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Song keys for the congregation
31 replies

Hi there

Apologies if this subject has been covered before, but Im just trying to raise the subject of song keys for normal church worship.

Most worship albums feature songs that are recorded in what I would call "performance" keys, where the singer is singing near the top of their range, so that it sounds really good and full of expression.
The problem is that I often hear worship groups singing in somewhere near the same key, which is too high for a congregation, so they are struggling to join in.

I had always believed that a worship song should not have any notes higher than a D and even that can be too high for some songs. it gets very interesting with songs such as hillsongs Everlasting, or Jesus cultures One Thing Remains, where the song jumps an octave half way thro. They sound great in the original keys, but lose some impact if the key is dropped and sung all in one octave.

Has anyone else come across this problem and is it a worthy point to suggest that songwriters/albums might suggest a suitable key for congregational singing?

Thanks for reading!

hi there,

yes this has been covered many times before, but its no probs talkin about it again.

i think top D is probably fine for most congregations, yes the songs with the octave jumps are a nightmare, they are often too low and too high in one go!

for me i try and be respectful to the congregation and play songs lower than written, sometimes its tricky for the band
as they struggle to transpose esp young flute players, but most of the time we get around it.

the suitable key thing has been suggested millions of times to songwriters, and more and more people are printing song sheets in multiple keys. however this is not always the case.

i love the song 'Here for you' by matt r but in the latest songs of fellowship 5 arrangement its got a top F in it!

the guys i work with at have put songs in multiple keys on the website which i think is great.

God bless,

Hi Neighbour!

Thanks for the link - I will check that out very soon. Multiple keys options are great, but I guess the trick is to try and choose chord voicings that sound nearly as good as the original.

"One thing remains" is originally in C on capo 4, which sound great with a droning top D (especially on a crunchy Gretsch!), but I do it in Bm on capo 2 to work with a congregation. I had to change the chords a little for the verse as the major D didnt sound right with the melody being lower - anyone else come across this? Bethel church seem to have changed the chords with their version too.

Hillsongs "Everlasting" is similar. I do it in Cmaj7 on capo 2 (I like capo 2!) so that the vocal lower octave is do-able & the octave jump is top D max. Ive heard teams do it without the octave jump & it just didnt work.

I love this website!

Hi Dave, it can be a nightmare getting songs into the right key, take WC's own "Counting on your name!", in C originally I think, but not all congregation OR worship team members can sing like Mr Tim Hughes, so, we tried it in G (starts too low), in A, works OK, but last night did it in Bb.

However, we also did 10,000 reasons last night, with a top F#, which is usually WAY over the top for most, but, in that song, it seems to work (Oh MY, soul), as the song sort of eases up to it, and you're singing out full welly too! There are lots of music donwload sites that offer multi keys, you've got to sort of work out the benchmark for your team and your Church. God Bless, Steven

My songs are on here:

Hi Steven

Thanks for that. Can you tell me any addresses of sites that have multi keys for worship songs? There are few small worship teams I know of that tend to do songs in the original keys, cos they dont know any better, so it would be good to pass on the address?

Bless you,

We transpose songs as we practice - both Chord Chart Wizard and Songsheet Generator (both open source and therefore free) can transpose chord charts into any key you want. more difficult with score, though. don't have any suggestions about that.
Our BV's are usually very good at assessing where the congregation can sing, and then we transpose into that key - which is usually one or two steps below the written key!

These are two that I have used before, there are others too, just Google something like worship lead sheets.

My songs are on here:

Thanks guys.


Hi Dave. I know what you mean! Some of this also depends on your congregation 'demographic' and the mix and capabilities of your musicians. Younger congregations are a bit more relaxed about pushing things a bit.
Keys-wise, my observation with our congregation is that the ladies give themselves to sung worship a little more easilly than the men. If it's a bit high the men either mumble or stop whilst the ladies might have a go but end up screeching... Not really what it's about.
If the girls in our band find a new song high then I will tend to transcribe it down (normally a tone or so is sufficient). We've just started doing At Your name (Lord of all the earth) in G rather than A for this reason. It was originally introduced in A and no-one said anything. We did it the other week in G and several people came up and asked what we had done because it seemed to be much easier to sing and they found that helpful.
If you have a band with musicians who can get by with lead sheets that's great. but we have a few keyboard players who really need scores. I had to brush up my theory and use Sibelius to transcribe. Good practice for me I suppose (lazy guitarist with a good ear). Thankfully I don't have to do it too often because on average it'll take me around 3 hours to do a song including all the words, adding guitar chord names above the stave etc...

Personally I would like to see the sheet music suppliers to consider this more and provide scored music in congregation-friendly alternative keys.

Yeh, a lot depends on the phrasing of songs with D (E in certain contexts) being a solid benchmark for the highest notes. The Chris Tomlin version of amazing grace is the worst! Great song but no one has a hope of hitting the high G in the chorus.

I think being comfortable in transposing songs is a really useful skill for worship musicians to have now, gives the worship leader much more flexibility in various ways. Keys players can be kinda notorious for their reliance on sheet music! (I speak as one lol) But really if someone says they NEED sheet music in a band then they probably shouldn't be using sheet music at all. I say that because so many keys players use sheet music to follow the melody line, which is kinda pointless 90% of the time... If someone is willing to work with just chords, even if they'd prefer sheet music, then they likely to be much better at fills, harmony and more limited playing.

Also, once you start thinking in terms of chords, sheet music will become much, much easier to transpose by sight!

Snelly, totally agree with transposing skills and familiarity. It's a good reason to learn scales and chord progressions in many keys... I'm a keyboard player but do not have to rely on sheet music for this reason. I would say it's a skill needed across all pitched instruments, no excuse for guitarists to bung a capo on...!

I often find that the sheet music can be a limiting factor for performance of songs - sometimes there are good rhythmic or groove ideas, however more often than not, the melody or rhythm contradicts what may be heard on a CD or spotify track. In terms of worship songs, sheet music is useful for the initial rehearsing, practising and commiting to memory stages. After that, I would say try and play without it - it is a releasing opportunity.

Back to congregation ranges, I agree with sensible limits - if it doesn't fit I'll arrange it for the band!