional characteristics for all keys based on the major and minor scale, that may play an additional role in the selection process for the vocalist. Further we're taking a brief look at common practice in recording sessions.

Continue reading about this topic in our article "Musical Keys and the Key Change" at