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  • Kate

Choosing keys for worship songs



A well-written song is crafted to ‘soar’ in certain places. The melody and lyric are together heading towards a peak. If we choose a key that means a large proportion of the congregation, at that key moment of the song, needs to ‘dive’ instead of ‘soar’, we’re actually inhibiting the impact of the overall song. It’s not about finding a key that best suits us as worship leaders. It’s about finding the key that’s best for the congregation as a whole.

 

We discussed this topic at a recent gathering of our worship leaders. The previous night, one of our team had led us in singing ‘Holy Forever’, but in a rather high key (C, actually!). In this key, the women in the congregation were either singing a harmony (if they were able) or singing down the octave in their lower registers. Despite this, it was an incredible worship moment and we stayed with the song for quite some time, singing different sections of it, interspersed with prayers and reflections from members of the congregation.

 

We are blessed to have a great team of worship leaders with big, serving hearts. We were able to have an easy conversation, with even some laughs, imagining how much more incredible that time could have been if we had been in a key where everyone could feel their voices soaring in worship!

 

We talked about ‘congregational range’. In our church, we don’t really want to go lower than G below middle C, or higher than an E. That’s a range of 13 notes and probably as wide as we can go. (I don’t know about your congregation, but after we started to gather again after COVID lockdowns, we sang everything in a slightly lower key than we did before!)

 

To use ‘Holy Forever’ as an example, it actually spans 11 notes of the scale which means it’s only just going to fit into that congregational range. Therefore, there’s not much ‘wiggle room’ – there’s only going to be one or two keys for that song that are going to work best for the whole congregation. In this case, we opted for A (G Capo 2), which means the lowest note we’re singing is A below middle C and the highest note is D.

 

A lot of songs have a range of an octave, (Build my Life, for example) which means there are more key options available to choose from. Some songs have an even smaller range and are therefore even more flexible. Elevation Worship’s ‘Trust in God’ has a range of 5 notes!

 

When I’m preparing, I usually check in with my husband and son to make sure the keys I’m choosing feel comfortable for them too. For our worship team, we maintain a list of songs that represent our current repertoire – ranging from the brand-new to ‘golden oldies’ that we still treasure and return to. The list includes what we, as a team, consider to be the best congregational keys for each song – which makes it a very useful tool to have on hand when preparing worship times, especially if you’re considering linking any songs.

 

Taking the time to sit down together as a team of worship leaders and working out the best keys for songs, before you introduce them, is the best way forward.

 

There is a pastoral element to worship leading – it’s so important that we care deeply about the people we are leading in worship and that we, as lead worshippers, can be as helpful as we can in facilitating corporate worship. And taking the time to choose song keys that best serve our congregation as a whole plays a big part in that.

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