Last time, I discussed looking at the top note of the melody as a key consideration to get the congregation to participate – especially the guys! You can read that blog post here.
To review, in my experience, there are seven common factors to dialing in the right key for each song being sung in a worship service set:
- top note of the melody
- melodic range of the song
- vocal range of the worship leader
- skill set of band members (esp. guitars)
- demographic “makeup” of the congregation
- song tempo
- where the song is positioned in the set
Let’s talk about #2 and #3.
Melodic range of the song and the vocal range of the worship leader are very closely related, and, with the top note of the melody, are important components to get people (esp. guys) to sing in worship.
Melodic range is defined as the distance between the lowest and highest pitches of a melody. If there is a large number of notes between the lowest and highest pitches, the melody is said to have a wide range. If only a few notes separate the lowest and highest pitches, the melody is said to have a narrow range. Vocal range refers to the distance between the highest and lowest pitches that a person is able to sing. The average vocal range of an untrained singer (which refers to the notes you can sing, not to every screech and weird sound) of both males and females is around an octave and a half. Vocal range is often classified as voice type – soprano, alto, tenor, baritone, bass, etc.
A trained singer (i.e., worship leader) can have a much wider vocal range. And therein lies the tension. A worship leader might be a tenor (don’t mean to pick on my fellow tenors) with a wide vocal range who prefers and sounds really great singing notes that are out of the range of the congregation – esp. guys. If they are able (most aren’t), guys are forced to drop the octave or just watch you sing. Sopranos face the same issue. However, depending on the melodic range, most women will, more easily, drop the octave to sing in their lower register.
Add in a melodic range of a song that is too wide, and now people are all over the place trying to sing along. For example, when the melody is lower, guys will sing along in unison, and women will jump up an octave. When the melody is higher, guys will (try to) drop the octave and women will sing along in unison.
To make matters worse, a lot of newer worship songs are written with an even wider melodic range than the vocal range of many worship leaders, sometimes with verses in one octave and the chorus in another. This speaks, in part, to the singability, or lack thereof, of the song. Discard these songs for use in congregational worship.
The unfortunate result is a room full of people watching the worship leader and team sing to them, or hanging on for dear life while they attempt a vocal uneven bar gymnastic routine, or (what I see/hear a lot), guys who resign to mumbling out low notes and women who chill in their lower registers. The latter not being so much a problem during a slow, “me-to-God” song, but there is zero “energy” or excitement in the room for power ballads or faster songs. This, much like a bad lyrically designed setlist, is what I call worship whiplash, that often wears out the congregation and causes (encourages) them to disengage.
So, spend sufficient time choosing song keys with melodic ranges that are congregational friendly. And, as the worship leader, do whatever is vocally necessary to promote singing among the people – esp. guys. Show your vocal chops off elsewhere (i.e., write, record and perform your own music, sing with other groups, etc.).
What are your thoughts?
PS…I’ll talk about the relationship between song tempo and dialing in the right key next time.