Worship Musician Magazine October 2022 | Page 36

If we want our whole Church congregation to participate in sung worship , we will need to be very intentional about song key choice . We will choose keys for our songs so that the melody falls within an easily singable register for as many of our congregation members as possible . Our hope is that every man , woman , and child in the room ( most of whom do not consider themselves to be actual “ singers ”) would feel warmly invited and able to sing along .
In my article from last month , I wrote about “ The Ideal Vocal Register ” for leading congregational singing as an expression of worship . You can read more about that here but to summarize , this “ campfire singalong ” approach to key choice will have the melody of each song fall between C and C , or as close to that as possible .
Historically , “ C to shining C ” ( as arrangers and choir masters have called it for generations ) has made it possible for everyone in the room to comfortably sing together . The men sing the melody between C3 and C4 and the women and children sing the same melody one octave higher between C4 and C5 . It ’ s more like the sound of a campfire sing along , as opposed to the sound of a concert performance .
But I have discovered a problem - some resistance - to “ C to shining C ”. As I provide training workshops for teams of worshipping singers , instrumentalists , and technicians I have found that some female vocalists feel that C5 ( and sometimes even lower ) is too high for them to sing .
If some female singers on the platform with microphones feel like C to C is uncomfortable for them , there must be other women in the congregation who feel the same way ! The even higher C #’ s or D ’ s ( that are sometimes required in situations where a song ’ s register is wider than a single octave ) must cause even more trouble !
But we can ’ t shift the register lower . Men will have the opposite problem . Shift the melody ’ s register downwards and there will be a significant number of men who will struggle - or refuse - to sing that low !
This has confused and troubled me . If C to C doesn ’ t work for everybody ( or almost everybody ) the entire concept of congregational singing flounders !
While I accept that no two voices are the same , that vocal registers from one individual to the another can vary greatly and that there are always individuals who are exceptions to the norm - traditionally and historically speaking - even the lower , female alto voice should easily reach to a C5 and higher .
So what ’ s happening here ? It seems that something ’ s going on with some female vocalists today that has caused their useable range to be lower than ( most - almost all ) women in the past . How could that be ?
As a guy - even though I am a guy who sings - I can ’ t know what singing is like for a female . How could I ? So , I ’ ve had to educate myself - do some professional development . I must give BIG thanks to Carolyn Baker ( from Voice Up Coaching ) and [ WM ]’ s very own vocal expert Sheri Gould for giving generously of their time and sharing their knowledge and wisdom with me on this issue . They have both been invaluable to me as I have collected the information that I pass on to you now and through my workshops .
So ( as best as I can understand ) here ’ s the deal ...
There ’ s more to it than this , but ( for our purposes and generally speaking ) all singers - male or female - have a chest register ( sometimes called a “ chest voice ”) and a higher head register ( sometimes called a “ head voice ”). Both men and women can register - or feel the vibration
- of notes in their chest ( for lower notes ) or their head ( for higher notes ). For each singer , there is usually a region of notes where they can choose to sing either in their head voice or their chest voice if they have learned to do so . This region will vary from one singer to another - even from one alto singer to another . Carolyn Baker uses the term “ flip zone ” to describe this area of opportunity for vocalists .
Why is the “ flip zone ” an area of opportunity ? Because - for the notes within the “ flip zone ” - the singer has the option to sing in either their chest register OR their head register .
NOTE : There is a lot of confusion and conflicting information floating around this topic . Some people use certain words differently than others to mean different things . I ( now ) know that I have misused words like “ head voice ” and “ falsetto ” when speaking about singing . Those two terms are not interchangeable . Only men can have a falsetto voice - a false way of singing ( or speaking ) - to reach higher notes . To quote Sheri Gould , “ Women , by contrast [ to men ], don ’ t have a natural ( physiological ) change in their register [ falsetto ] unless they use faulty vocal technique . They have only one full-range voice , but multiple areas of registration .”
For many female singers - especially those with lower voices and / or very little singing experience - to sing the C5 ( and perhaps some of the notes either side ) will be difficult ( or even impossible ) if they only use their chest register . They might try to belt out those higher notes in their more powerful chest register but , if they do , they will quickly wear themselves out and will be risking vocal cord damage . Alternatively , and preferably , they could “ flip ” into their gentler , softer head register .
The C5 ( and sometimes even lower notes ) can be right in the middle of alto singers ’ flip zones . And this is where the problem lies . Rather than
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