Q&A: The Right Key

Dear Lis,

How do I choose the right key for my voice?



Dear Annette,

Adjust the key so that the melody fits your voice perfectly – there shouldn’t be any notes that are too high or too low. Experiment with different keys to explore the ways you use your voice: how does moving the melody affect your timbre, tone, volume, flexibility and intensity. You also choose keys to produce an effect. Do you want it low and sexy, high and intense, even higher and sweet sounding? Think of how different Beyoncé sounds on three songs, ”Single Ladies“, ”Listen“ & “Halo”. ”Single Ladies“ is mostly low to mid-range giving her voice warmth and a playful, effortless feel. ”Listen“ is higher in her range with more intensity and urgency. “Halo” is very high and much sweeter. Her choice of each of these keys is based on the effect she wants to achieve.

Changing keys is especially important if you are covering songs sung by other singers. You won’t always sing the song in the original key: the song “Beautiful” by Christina Aguilera might be too high, so when you sing it you would lower the key. Or if you’re singing a song that was originally sung by a male singer you might want to raise the key. As an example of how each singer changes songs to suit their voices, Leonard Cohen recorded his song “Hallelujah” in the key of C but Justin Timberlake sang it in D. Jeff Buckley recorded it in C but sang it live in C#. k.d. lang sang it in E and Sheryl Crow in Ab. Listen to each of these to hear how the keys produced different effects for each singer.

There is no one right key for your voice. You will sing different songs in different keys depending on how the melody sits. One song in the key of E might be too high for you but another might fit perfectly depending on the melody.

Ready to take your singing to the next level? Take private voice lessons in Los Angeles or online with Lis Lewis!
Learn More.