Every a cappella group needs songs to sing, otherwise they’re just a group of people awkwardly standing in a curve. If you’re reading this blog, chances are you’ve made the decision to sing and now the question is what. Allow me to help guide your decision process.

If you’re group is a vocal jazz group, a hip hop group, or some other genre specific type of group, most of this will still apply to you, so you can keep reading.

Over the years I’ve have many members come up to me and say, “I want to sing [insert song requiring a Beyonce/Steve Perry type soloist]” with out a thought of who in the group would be able to sing that song. Now it’s not to say that you can’t sing Halo just because you don’t have a Beyonce, but it certainly helps.

Example: My most recent group, Lake Shore Jive, decided that we wanted to sing the now over covered and played Somebody That I Used to Know by Gotye back in February. Avant garde, I know. I put together a solid arrangement in part based on the Pentatonix and Peter Hollens versions. (What can I say, I appreciate great arranging.) The only problem was that Jive didn’t have a male lead capable of singing that song in the original key and the arrangement I put together didn’t lend itself to dropping a step or two. Our solution was to have a male sing the verses and have a female sing the choruses. It works and provides an interesting dynamic, but it was not the original intention of the arrangement.

Well, you say you want to do Somebody That I Used to Know, but you don’t have a tenor who’s comfortable on high As and Bs? Well here’s my advice. Bring the song before the group in a rehearsal before you’ve arranged it. Discuss the groups desire to do the song and pick a soloist. Then figure out where the soloist sounds best and feels most comfortable and arrange the song in that key.

Somewhere along the line people decided that a cappella groups should try their hardest to always sing songs in the original keys. I challenge you this semester to never sing a song in it’s original key. Whether it’s because you’re having a guy sing a song that traditionally has a female lead or because the range of Titanium is actually to high for your power soloist by a whole step – change it up to what works best for you group.

The founders of my new group, Suspension, are meeting tonight and one of the things we’re talking about is songs and musical direction. We’ve already planned to take this approach to most of our songs.

Take away: Plan and pick songs around the vocalists you have, not the vocalists you wish you had.