Songs in one octave or less

Songs in one octave or less

I’ve got a really, really limited vocal range but I’ve recently tried learning to sing a couple of Irish songs, jumping down an octave when needed. But there has got to be some songs that don’t encompass more than one octave, right? Any suggestions?

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Is it really possible to have a vocal range limited to one octave? maybe you just need some vocal training or else find the right key. But anyhow, if you ignore the harmonies 9or else sing them separately) thi is a really nice song that is as easy as it gets. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WgkGrm5516k

it’s actually an English song, but hearing the Corries sing it reminds me of another simple one;- i.e.,“Westering home”

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God I just reminded myself how much I loved the Corries. This singing gives me the tingles.

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I also have a small range and find that changing keys of songs helps a lot.
If I already know the chords I just slide a capo around until I find a place where I can get though it. Then I transpose so I don’t have to use the capo.

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Hmmm. there’s something that I just don’t get about all this. I know nothing about vocal theory and my own voice is like a foghorn with a sandpaper reed. But how come if you have such a small vocal range you don’t already know what keys you can sing in? And Clevername… aren’t you doing it backwards? I mean shouldn’t you simply start singing and then apply the correct chord? A capo shouldn’t even come into it.

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I’m not a singer. So off the top of my head I cannot come up with songs which can be sung in one octave. But, if I’m not terribly mistaken I think there are tons. The one which does come to mind is “Cockles and Mussels”.

Gobby, vocal ranges vary. Also, if a singer pushes too hard they can do damage to their vocal chords. I think it’s better to work in a comfortable range if there is ever a question rather than give in to pressure to attempt to extend it before you’re prepared. A single octave, or an octave+, or even less than an octave can be very good if you are confident within a given range.

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Not being a singer as such I’ve never really thought about it before, but now that I just have I’ve realised that there are an endless amount of songs that are within a one octave range. I realize Ben, as you say, that peoples vocal ranges vary and it may be problematic for some people to strain above their physical capabilities (as well as painful to the listeners), but less than an octave range seems quite doubtful to me. Surely the problem would be more to do with either tone deafness or else a problem of conceptualisation. For example of conceptualisation, why does Clever Name, mention a capo? I mean, if you play (say) an E chord in it’s first position, or if you play it up at the seventh fret, what difference should it make to how you sing the notes within that chord and it’s progression. You can play the same chord progressions all over your guitar fingerboard but your song notes will stay the same. The key doesn’t change and your singing octave doesn’t change. It’s only a case of establishing what key you are singing in (i.e., sing first,then identify the key). Where does the capo come into it? Sure, after that you are restricted to your range capability, but once you have established it there are so many songs that fall within an octave range. Also, don’t forget, you can always substitute a harmony note for the ones you can’t reach. Just listen to the choice of alternatives given to a simple melody line in The Corries video I posted above.

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Sea shanties usually have a small range.

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AB, the range of “Follow The Heron” is an octave and a minor third, from ti below low doh to re above high doh (or is when I sing it).

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Gobby, the capo comes into when a song is in an awkward key like C#, Eb, Bb minor etc. Sure you can play any of these as barre chords but to play a whole song like that on acoustic guitar isn’t going to be a happy
experience, you’re losing the resonance of open strings and its damn painful on the left hand. So if a song is in Eb , capo on the 1st fret, play in D. Everyone’s happy.

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I’m not sure what you consider Irish songs. Since you didn’t specify trad, I’m going to suggest some of the more folky stuff made popular by the Clancys/Dubliners/Irish Rovers et al. Many of them are quite limited in range. Spancil Hill is just over an octave, and Fields of Athenry is even less. Black Velvet Band is exactly one octave. Certainly there are bunches more - I don’t know enough songs to recommend others.

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It was always happy enough for me christy. Any chord is easy enough using barre chords once you have the theory and your fingerboard mapped out, and the choice of a capo or not depends on the tune and the payer. Sure I can see how a capo is useful tool, but my confusion isn’t about the use of Capo’s per-se while playing the guitar backing. I just don’t understand how you’d need one to helps establish which key you are singing in.

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Also, I realise that I am addressing the comment from clever name and not the OP, who didn’t claim to have this problem. On that though, as the OP plays flute and whistle I would imagine that he/she could easily know what was vocally possible and which songs fell within her/his range.

