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Newbie Q: sing harmony line as lead?

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New singer here, and enjoying it muchly. In the spirit of "there are no stupid questions"...

In one of my bands (in which I don't sing) we were working up Steely Dan's Chain Lightning one night, and I told the singer afterward I though he did a pretty good job with it. He said, it was OK, but he couldn't reach the main melody line, so he just sang a lower harmony line instead.

I said "Huh? Izzat possible?"

He said, "Well, you just said it sounded OK...if it sounds OK, it is OK..."

I'm a lowish baritone, and sound my best on Johnny Cash or (simpler) Elvis-register material. There are only a small handful of Clapton and Tom Petty tunes I can sing with a decent, full tone. I can reach the more of their material in the original key, but my voice is wimpier up there.

There are a lot of tunes that work better for me pitched-shifted down 3-4 half-steps, but on this guitar-oriented stuff you sacrifice a bit on the guitar work when you lower songs that much. When I sing along with MP3's in the original key, it seems like I can find a lower register line that sounds OK.

My question to you all: Is a tune like Chain Lightning so harmony-vocal-oriented that it's a rare tune that holds up under my bandmate's approach, or is that a "cheat" that works on most tunes, allowing the rest of the band to keep the original key?

Cb :/

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It's not a cheat. It's about music theory. You can sing a lower harmony if you want to but if you don't want to mess with the rest of the music and want to keep the same intervals between the sung notes you can try singing the whole song a 5th lower...5 semitones.

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I think you really have a good point, Phil.

And I think we sometimes have to change a key to where we can belt. I have heard the original Nick Lowe version of "Peace, Love, and Understanding", in the key of G. And Elvis Costello could belt in the key of G, too low for me. I raised it to the key of A, which worked out better, for me. The Costello version is a belted version.

I love this version. The drummer is the MVP. driving this song like there is no one else on the road.

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...I've heard males drop Mariah Carey's songs an octave and they're basically just speaking on pitch when she was belting out those notes...

Thanks for the responses.

That's the first time I've heard the phrase "just speaking on pitch". I think that's why I like 'singing' J.J. Cale songs so much! ;)

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Interesting topic. I agree with Phil on lowering relative to intensity.

Is a harmony always a harmony and a melody always a melody? I had an experience with a musician who basically wanted me to rewrite his melodies...only higher. Now, the song was already sung on a pitch that was pretty damn high! haha. But I played along and sang some stuff out, only to realize, "Wait a minute...I'm just harmonizing to the original!" The guy seemed to love it, but it didn't seem right to me, or at least not as good as the original melody.

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Is belting the only way to create intensity, though?

I don't think so. Just some songs I like to belt. In the song I mentioned, Nick Lowe's original is a hippie ballad and is crooned softly, like a lullaby. Costello's version was an "in-your-face" rockabilly romp, which I preferred to the original.

So, no, belting is not the only way to intensity.

Grasshopper, you must find your own way. When you can snatch the pebble from my hand, then you may leave the temple.

(whoosh - the sound of a pebble being snatched.)

Care for best two out of three, grasshopper?

That probably sounds cryptic but I meant it to be funny.

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No it was just an example, because usually far often when people drop keys I hear them lowering the intensity as they drop the key far too much, hence my example of belting.

Intensity includes the entire gamut: light - heavy. Now I am ready for everyone to explode this thread into a "define light define heavy blah blah" please let us not do this!!! the concept i'm putting forth is rather quite simple. if you want it to seem "less like cheating" then you need to match the intensity of the original.

I agree Phil. Another thing to take into account when changing Keys in a cover is also the fact that differt keys give of a different "FEEL". That is the best way to express it.

Blues men often use the Keys of Bb or Eb because the tones themselves have a somber or melencoly feel to them.

Country tunes often use the Key of C or G because of a Comfortable Home type feel.

Rock and Metal often use Keys of A or E because they give an Edgier Feel.

It may be a subtle thing and some may not notice a differece at all but it is true none the less.

Edit: You can substitute the word feel for Characteristic. That may help explain what I am trying to say.

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going back to your original question... your singer is basically changing the melody to suit his voice more. The key of the song is staying the same. OK if it sounds fine, I wouldn't suggest for a covers band though as people are used to hearing the melody the way they have on the radio etc.

The way melodies work is based around the chords. either can be written first. say you have the chord of C as the first chord in the chorus (the notes C E and G make up the chord of C). The melody will usually be the note C E or G if it's being sung over a C chord. Say the original note is E4, your singer could change it to C4 and it would still sound 'right' or pleasing to the ear because the note is in the chord, just not what was originally written for the song.

Artists do it live quite a lot, just change the melody to a lower note that fits with the chord being played.

Also, this only really matters on the strong beat of the bars (usually 1 and 3 in pop).

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