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Jul 3, 2020 - 12:18:40 AM
849 posts since 11/26/2012

I'm looking for your kind thoughts and opinions on the following matter. Unfortunately, I do not have that high lonesome sound when it comes to singing. I'm way closer to Cash than Monroe. It's hard for me to sing in G, A or Bflat, which is unfortunate because so many bluegrass songs are classically in G, etc.... Most naturally, I like to drop it down to C when it's my turn to lead a song and sing in a jam.

So, what's your opinion of taking a song that is traditionally played in G and playing it in C instead, so that it's in my range? I understand that the singer gets to call the key, but I also know that folks have spent years learning the G chord licks and only the G chord licks for songs that are supposed to be in G. I know the pain...one of the very first songs I learned Scruggs Style (I'm mostly a clawhammer player) was Rolling in my Sweet Baby's arms. I practiced and practiced the song (in G) and then one of our jam regulars started calling this song when it was his turn, in the key of D! Yes D!

So, what to do...transpose to suit my range, or stick to songs that are traditionally in C?

Jul 3, 2020 - 2:43:50 AM
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3386 posts since 7/12/2006

Listen to some Adam Steffey.His voice is lower than normal for bluegrass singers.

Jul 3, 2020 - 4:53:30 AM
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Texasbanjo (Moderator)

USA

24653 posts since 8/3/2003

If you're the lead singer, you get to choose the key. I don't care if it IS usually played/sung in G, if that doesn't suit your voice range, you have the final say in what key you sing in. Most instruments can capo up and play in whatever key you pick. Most musicians can play any song in just about any major key just by figuring out the chord sequence if they're not familiar with the song.

When I first started jamming, I had to learn to play/sing the same song in various keys to suit the vocalist or my voice range. I ended up figuring out songs in G and in C and using my capo to change keys. That way you only need to figure out 2 keys to any song and you can play along.

So, to answer your question: yes, sing in your voice range, regardless of the song or what it's "normally" sung in.

Jul 3, 2020 - 5:50:25 AM
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2682 posts since 11/15/2003

One of the most...maybe the most entertaining single banjo acts in history

The late great john Hartford

Had a very low ...un bluegrass voice...

I do alot of single act banjo now a days...

I only wish my voice was lower

When it comes to entertainment with a banjo

Different is good

Warp!

Jul 3, 2020 - 6:11:16 AM
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3860 posts since 10/13/2005

Key of G is the worst key for my range, songs are either too low or high. Solution: capo, short neck banjo, long neck banjo, bye-bye band. banjered

Jul 3, 2020 - 6:21:41 AM
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1965 posts since 2/10/2013

I agree with Sherry. It is easier to capo an instrument than your voice.

Jul 3, 2020 - 6:38:06 AM
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3450 posts since 3/28/2008

What Sherry said.

But if your absolute best key for a song is, say, Db or Eb, for God's sake put it into a more jam-friendly key like C or D.

...unless you're a pro like Lynn Morris, with a band full of pros who can handle any key their boss decides on.

youtube.com/watch?v=sPHWoniyqq8

Jul 3, 2020 - 7:48:54 AM
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4615 posts since 2/24/2004

Okay--most vocal instructors will have you stregthen & refine your natural range.  If you have a wonderful bass or baritone voice--it seems a waste to try and be a tenor just to satisfy the way others think you should sound.  Be grateful  you sound like Johnny Cash--he would be better for you to model  than Bill Monroe.

Seek out songs that sound good with your natural voice and learn to play them solidly in the keys where you can sing them.   If you are good and solid and sound good--you will soon find the better instrumentalists and vocalists in your group jumping in for breaks & singing harmonies. 

