How to Salvage Songs with Huge Octave Jumps and Ranges

If you’re anything like me, you might find yourself frustrated to hear a really great worship song that you’d love to incorporate into your church’s repertoire, only to find that its range makes it unsingable for most people.

By the way, my spell-check tells me that “unsingable” isn’t a word, but I’m going with it anyway.

Certain songs start out really low. Almost a growl. Then the chorus picks up a little bit and gets more singable. And then all of a sudden, by the second chorus or bridge, everything is way up in the stratosphere and your congregation is passing out.

What do you do? Most of time time you don’t sing the song. It’s nice to listen to but just too hard for people to grab onto.

But sometimes you can bring the song down majorly. Like four whole steps down. This way, instead of growling the first verse and chorus, you’re singing it in a normal range. And then later, instead of jumping an octave, you can sing it down an octave, but because you’ve moved the key around, you’re not all singing bass.

Here’s an example.

On the latest Passion CD, “White Flag”, there is a great song by Chris Tomlin, Matt Maher, and Jason Ingram called “Jesus Son of God”. The verses talk about the sacrifice of Jesus in our place. The chorus helps us exalt Jesus “on the altar of our praise”. The bridge continues to magnify Jesus and the finished work of the cross: “the cross was enough! The cross was enough!”

The problem with the song is that in its recorded key, B major, much of the song, especially the bridge, is (here’s that word again) unsingable unless you’re in the Georgia Dome with 30,000 students all belting it out. When the song really gets going, you’re hanging out on almost constant Ebs, Es, and many F#s.

If you want to know what will happen in your congregation if you try to get them to sing F#s, read this post.

Usually I would have just given up and not tried to incorporate this song. But I liked it too much.

So I took it down from B major to F major. Three whole steps.

This ends up switching around the order of when you’re singing high and when you’re singing low (i.e. the verse is in a higher range than the chorus, which is usually a no-no). But it makes the whole song comfortably singable. And that’s the goal.

Here’s what the original version sounds like:

And here’s a rough demo I recorded for my team (in my basement, so I wouldn’t wake up my sleeping daughters) of it down four whole steps. It’s not a terribly pretty demo but you’ll get the idea.

So, when you hear songs like this one that have massive octave jumps and huge ranges, instead of (a) doing it the way it’s recorded and making your congregation give up, or (b) not doing the song at all, maybe you can do some minor surgery on it and make it singable. Now that’s a word. And a good word too.

9 thoughts on “How to Salvage Songs with Huge Octave Jumps and Ranges”

  1. Interesting idea. I’ve actually been listening to this tune a lot over the past couple of days.

    As much as Passion wants to provide music for worshippers, I’m a little disappointed that we’re still having to do so much to adapt their songs for normal people. In the 10+ years that Tomlin has been a big deal, has there really been no one to sit down with him and say, “Chris, love the song. Have you thought about how difficult it’ll be for Aunt Mabel to sing it?”?

    These guys aren’t brand new composers or hacks. They’re pros. They can write so that normal people can participate. Do those songs just not sell albums?

    1. Hi Eric. It’s a mystery to me as well. What’s frustrating is that many churches and worship leaders either have the time, or don’t know how, or don’t care, to make these kinds of songs singable. If the worship leaders who put these hugely high-profile recordings out took the time and cared enough, everyone would benefit.

  2. It seems to me like many of these “bellow to a shout”-type songs work best (and very well) for the 2 environments for which they seem to be written: huge conferences of college students, and Christian radio. Taken outside of those contexts, and put in an inter-generational, rather conservative church, it just doesn’t work.

    It’s interesting that 10 years ago the issue with adapting new songs was syncopation or changing lyrical meters. Now we’ve got songs that are more even rhythmically, but the range is an octave and a fourth (or a sixth). Funny how things change, yet stay the same.

  3. I do this often to songs,… I just don’t know anyone that really has that range except for those famous worship leaders 😀

    anyways, do you have sheet music/tab for this?

  4. It’s about the music industry. Even for the big hitters – Tomlin, Maher, Jeremy Camp, etc., the industry remains extremely competitive. Even guys who’ve “made it” in Christian music can’t get any radio airplay if their new stuff isn’t in keys that they can absolutely show-off their “wow” tenor vocals. If they don’t get airplay, their music doesn’t reach as many churches, congregations. It’s a catch-22. If they wanted to be helpful, they could provide alternate recordings on their websites in better congregational keys. Until then, it’s a sensitive and competent worship leader’s responsibility to take care of the song so that it is singable for the congregation. I agree, skip the octave jumps and opt for a more medium key. The song may not have the same “punch” as the radio, but you can energize it in other ways (instrumentally, adding variety of vocal/instrumental texture on powerful chorus, etc.).

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