Lazy singing

, posted: 18-Jan-2010 10:00

iStock_000008007232XSmall Outside of my work as a developer at 3Bit, I freelance as a professional (i.e. paid) piano player.  I've played at just about every event imaginable - weddings, funerals, Christmas carol singing, Santa parades, live gigs.  I began learning at a young age, and hated every moment - it wasn't until my late teens that I actually started to enjoy music, and am now grateful I stuck with it (or rather mum made me stick with it!).  I now often sit at a piano for an hour after work to unwind.

Through all my many years of accompanying good singers through to the tone-deaf (and everyone in-between), I've noticed an interesting trend - today, the average Joe Blogs can't sing as well as possibly their grandparents were able to.

The tell-tale sign for me is having to often lower the key of a song to make it easier to sing.

Music is made up of many parts, and one is the key (as dictated by the key signature at the start of the music). If a song is in the key of F, for example, and a wedding congregation is struggling as the music is too high, the key can be dropped down (to D, to C etc), and this brings the notes back into the vocal range of everyone trying to belt out the tune.

The same works in reverse.  If a song is too low, the key can be raised.  The fine art of all this is finding a key that isn't too high or too low.  It is also quite specific to the music. 

If a song features notes that are all quite close on a scale (think Do Re Mi from Sound of Music), the key can be easily adjusted.  If the song has notes all over the place, you have to be careful that the key is a good average over the whole piece, or you'll become unstuck half way through (the carol Silent Night is a good example of a song that features a very wide range of both high and low notes).

At Christmas time 2008, I played for a crowd of 1,500 at a community carols event.  I was amazed that every carol we played had its key dropped down, some quite significantly.  A music purist would shudder at this!

My theory is that most of us do very little regularly singing, and unlike the past generations, our vocal chords don't get the workout theirs did, hence we can't easily get to the higher notes they could.  50 years ago people could sing well, and composers set their music to the key that suited singers the best, which is now too high for us.  Of course, this is just my opinion.

My remedy for this - more singing in the shower, and if you can't hold a tune to save yourself, turn the stereo up louder.


Blatant self promotion: if you're looking for some piano accompaniment, fire me an email.

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New Zealand

I'm Nate Dunn, and I work for 3Bit, and am a moderator here at Geekzone.

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