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As a long-time chorister, I've always wondered what drives choirs to flat or sharp out of certain keys. For instance, the choir I sing with consistently fails to remain in the key of F, whereas shifting the music to F# fixes our tonality issues instantly.

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Have any studies been done under rigorous experimental conditions that show this to be true? –  NReilingh Apr 29 '11 at 0:16
    
Excellent question! –  Ben Alpert Apr 29 '11 at 1:53
    
@NReilingh, If there are, I'm unaware of them, or even where I would go about looking for them. –  Babu Apr 29 '11 at 13:41
    
I have also sung in several choirs which have experienced the exact same problem with specific keys. And yes, F does seem to be problematic for some mysterious reason. –  Jordan Eldredge Mar 10 '13 at 1:15
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1 Answer

If you're absolutely sure that this is occurring, I'd guess it has something to do with the voices of the singers in your particular choir: there are areas called "breaks" in the human voice, and around those particular pitches, it can be easy to allow yourself to slip flat or sharp. I suspect the pieces you're singing stay close to some singers' breaks, and shifting the key is moving the pitches in a way that causes them to fall cleanly into one area of the voice or another, reducing the tendency to fall out of tune.

But this seems very unlikely. It could be psychological--changing to an unfamiliar key could cause the singers to listen more closely. I'd be surprised if this phenomenon arose in a controlled experimental environment.

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I agree. I have found it to be very difficult to maintain the correct pitch in this "break" notes. –  Edgar Gonzalez Apr 30 '11 at 2:35
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