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Gobby, very few acoustic players would choose to accompany a song using barre chords if they could get away with not unless they were specifically after a particular sound (like funk). It just gives you so much more freedom to do the fancy stuff.
I think what CleverName was referring to is the ability with a capo to change key without changing accompaniment so that you can quickly find the best key for your voice.

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I have no capo arguments. I only ever played guitar in a rock band where it was all electric and barre chords and up the neck stuff essential. I don’t play backing for ITM. If I did I wouldn’t use full barre chords, but neither would I use a capo. But I still don’t see how using a capo would be faster than establishing the key without one. It would take me only seconds at the most. But still, this is music and art, so each to their own, and in the end, this wasn’t the question asked by the OP. Guitar backings were never mentioned. I shouldn’t have taken it up. I got distracted. Anyhow….

Whiskey in the Jar ?? A quick wiz through in my head thinks it’s another one octave song (or very close)! there must be millions of them. As I suggested earlier, learn where your vocal range sits on your flute and whistles, and then when you play the tune yo will know if you can sing it.

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Gobby, I don’t use a capo for backing tunes either, but for songs it’s different in that a semitone up or down can make all the difference to the singability of the song (i.e., to suit voice). The capo isn’t used to find the key. It’s used to find the best key, and you can often only do that by singing most of the song.

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And let’s say that for argument’s sake that that best key was E. I could play open in E, capo at 2 in D, 4 in C or 7 in A. Which I would choose would depend on the range of the song, the chord progression and whether I was flatpicking or fingerpicking. What I can say for sure that if the best key was Db I wouldn’t be playing without a capo.

Anyway, as you say there are loads of songs which fit into a one octave range. The best thing is to find songs you like and try them. Some will work, some won’t.

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Many highly respected guitarists in the acoustic tradition use capos, e.g. Ralph McTell.

If you have developed a very imaginative and intricate finger style accompaniments for a song, then this just doesn’t translate that readily into another key unless you use a capo. Everything would have to be re-arranged and, even then, might not sound as effective.

So, using a capo is about much more than just making things easy whether to suit your voice, tune accompaniment or whatever. Incidentally, I will use a capo for my mandolin or tenor banjo when playing alongside Highland Pipers. I can still play all the tunes with the original fingering.

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Sorry, Donald. Cross posted. You are thinking along the same lines as me, I see.

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I don’t have a strong, clear voice either, but I enjoy singing. My range is also limited to little more than an octave. Two simple Irish songs that I’ve found fit in my range are:

Óró, sé do bheatha ’bhaile (https://thesession.org/tunes/7480 )
Na Ceannbháin Bhána ( https://thesession.org/tunes/612 )

English-language songs like Roddy McCorley and The Parting Glass work well too. As Aaron mentions above, nearly any come-all-ye sing-along by The Dubliners or The Clancy Brothers should work. Find ones you like and give it a go.

To continue down the rabbit hole regarding capos: Depending on the melody, the most comfortable key for my voice is usually F. But that changes. My voice is lower in the morning. If I’ve been drinking cold beverages—presumably later in the day—my range may go up a bit. Using a capo lets me adjust the key by half steps and that goes a fair way towards helping my meager ability sound its best.

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People who sing in a narrow range unaccompanied do NOT always manage to start in the right key for them if just doing it “off the top of their head”: it’s not as simple as that!
How often do you see someone make 2 or 3 false starts to a song, including, “I’ll try it a bit higher/lower” then start again in exactly the same key? If they prefer to sing unaccompanied and don’t use pitch pipes or play an instrument it can still be very useful to know the preferred key and start note of their song, so that some kind person can give them the right note or first phrase to get them started.
I was roundly snapped at by one singer, who asked for a start note, so I asked what key she sang it in: she said, “I know nothing about keys!!” After she’d finished, in her third attempted key, I gently and politely told her, “you’re singing it in A and that suits your voice, so just write it in your songbook for future reference”: not sure if she did. (Accepting also Joe’s point that on certain days/times of day you might want to go up or down a semi-tone, and it may matter little to someone with a broad range of register, but may be crucial to those who can only manage an octave or less.)
P.s. Fields of Athenry is an octave + 1 whole tone if you include the chorus!

