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OT: Most common vocal range


cedar
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Occasionally when asked to play at a private gig - like a wedding - I'm told that one or more people might want to sing to a particular tune.  And this leads me to wonder whether I should default to a particular key or aim to have the melody sung in a particular range.

 

What do you guys do in this situation? What range would be safest to pick as a general rule, to accommodate non-professional singers?

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This is from a guy who's run weeknight karaoke for years. it's not the key signature that counts, but the highest note in the melody. For older untrained singers, don't go over E for the guys and G for the ladies. Younger voices can go much higher without effort - say around G and high C. This is just a "safe bet" general range that I use, but of course every singer (or more likely wannabe singer in karaoke shows :laugh: ) can vary widely. 

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30 minutes ago, Docbop said:

Work on your transposing chops.     Making a singer sing in a key they aren't used to you're automatically their scapegoat for everything.

Not a matter of transposing to a key that a singer requests.  I'm talking about the situation where someone (or group) asks you to play a tune they can sing, and I have no information either as to what key the song is normally played in or any information about the particular singers.  So I have no choice but to select the key myself and make a guess what is best.

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4 minutes ago, Bill H. said:

This is from a guy who's run weeknight karaoke for years. it's not the key signature that counts, but the highest note in the melody. For older untrained singers, don't go over E for the guys and G for the ladies. Younger voices can go much higher without effort - say around G and high C. This is just a "safe bet" general range that I use, but of course every singer (or more likely wannabe singer in karaoke shows :laugh: ) can vary widely. 

This is what I was looking for, thanks.

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How about...

 

Keyboard Player -- Learn it in the key it was recorded in.

 

Wanna-be Singer -- If you can't sing it as above... "Don't Ask"

 

Old No7

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This is always too much fun!!!!

 

We had a guest want to sing Proud Mary one time. The band knew it in the original key and all of us could transpose. 

Our "singer" sang a bit of it and the Bassist told us what key we should play it in. 

We started it up and the Singer started singing it in the original key, we had to switch on the fly. 

 

There is truly no "safe" answer your question, anything can (and will) happen. 

It took a chunk of my life to get here and I am still not sure where "here" is.
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Most men that sing, sing  comfortably from C3 to C4 (where C4 is middle C).  Women singing in their chest voice can typically all sing from an A beneath middle C to an A above middle C.  Most women  are comfortable using their head voice to an Eb an 8v+m3 above middle C.   Real basses can of course go lower and true sopranos and tenors higher, but those are comfortable ranges.  
 

So as stated above, range the song calls for is what matters, not the key it’s in. 

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8 minutes ago, ElmerJFudd said:

Most men that sing, sing  comfortably from C3 to C4 (where C4 is middle C).  . 

 

That's interesting.  I would have guessed that the range for the average man would have started and finished a bit higher.  But that's why I asked.

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9 minutes ago, cedar said:

 

That's interesting.  I would have guessed that the range for the average man would have started and finished a bit higher.  But that's why I asked.

Not for the average Joe.  Guys who actually sing regularly, yeah… they’ll do E, F, F# right above middle C.  G4 and above are real belter territory, tenors.  Or they falsetto. 

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Mine (with C4 being middle C) is roughly F2-E4 before falsetto which goes up to roughly F#5. From my observations the average untrained comfortable vocal range for a guy is around A2-C4, or about 1 1/3 octaves.

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2 minutes ago, Mighty Motif Max said:

Mine (with C4 being middle C) is roughly F2-E4 before falsetto which goes up to roughly F#5. From my observations the average untrained comfortable vocal range for a guy is around A2-C4, or about 1 1/3 octaves.

Yep. 

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18 minutes ago, Mighty Motif Max said:

Mine (with C4 being middle C) is roughly F2-E4 before falsetto which goes up to roughly F#5. From my observations the average untrained comfortable vocal range for a guy is around A2-C4, or about 1 1/3 octaves.

+2. You're a solid bass-baritone Max?

 

Cheers, Mike.

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6 minutes ago, Montunoman 2 said:

Don't you think if a singer wants to sing at a public event they should know what keys they sing in? 

😂 right.

 He’s talking Uncle Sal’s niece at a wedding.  Not a cabaret gig on West 64th.  

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I've never actually measured my vocal range, but I am a high baritone/low tenor.  I can sing fairly low and pretty high in my chest voice, and in falsetto I can go even higher.  When people ask about my range, I generally say that I have a similar range to Steve Lukather of Toto, although I can sing lower than I've ever heard him sing.

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For Uncle Sal’s niece I get with her on the break, ask her to sing a few bars, and then find her key. I assume she’s sung the song before and even if she doesn’t know the key she can sing it where she wants it.

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^ Exactly. My god I could write a book on this sh!t ! I've done the gambit from Uncle Sal's fifteen year old niece at the Bar Mitzvah to Patti Lupone to Linda Hopkins, to name but a few.

 

But just for other posters and those looking on here, pop, rock and RnB range are a different world then jazz and standards range -- in that the former are expected to have higher ranges and more belting is involved...actually it's commonplace for most rock.  Jazz, Standards and some cabaret are more of a conversational type style of singing, so the range is lower.

 

 I'm assuming the type of singer Cedar is dealing with is the latter where she calls "on a clear day" or something like that. There is a skill to be able to transpose tunes on the spot, even ones you know. There's always a little section that can throw you off in a different key then you're used to doing it in..

