My band likes to play our songs in the keys that they are used to, but often those keys are too high or too low for my voice, and require me to strain. What can I tell them to help them understand why singers need to sing songs that sit well in their range?
Your problem is one of communication with your band. Some instrumentalists simply don’t appreciate what singers need to do. In this context, specifically, they need to appreciate that singing in different parts of your vocal range is not a mechanical and arbitrary process like putting your finger on one key or fret versus another: you need to use different muscles in the throat, and you need to adjust your breathing and support. So, while a song may be better for them in a certain key, either because it “sounds better” or is technically easier to play, you, as a singer have specific anatomic and physiologic constraints attached to every sound you put out.
Rather than make this into a contest of wills, here is how you can all be on the same side of the argument. Let’s assume that you all want the song to sound good. Explain to them that you have a specific range where you can sing really well, with good dynamics and physical comfort. Explain also that if you get outside of that range, your voice will be softer, less colorful and resonant, and generally less attractive. You can add that singing at these extremes can also harm your voice, leading to vocal fatigue, voice damage, and eventually no lead singer. If they can appreciate this, they may be amenable to transposing the songs up our down a bit to accommodate your needs.
They can always add dynamic and technical excitement in other ways, since all the notes are at their fingertips. But they are not at your fingertips, and your vocal folds, which are resilient but delicate, have certain physiologic limitations that need to be respected.
-Anthony F. Jahn, MD, FACS, FRCS(C)
This discussion is for general information and not to be construed as specific medical advice that you should obtain from your own physician.
Dr. Jahn is an internationally renowned otolaryngologist based in Manhattan with a sub-specialty interest in the professional voice. His practice includes classical and popular singers. He holds academic appointments at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and Westminster Choir College in Princeton. He is Medical Director at Jazz at Lincoln Center, and former Director of Medical Services at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Dr. Jahn has published several books for vocalists, including “Vocal Heath for Singers” (Singdaptive) and “The Singer’s Guide to Complete Health” (Oxford University Press).