This follows on from an AVOYP upload by @lewis2025 of Elliott Smith’s Say Yes here.
The song uses a guitar down-tuned one whole step and is in the key of F major.
Lewis asked for critique on his singing and several people mentioned trying a different key and especially using a capo to be able to sing it lower and make the high notes easier to reach. This seemed counter intuitive to Lewis and it probably does to many people. I wrote an explanatory comment here.
I thought I would take it a step further and provide audio references which enable this concept to be heard in this specific song context but also taken as the germ of an idea which people can use and apply more generally if they are searching for a key to suit their voice.
I am going to post various mp3 audio clips of the first eight bars of the melody part.
Imagine placing a capo on fret 2 - or with an exactly equivalent effect, re-tuning the guitar to standard tuning - the same chord shapes would now have the song being played in G major. If the melody line was moved up two semitones to match it would sound like this.
Melody in G major here.
That means singing even higher, not lower. Which, if the high notes are already out of reach makes it impossible to sing. But, what if the whole melody was sung an octave lower. Still in G major but in a lower register. It would sound like this.
Melody in G major (lower) here.
That is quite a substantial drop in vocal register, perhaps too much. Let us then begin thinking of taking that lowered melody and raising it incrementally until it is suitable.
The guitar started off in a lower tuning then two options were considered - a capo at fret 2 or standard tuning - to put the song in the key of G. Let us proceed with the guitar now in standard tuning. From that basis we will capo upwards and move the lowered G major melody up with it also.
If we put the capo at fret 2 and play the same chord shapes the song will shift up to the key of A major. The melody line will now sound like this.
Melody in A major (lower) here.
If we put the capo at fret 4 and play the same chord shapes the song will shift up to the key of B major. The melody line will now sound like this.
Melody in B major (lower) here.
If we put the capo at fret 5 and play the same chord shapes the song will shift up to the key of C major. The melody line will now sound like this.
Melody in C major (lower) here.
Beyond fret 5 the same process will continue - and of course with the fret spacing narrowing it may be getting more difficult to physically play which would prompt the search for other chord shapes if any further raising of the key was necessary for vocal reasons.
I hope this illustrates how the placement of a capo at higher frets on a guitar neck can allow a singer to actually pitch their vocal in a lower register for songs where the high notes are just too high.
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