Choosing the Key for Your Audition Song

When preparing for your audition try to find the song in the key that you want to sing it in. If you sing a song that’s in the wrong key, you may end up sounding more like Kermit the Frog than Kelly Clarkson or Renée Fleming on those high notes.

Opera arias are seldom transposed. You may find art songs in different keys in the music store, but the arias are usually sung as written on the page. Keep reading for help if you plan to sing something other than arias at your audition.

You can’t assume that your audition accompanist can or will transpose by sight (put the song in a higher or lower key while playing). Purchase the song in the key you want to sing it in, or have someone transpose it for you before the audition.

An accompanist may refuse to transpose at sight if the song is just too difficult, and it’s her choice. You don’t want her to transpose something at your audition if she thinks she may mess it up. You need the piano to sound really good as you sing.

Still, if you finally find a wonderful song that’s almost perfect for you — maybe the notes are a tad too low or too high — you can get it transposed. When a song is transposed, someone — you or someone you hire — puts the song in a key other than the one it was originally written in so the melody sounds higher or lower.

If you transpose your song (or have someone else do it), keep these points in mind:

  • You may want the beginning of the song much higher, but that means that the tricky middle section also gets higher. It’s one thing to have some really cool high notes, yet it’s quite another to sing those cool high notes over and over when you raise the key.

    Look at the range and tessitura (where most of the notes sit in the song) to determine how much higher or lower to change the key. Practice the song in the new key, whether higher or lower, to make sure that you can manage all the notes in the new key.

  • Hiring someone to transpose an entire song is expensive. In transposing, the person has to copy the music (by hand or by using a computer program) into another key, which can be time consuming and costly.

    You can expect to pay way more to have a song transposed than it would cost you to purchase one in the right key for you. A song in sheet music that costs you less than $10 may cost well over $50 to transpose. If you know a little bit about music, you may find software such as Finale helpful in transposing your song.

  • Make sure that you have an accompanist read the transposed copy of your music before the audition. Don’t assume that the person who transposed it didn’t make any mistakes. It won’t take long for someone to play through it, and then you know exactly how it sounds in the new key and whether this key really does fit your voice.

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