Best banjo wishes,

Mary Z. Cox

maryzcox.com


Edited by - maryzcox on 07/03/2020 07:51:03

Jul 3, 2020 - 8:37:30 AM
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3195 posts since 5/29/2011

It sounds better to sing in the key that suits your voice than to try to sing in the key the song is usually played in. I have a friend that I pick with sometimes who can't seem to learn that.
I used to play in a band that had a lead singer with one of the most beautiful high baritone voices I've ever heard. He usually sings songs in keys that I was not used to playing in at that time. That was a wonderful learning experience. But he always insisted on singing Dark Hollow and Summer Wages in B. That's quite a learning curve.

Jul 3, 2020 - 8:46:40 AM
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doryman

USA

849 posts since 11/26/2012

quote:
Originally posted by maryzcox

Okay--most vocal instructors will have you stregthen & refine your natural range.  If you have a wonderful bass or baritone voice--it seems a waste to try and be a tenor just to satisfy the way others think you should sound.  Be grateful  you sound like Johnny Cash--he would be better for you to model  than Bill Monroe.

Seek out songs that sound good with your natural voice and learn to play them solidly in the keys where you can sing them.   If you are good and solid and sound good--you will soon find the better instrumentalists and vocalists in your group jumping in for breaks & singing harmonies. 

Best banjo wishes,

Mary Z. Cox

maryzcox.com


Thanks Mary. I should point out that I am not "good" or "solid" nor do I "sound good."  I think it would be more accurate to say that I sound less bad in C than G!  I have worked hard on my singing though and I've gotten to the point where people don't complain too much when it's my turn to call a song in the jam circle. 

You are so right about "seeking out songs that sound good with your natural voice."  There is some narrow combination of key, range, tempo, volume and breath control that suites me. If I stray too far from my wheelhouse for any one of those, I sound not so good.  

Edited by - doryman on 07/03/2020 08:59:37

Jul 3, 2020 - 8:48:07 AM
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doryman

USA

849 posts since 11/26/2012

quote:
Originally posted by banjered

Key of G is the worst key for my range, songs are either too low or high. 


Exactly my problem. 

Jul 3, 2020 - 8:49:07 AM
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doryman

USA

849 posts since 11/26/2012

quote:
Originally posted by Richard Hauser

I agree with Sherry. It is easier to capo an instrument than your voice.


I don't need a voice capo so much as I need a range expander. 

Jul 3, 2020 - 8:54:46 AM
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10958 posts since 6/2/2008

quote:
Originally posted by Ira Gitlin

... if your absolute best key for a song is, say, Db or Eb, for God's sake put it into a more jam-friendly key like C or D.


E-flat actually came up once at a jam during my 3 years in NYC. Phyllis Elkind, a good singer with a varied repertoire who you may know from Augusta Heritage.  I think she played in C capoed 3 or something comparably easy for guitar chords.  No idea why she didn't just move it a half step one way or the other.  I think I tried to man up and play it without a capo since all I did was backup. Not much of a learning experience because it's been four or five years and I haven't done it again.

Jul 3, 2020 - 10:34:34 AM
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3195 posts since 5/29/2011

John, I can sympathize with you. As I have gotten older my vocal range has dropped a bit. The fellow I mentioned in my previous post does not consider that and still wants me to sing tenor to his caterwauling in a key way out of his natural range. So I usually wind up straining my voice right off the bat, then I can't sing without coughing for the rest of the evening.
One of the groups I played in years ago had a natural high tenor singer and I could sing right below him. We did a lot of Osborne Brothers songs. Some of those songs I now sing in keys that are several steps lower. "One Kiss Away From Loneliness" sounds pretty decent in Bb. When the banjo is played without a capo the fourth string can be used to good advantage. I would not attempt that song in E like the Osborne Brothers did it.

Jul 3, 2020 - 12:35:44 PM
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3450 posts since 3/28/2008

quote:
Originally posted by Culloden

. But he always insisted on singing Dark Hollow and Summer Wages in B. 


Interesting that you mention those two songs. You see, many--perhaps most--bluegrass songs (and songs from related traditions) inhabit a range roughly from the 5 note below the root to the 5 note above the root. In the key of G, that's from our low D string to our high D string. Think about it--"Will The Circle Be Unbroken", "Bury Me Beneath The Willow", "Blue Ridge Cabin Home", and many more. That low D is comfortable for most untrained male voices, and the high D is usually manageable, though for some guys it's starting to strain a little.

