This is such a tricky topic, but I do know one thing, you’re not Chris Tomlin; he doesn’t sing that high live either!
I have been really trying to meditate on the issue of keys for a while here. Not because I believe that there is one absolute answer out there, but there are definitely a few factors that can help to lead you into the direction that best suites you and your church at the same time. So without any further ado, here we go!
Many people get a little upset when they believe that you are trying to sing songs that fit your range best when leading worship. To be honest, this seems like a silly issue to discuss, but we will none-the-less.
First of all, all groups, teams, and singers out there I assume are trying to do their best. To give everything they have. Besides, the bible does speak of excellence in worship. I have also never met someone who was like, nah, I like sounding like junk. That being the case, why do so many of us sing in keys that we can’t actually sing in. And being able to “reach” certain notes is not the same as singing them well. If you didn’t know that before, consider this your warning. You could spend all your days “reaching” notes, and never once sing a good note. And as I break this down a bit more here, I want to point out two issues in this area.
First, singing in a key that fits you best will allow for a greater amount of quality. As I said before, I think we can all agree that quality is important. Not because we want to be the focus, because trust me, there are a lot of other well paid fame-seeking jobs than being a volunteer (full time) worship leader. This is because God is worth more than a poorly played, lazily put together worship set.
The second thing to note is that most people don’t think about vocal health or longevity. Do you want to lead Gods people into worship for years to come? Then learning correct vocal skills is quite important along with learning to pick keys that will also support vocal quality and health at the same time. There’s nothing worse than seeing passionate leaders in the church take long periods of rest or leaving service because of bad singing habits. I know that there are a few out there, and many more that you never get to hear about. Picking keys is not really as much about sounding good to the congregation as it is being at your best personal quality as well as looking towards your future vocal health.
So many times we argue that picking keys is an issue of making the congregation comfortable. That’s a funny thought as you are usually serving anywhere between 30-3000 people when we talk about worship leaders. How could you possibly think that you will provide the best key for everyone. Impossible. Not that we can’t try to be good at knowing the congregation, but that’s for another time. So, really, one of the things that distracts me the most is when leaders are struggling to sing their songs during worship. If you’re having trouble, we’re gonna have trouble as the congregation. There’s also nothing worse than seeing a whole team of singers struggle together as they sing through something. That is again, bad practice for the healthy voice, as well as distracting for the congregation. Want them to engage, make them feel comfortable. If you are comfortable they will have an easier time as well, regardless of whether everything is “easy” for them to sing or not.
Your Reach: Knowing Your Audience
One of the last things, which is probably the most common thought out of these is the issue of knowing your “audience” and being able to work within their constraints. Obviously leading elementary and middle school students will be quite different than leading high school and college kids. As well, leading high school and college students is probably going to be quite different then a middle aged to older congregation.
This may be an issue to hiring people right for the job, or being willing to know whether you are right for the job. I would have a hard time seeing an older guy with a low baritone voice leading the youth of our church. That just doesn’t make sense. Probably style wise as well as vocal range wise.
A Little Something Extra
Lastly, another way to combat this issue, which I have noticed a lot of churches are learning to do, whether on purpose or not I ‘m not certain, is mixing your leadership on any given Sunday with male and female leaders. This seriously helps to take the burden of the “keys issue” off the main leader, whether male or female.
Remember, your job is to facilitate people in worship. Normal people don’t have vocal training or usually vocal range. Normal people aren’t concerned with you being perfect (most of the time), and normal people don’t know what key Chris Tomlin sings his songs in. There are usually three keys. Too low, too high, and too too high.This is especially true for all those new worship leaders who like to show of by singing those fun but frightening octave leaps towards the end of songs. By leading from the perspective of someone who wants to lead in quality, for longevity, without distraction, for Gods’ glory, you can be sure that you will be moving in the right direction. If you are leading from a place of security, your congregation can follow from a place of security.