I recently did some Christmas carol sing-a-longs with some of my groups in a psychiatric hospital. They chose the songs and I accompanied on the guitar. I always seem to struggle to find just the right key for each song that will facilitate the optimum singing range for the group.
Having worked many years with both kids in the schools and now adults in the psychiatric setting, it seems that both groups face many challenges in singing. The adults in the psychiatric hospital, for example, are typically on medication that dulls the senses and throws off the sense of timing. Because of this, I prefer to provide them with a fairly strong guitar stimulus. This means much more strumming than finger-picking, even on the more traditionally softer and gentler songs. I also try to use a pic for more volume.
The strength of the guitar has a direct relationship on my song leading cues. This sets up the question for the day:
Do you sing in the key that is good for your voice or the key that is good for the participants?
In my case, I have to decide whether or not to sing the song in a key that is good for a lyric tenor, as opposed to something lower in range that might be easier on the group. I tend to err on the higher side of things, especially since I am playing the guitar very strongly. My voice can carry much easier when I am singing in my optimal vocal range.
I think I usually sing closer to my range because I have found that my strong leading cues make the group activities more successful. It has always seemed less helpful if the key is closer to their range since many of the participants are not even close to the correct pitches anyway.
I suppose that I am focusing more on the therapeutic aspects of the group rather than the musical aesthetics. This seems to work for me, but I would like to know what you do with your groups? Perhaps I am a bit unique in that I have a higher tenor voice? Since most men are baritones, other music therapists may not share my particular challenge. And for the majority of the music therapists (80-90% of MTs are female), I wonder if there is some consensus from the lady MT's?
In the meantime,...happy singing!