The Original Key Is Not Sacred (Six Thoughts For Choosing The Best Key)


Most often your church will benefit from a simple shift down from the original key. The original key is not sacred.

When a song is recorded or being sung with a huge congregation, slightly higher can happen more easily. There’s more energy, and more voices present. Increased volume overall allows people to sing stronger and harder and higher. Most modern worship songs are coming out of these settings – and the keys are just not always friendly to the general church. Not every song, but some. The point is that you don’t have to use the orginal key. You can change it to make the song singable in your church.

For the likely average congregation size of the majority of church worship leaders reading this post, the original key should probably be taken down a notch.

We don’t want to get so low that the energy is taken away, but even a half-step key change can make a big difference in sing-ability.

Vocalists have various ranges, but it’s not often the range of the general public. Just because a song is in the key of B, and you’re able to sing it, doesn’t mean the church as a whole can.

It also depends on the orginal artist. One of the reasons I have enjoyed utilizing Paul Baloche songs over the years is that his keys resonate with my voice. – same with a few others worship leaders and artists out there. It’s true for everyone – certain artists will have vocal ranges that resonate with you.

This may seem basic, but it’s just a reminder that songs are tools. They serve the church. They allow God’s people to pray, praise, and proclaim. So, we just change the key to work to that end, if needed. The orginal key is not sacred.

Here are a few random thoughts about keys for songs:

On Stage Voice vs Office Voice

At times I have been in my office, singing a little more quietly because I don’t want to disturb other church staff down the hall. I find when I do that, the song is too low to sing once I’m on stage and belting it out. I have learned over the years it’s best to sing loud while choosing the best key.

Morning Worship Services

Most worship times are in the morning and, as a result, it’s not as easy for the worship team or the congregation to sing as loudly as afternoon or nighttime. I’m guessing most recordings of modern worship songs aren’t in the morning which is another reason to shift keys at times.

Male vs Female

Depending on the song, there are keys for women and men. Some current commonly female-led songs include King of Kings, What A Beautiful Name and I Speak Jesus. If a male voice is trying to lead, a shift in keys is definitely needed. At times, even a small shift is needed for a female leader, depending on her range. Bouncing between male and female leaders can be good for variety and various connections of the congregation.

Multiple Leaders

A variety of leaders helping to sing songs during worship helps the congregation connect. Though a song may be too low or high for someone, another person can lead it just fine, and those in the congregation who are able to follow that person also find a groove of singing. It’s good to have at least a couple of different voices taking the lead during worship.

Capos and Transposers

For acoustic guitars and keyboards, it’s pretty simple to transpose. Utilize these tools to make it easy for most on the team to transpose. Even Planning Center Online has a tool to transpose the MP3 to the key you want it in. Sometimes it sounds a little funky, but it’s a reference in the right key. Lead guitar and other instruments can’t so easily transpose on the fly, which is why it’s good to nail down the key you need well in advance.

Check the Bridge and Chorus

Most often, the verse may be ok, but the bridge or chorus may be really high. Sing through the whole song when determining the best key.