In the Philippines, there are more female worship leaders are leading the worship than men. Most of the songs written and recorded are actually have men as worship leading (except for Lakewood and Hillsongs). Though most of time, I transpose the key from the original recording like 2 to 3 semitones (3 steps from the original key). In your respective church, how are you dealing with this scenario that having the song sung by a male and in the actual local worship church it is sung by a female worship leader. What is the normal key signature that is fit for the women?
It's not a "key signature" issue, it's a "what's the highest (and lowest) note?" issue. Basically, a one-octave range from C to C is singable for just about everyone - men and women. When you start going higher than a C, you start losing some of the lower voices (basses and altos).
Unfortunately, a lot of current worship music is written and recorded by guys (and girls) with higher ranges, and they want to do their recording of the song in a key where their voice sounds best, so they go up to a D, E, F or beyond. And so we mere mortals have to transpose the song down a few steps to sing it, and a couple more steps to make sure the congregation can sing it.
There has been, though, something of a cultural shift in the past few years, where worship music is (IMHO) becoming more and more of a "performance" thing and less and less of a "singalong" thing. And so it is less important than it used to be to have the song in a key where the congregation can sing along, and more emphasis is placed on the quality of the "performance" from the stage (but let's not get started on that discussion here, okay?)
In any case, the trick for figuring out the right key for a given worship leader to sing a song is: they need to know what the highest note they can sing, umm, properly is. For me, that's a D or maybe an E (so, slightly higher than that safe congregational range). So if I'm going to sing "Happy Birthday to You," (I'm assuming this is familiar to people in the Philippines, not just Americans) I go through the song and figure out where the highest note is (it's on the first syllable of the word "birthday" just before the place where you insert the name). I can figure out that whatever key I sing it in, that note is the "5" of the key scale... and the key where D (my high note) is the 5 is G: G-A-B-C-D. So if I sing Happy Birthday in the key of G, the highest note I'll need to sing will be a D, which is singable for me.
If I want to do the song in a key where everybody in the congregation can sing it, I would put it in the key where the 5 note is a "C" - the key of F: F-G-A-Bb-C.
The principle is the same for any song, you just have to figure out where the highest note is, figure out what key you'd do the song in so that the song's highest note is your highest note (or the congregational highest note, C). Again, it's not a key signature thing - you can't say "if we just do every song in the key of A, it'll sound good." And it gets tricky when you have a song that sits on that highest note for a long time (move it down another step or so), or on a song where the best key turns out to be Gb or something difficult to play, or a song with a very wide range (a lot of times, I'll just move some of the low notes "up" a little bit, rework the melody so that it doesn't go quite so low... it's very noticeable if you bail out on the high notes, but if you just raise some of the low notes, it still sounds like "the song.")
I'll typically try to set the key so that most of the notes fall between C and C with an occasional D if it's for a short time.
I sing tenor and can go up higher to the E and the F, but then I lose the congregation (in addition to the soprano on our team unless she drops to a lower octave). Singing the lower notes feels a bit low for me, but is very comfortable for our soprano who usually sings the melody.
A lot of the songs we sing in my church have a range of a 5th or maybe a 6th. So that gives us a lot of keys we can sing them in. In that case, I try to pick a key that leaves the notes between E and C so that it doesn't feel too low and muddy/sad.
If I plan to modulate in the song, I'll have to set the starting key so that the ending key doesn't end up too high.
Lastly, when I'm doing a song with harmonies, I have to make sure the voice parts will fall in a comfortable range for each of the singers while leaving the melody in a comfortable range for the congregation.
I agree with this! I usually stick to a range of no lower than A below middle C and D2 above middle C. This range seems to work well for everyone. I check out the song, find the highest and lowest notes and adjust it accordingly.
A very good explanation, Charles. I tend to limit my high notes to D as well, and find that most can sing it, provided there are not too many notes on the D. Hitting it once in a while and singing whole lines there is two different things!
One big problem I see in a number of songs today (especially youth songs) is when they start the verse in one octave, and then jump a whole octave for the chorus (i.e. Sing, Sing, Sing; God of this City). It makes it really hard to find middle ground.
Rommel, if you want to see a good example of female vs male versions of a song, listen to Indescribable by Chris Tomlin and then listen to it by Laura Story (the same with Mighty to Save).
Most women and men have medium range voices - I find that I have to bring down most current tenor-led P/W songs 2 or 3 steps in order to get them into a singable key for the worship team and congregation.
There's this one Israel Houghton song we are going to do (If not for Your Grace) where most of the melody is comfortable (F->D), except for one line in the verse where he goes briefly up to F above middle C. I don't want to bring it down to D (makes the rest of the song's tessitura too low, IMO) so may compromise on Eb...
Of course it's best to try the key with your worship leaders - see if it's comfortable with them....
In a short answer - I find that if a guy is singing a song on the recording and it's in the key of G, then it's safe to guess that I should transpose to a D for my alto range. I have transposed maybe 50 songs from a G to a D. That's the easy short answer! The other I keep in mind is that if a song is written in a key with a lot of flats - like Eb or Ab - I will transpose them as well to make it easier for our guitarists. So, even if singing in Eb sounds better for my voice - we'll usually end up playing it in D.
I call 'D' the girl key!
Charles gave a great explanation, but it also depends on the range of the worship leader and the rest of the vocalists. I am a soprano, however the rest of the team is made up of altos and a bari... so what is completely comfortable for me and within my range isn't what everyone else likes. I have had to drop everything down to the lower keys so that they are comfortable. The problem with that is that I don't have much at the low end, so while they LOVE singing down there, my voice gets worn out quickly.
An example is when we do "How He Loves" - we do it in G. It starts out pretty low (OK, really low!) but that places the octave jumps that really add something to the song in a good key not only for me, but in a place where it isn't startling or too high for the congregation. I just don't sing at the beginning.
The trick that I often use is to have someone with a lower register lead and I'll add a higher harmony - then everyone is happy. Of course this works for us because I am the only high voice (nope, no tenors either).
Oh, and my personal fav key? F or G. ;) We are all over the board though, it just depends on the song.
I think the problem comes when the song has a wide range. We sang Andy Bromley's version of 'Jesus, my King' (Wonderful Saviour) a little while ago, with a range from A (below middle C) to the E (a 10th above middle C). I moved it down a semitone. The low notes were uncomfortable for some people including myself. As the song begins with the low notes, it was quite difficult to project our voices at that point.
I think a comfortable range for the congregation is from B flat to D.
I do transposing once a month for our female song directors and the norm is about one to two steps down from original key of the song. At least that's our experience in our all Hispanic church.
I have noticed that going up to E or G is fairly high for our female singers.
If a woman is leading the melody line then the key she sings it in should be the key most comfortable for her along with considering how it sounds instrumentally and for low and high harmony singers. I don't think it hurts us as singers and musicians to be "stretched" outside of our comfort zone to accommodate the lead singer. That's when we get better. But to put a key limit on women is not fair. The person leading should feel comfortable and confident while singing so they can worship easier. I don't think we need to do all things musically "middle of the road" for the congregation. What's important is to give them doctrinally sound and rich songs to worship to.