But for both "Dark Hollow" and "Summer Wages" the lowest note is the root and the highest note is an octave and a major third above that--a wider-than-average range. If you do them in G, the highest note is B (our second string) and the lowest note is G (an octave below our third string). That low G is a bit of a stretch for some singers. But raise the floor too much (like, for example, C) and the high note can get uncomfortable. So for many men, Bb or B works well.

IIRC, the New South recorded "Summer Wages" in B, and Danny  Paisley--clearly some kind of mutant freak--sings "Dark Hollow" way up in E! (Don't try that at home, kids.)

Jul 3, 2020 - 1:18:48 PM

3195 posts since 5/29/2011

I've always heard Summer Wages in C. Even on all the versions I've heard by the New South. Any other time I played Dark Hollow I tuned the fourth string down to C But I had to capo in B to play it with Doug.

Jul 3, 2020 - 3:15:51 PM

4172 posts since 6/15/2005

quote:
Originally posted by Old Hickory
quote:
Originally posted by Ira Gitlin

... if your absolute best key for a song is, say, Db or Eb, for God's sake put it into a more jam-friendly key like C or D.


E-flat actually came up once at a jam during my 3 years in NYC. Phyllis Elkind, a good singer with a varied repertoire who you may know from Augusta Heritage.  I think she played in C capoed 3 or something comparably easy for guitar chords.  No idea why she didn't just move it a half step one way or the other.  I think I tried to man up and play it without a capo since all I did was backup. Not much of a learning experience because it's been four or five years and I haven't done it again.

 


Phyllis hasn't shown up as frequently at the Paddy Reilly's jam since you left NYC and returned to the DC area, Ken.  (Of course, nowadays that jam is one of many that have been sidelined.)  But it's always a treat when she's able to make the jam because she has such an extensive repertoire of wonderful old country songs from the '40s and '50s.  As you say, she likes unusual keys like E-flat, but many of her songs are slow to moderate in tempo, and playing Scruggs-style back-up to that kind of material is one of my favorite things to do on the banjo.

By the way, if someone calls a song in B-flat, it's important to remember that it's a key, not a vocal instruction.

Edited by - arnie fleischer on 07/03/2020 15:16:38

Jul 3, 2020 - 4:15:42 PM
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3521 posts since 12/6/2009

Ira’s right on about the mid-range space. There are lots of BG songs that fall into that space. When I was young because I kept up with high singing I managed to hold my own in high G for a long time. However there was a long layoff from the high stuff and when I tried it again as I got older…..it failed me it was no longer there. Now my best keys are C….D…around that. Weird though I can still do Kentucky Waltz ln G and comfortably reach the high octave notes. But not in any other songs..?...for the younger generation that wants to sing high;…..keep at it while your young and don’t let time pass you by. It’s all about practice practice practice voice exercise.

Jul 4, 2020 - 1:33:53 AM
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collegiate

England

87 posts since 3/3/2011

My 'natural' singing (?) voice is in C. If I try and sing in G for any length of time it seems to affect my vocal chords and for while after stopping singing my 'talking' voice seems to be weakend.
Anyone notice this ?

Jul 4, 2020 - 5:03:15 AM
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Texasbanjo (Moderator)

USA

24653 posts since 8/3/2003

quote:
Originally posted by collegiate

My 'natural' singing (?) voice is in C. If I try and sing in G for any length of time it seems to affect my vocal chords and for while after stopping singing my 'talking' voice seems to be weakend.
Anyone notice this ?


My vocal coach said if it hurts you to try to sing high or low, don't do it for any length of time.  There are exercises you can do to strengthen your singing voice.  Learning how to correctly breathe and go from the chest to the head register will help you develop a better singing voice and, in my case, slowly gave me more of a voice range than I had at first. 

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