If a song is too high or too low for you to sing comfortably, you can move the entire key of the music to fit in a more comfortable range. Changing the key, called transposition, will move the original scale up or down to a whole new scale, giving you a different palette of colors in your voice. You might change a key because you can't reach certain notes in the original key, or you could transpose the music to convey a different mood. A song with sultry lyrics would sound better in a lower key that requires you to use more of your chest register, resulting in an earthier sound than your head register. If you have a favorite song published in a key that doesn't suit the mood of the music in your voice, transposition is the answer.
When you transpose music you will need to change the notes and the key signature. This is easier to do by ear than on paper. Sing to yourself “Happy Birthday” or any simple children's tune. Now sing it again but start with a higher note. The entire song was raised to higher notes in order to keep the same melody. We do this all the time and don't really think about it. Look at the example of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” first in the key of C and then in the key of D. Notice that the key signature changed and all the notes in the music are one step higher.
FIGURE 13-5. “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”
If you're going to an audition, never ask the accompanist to transpose the song for you. It's a very specific and challenging skill to transpose music while sight-reading. This request puts the accompanist on the spot, looks unprofessional, and you run the risk of less than perfect accompaniment, which will only hurt you and your audition, not the pianist. Instead, you should come prepared with music transposed to your correct key.
Transposing a song yourself will probably require further study. If you need to change the key of your music, you can get help from other musicians, your teacher, or your coach. There are also services on the Internet that offer song transposition for a small fee. Enter a search for “digital sheet music” or “music transposition” for a list of services. Also check the appendices of this book for a few specific Web sites.