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No trad content:
Would Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’” qualify as a half-octave song? ;^)

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Pedantic point but Mingulay Boat Song is Scottish. It a translation of a Hebridean Gaelic song, as is Westering Home.

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Thanks dick2. That’s not pedantic. I like to have my ignorance corrected. I have no idea why I always thought Mingulay was off the Cornish coast.

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“Depending on the melody, the most comfortable key for my voice is usually F.”
Joe, you can’t say that. I’ve had people tell me they love singing in C, or maybe in G, or whatever. You sing in whatever key the piece you’re performing needs to be played in to suit your vocal range.
This is where a little bit of music theory comes in. Everyone has a lowest note they can sing: everyone has a highest note they can sing. Any song with notes between those limits suits that singer and it doesn’t matter what key those notes are in. If they fall within your vocal range, you can sing that piece.
Many years ago I would have got up to sing in a pub. The guitarist would have asked me what key I was going to sing my chosen song in. I had NO idea! Years later I got faced with that sh*t myself. People sing along to the current hits on the radio. Their friends tell them they’re great. They believe it and get up in the pub to sing, & usually they’re crap.
How about Adele having to give up? Vocal chord nodules/polyps ? Ye wouldn’t wish that that on anyone. But that was always touted as being a consequence of singers who can’t sing properly suffering physical effects because they were squealing instead of singing - straining for the high notes instead of learning how to use head voice.

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Last night I spent an hour or two listening to Leonard Cohen. He did okay!

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A lot of comments about my method and the capo.
First of all, yes, I am doing it wrong. But I only do it wrong if I already know the song in a certain key that doesn’t fit my range. For me, it’s easier to play it the way I already know with a capo until I find the key that fits, then transpose.
If it’s a song I don’t already know, I just sing and figure out what key it is.
As for the capo, I usually don’t use one. There are a couple of songs I accompany that sound better with a capo due to open strings and finger picking and what not.

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Yeah Clever Name, I distracted people with my capo query. But it was just a query, not a judgement about the actual use of capo’s. I guess what was getting at was that to my mind it seemed like what you were saying was back to front, in that the singer has already established the key, even if they don’t know what it is when they start singing (as Alexander describes it above) . From how Donaldk and Johnny Jay explained it, I now understand what you were getting at. I also have a fairly limited vocal range, but when I sing (and everybody runs away screaming) I just instinctively sing within it and don’t give a thought to the key. It just is whatever it is.
There is no difference in this than having (say) whistles in particular keys. They can only do what they can only do.

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I think about keys, on whistle, in regards to which note I’m playing the tonic. Sometimes it’s the lowest note. When it is I cannot play any lower though I have a wider ranger going up than when I start on the 2nd or the 4th. In which case I can play below the tonic but I’m limited when playing my highest notes in my range (on whistle).

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that’s kind of what I was getting at when i related the fact that the OP plays the flute and whistle. if it was me i’d relate my vocals to a particular whistle so as to become totally familiar with my range,

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Believe Me If All Those Endearing Young Charms. Not ITM though.

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“Ride On”.

Can be sung within a fourth (meaning if the song’s in Eminor, it uses the notes D, E, F# and G only).

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Most songs fit into a single octave, with maybe one or two additional steps here and there. And most folks, even those with a limited range, can cover an octave. Thus, the key to singing them is to pick the right key. Sing a scale that is comfortable to you, and then sit at a piano and find out what note it starts on. Then figure out the appropriate starting notes for the songs you like to sing that keep them in that octave. I generally sing unaccompanied, as I am poor at doing two things at once, but I know what my starting note should be, and will play my first note for myself to ensure I am in the right range. Or you can ask someone to play that first note for you.
And don’t be afraid to back up and start over in a different key if you started too high or low; I have seen some of the best sean nos singers do that.

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Yes, but Albrown….did you not read my post above (“one week ago”)about how many singers say they have got the wrong key, and say they will then go up or down, but then start again in the exact same key?
My trick for pitching a song is to “sing it in my head” before starting to sing out loud, which includes testing the highest and lowest notes of the song to see if they are in range. I don’t use pitch pipes: I might ask someone to give me a chord, but more often than not, I’ll just go for it out of my head: however, I do have near 2 octave singing range, so a semi-tone here or there won’t worry me unduly.