 

That said, I put in my decades doing it and it feels great to be able to now say, sorry I don't do that anymore, call someone else. :thu:

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How ridiculous is it to think that a piano player would immediately know the lowest & highest notes of a song's melody only from a mention of the title and possible key! Of course I know the melodies of the songs I play solo, however they are memorized and ingrained, so asking me on the spot what the lowest & highest notes are would force me to quickly play through the melody to find out. And there are plenty of other songs I've played as part of an ensemble where I'm only comping and not responsible for knowing the melody at all - there's a horn player or singer taking care of that part.

 

The reality of amateurs sitting in to sing anything on a gig you're doing is that almost every time you'll be contacted in advance, or pulled aside before the performance, at which time you simply ask the person to sing the first line - that way, you find the key. This has happened on the bandstand too, right before we play the song. No big deal there.

 

I've had times when the singer sings a bit of the tune, the musicians figure out the key based on that, we start the tune, then it's obvious the singer screwed up and communicated a key not workable for their range. Hilarity ensues as we listen to this person embarrass themselves - a (usually) terrible singer to begin with, singing in a wrong key for their range. What a combo!

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I agree Rob: I wouldn’t know the highest note of the melody of a song on the spot.

 

I should have mentioned that reviewing the song with the singer on the break gives me time to get comfortable playing it in an unfamiliar key if necessary. 
 

Where I struggle most is when their time is off. We used to joke that I should ask in advance if they want me to play it too fast or too slow 😂

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I'm fortunate to have a pretty good melodic/harmonic memory.  Assuming (1) I know the relative notes in the melody, and (2) I don't know the singer (or it's congregational / crowd sing-along) I go with the "from C to shining C" approach.  If the song has a range greater than one octave I try to keep it centered around that magic F-G range.  So, for the Hymn to Anacreon (aka Star Spangled Banner), since I know it's a twelfth between low and high notes, I'll generally do it in Ab or A.  That gives the most people a chance to get in the most notes.

 

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Good advice in this thread.

 

By the way, one reason for the question wasn't just to deal with Uncle Sal's niece, but also in anticipation of a group of nieces who want to sing together.  In that event, it is particularly helpful to understand what ranges are most common. 

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Fortunately we don't get requests like that at our gigs.  Nothing wrong with playing tunes in lower (or higher) keys...I sing "Some Kind of Wonderful" a step down, I'm a baritone and I don't even try the belting bits at the end, I modify to fit my style and range.   

We also tune down a half step for every show.  Some bands we know are snooty about that, I just don't understand the hard line of playing "in the original key." Who the **** cares if it sounds good.

Main problem with playing in different keys is stringed instruments if there are open strings involved IMO with certain riffs.  

For myself, if it was just chords and very easy riffs I'd play in a different key, but for anything more involved I'd probably use the transpose buttons.

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5 hours ago, cedar said:

Good advice in this thread.

 

By the way, one reason for the question wasn't just to deal with Uncle Sal's niece, but also in anticipation of a group of nieces who want to sing together.  In that event, it is particularly helpful to understand what ranges are most common. 

I think most of the advice here is well-informed but misplaced.

You're not asking about "accompanying a singer." That's a whole separate topic. You're asking about playing songs for some people to sing to. 

In that case, the best option is to play the songs in the original keys. We (all humans) remember songs in the original key, or somewhere within a half-step of it. People are not natural transposers; that's an aftermarket option in the realm of musos. Songs played in some key distant from the first--even if that would be a comfortable singing range for them if they were real singers--will not get sung along to, because they will sound "off" to folks, and they will never have sung them that way anyway.

Also, is there really anything you can do with this information? You are not going to play in the actual RANGE of notes that people sing in, you'd just be matching pitch class (maybe), and people will be jumping octaves as needed. You have more than an octave's worth of pitches available to you, so that's all you really know.

IMO, just do the original key and trust that if people need to screech or switch octaves, they will do so freely, gleefully, and with complete oblivion to the cow and goose sounds they are producing. 

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+1 MOI. Even having a semi-informed idea of what a "likely range" for a particular vocalist is, that still puts the onus on Cedar to go through the melody of the song, find the lowest & highest notes, transpose them to fit this "likely range" then get the key from that. That's a lot of work to do for one song! Again, what I do is simple: pull the singer or singers aside for ten seconds, ask them to sing or hum a few bars of the melody, grab the key from that and go. And as MOI says, most will just sing it in the original key anyway, since they've likely sung along with the original recording many times. How do you think they know the song in the first place? Even if it's the wrong key for their range, it's the key they know (which MOI said above, as well). 99% of the time it's gonna be a screech-fest anyway, right or wrong key!

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According to cedar the singer is choosing the song - which means he has no control over melodic range, whether it fits the singer, or anything like that. All he can do is try to keep the highest note within reach. Maybe it's because I do this a lot, but it's really not that big of a deal. Highest note is almost always in the chorus, and almost always the tonic, third, or fifth. I just fast forward the hook in my brain, go "ok there it is", and take it from there. 

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On 3/25/2022 at 2:30 PM, stoken6 said:

+2. You're a solid bass-baritone Max?

 

Cheers, Mike.

More or less. Which kind of sucks for a lot of music. Definitely not a full bass as I'm not very full in the lowest whole step or so there.

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