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My vocal range is D3-D5.

I have found that most of the songs I sing will be very comfortable for me if I change their pitch to match the D key. Yet there are others that do not fall into that category and the only way for me to be sure that I want this song in that key is to increase its pitch semitone by semitone until I find a key that will allow me to sing the whole song naturally.

As you can probably guess, that takes a lot of time as most trial and error approaches.

Is there a way to tell what the target key would be when transposing a song without going through the above process?

  • "As you can probably guess, that takes a lot of time as most trial and error approaches." Is that not true for the whole process of incorporating a tune to your own repertoire? I don't see that as a downside, to me that's all time wisely spent, as it can lead to valuable lessons. – Alex Lopez Jun 16 at 8:54
  • If you perform with other people, rather than considering all 12 keys with equal weight, I'd give a little weight to the keys your fellow band members may favour... hear what they may want to say. It's good to know their preferences and reasons, and it will make you a more knowledgeable musician and more respected. Going up or down a half tone can make a lot of sense to different instrumentalists sometimes. – Alex Lopez Jun 16 at 8:59
  • I'd also give a little weight to the keys used already on popular recordings of the tune. If you find yourself comfortable with any of them (singing over the recording), that's probably a winner. And it increases your chances in improvised jam sessions, too :-) – Alex Lopez Jun 16 at 9:04
  • @AlexLopez I'm not saying it's a downside and fine-tuning cannot be avoided, yet I wonder if there could be a way to at least approximately go near the desired key before beginning to fine-tune. – Valamorde Jun 16 at 11:06
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There can never be one key that a singer is happy in for every song they sing. That's simply because each song, in whatever key, has its own range - between the lowest and highest notes in that particular song.And just because D works for you for a lot certainly doesn't mean 'that's the key I sing in'. I've heard too many singers say that. It will certainly be true for some songs, but never all.

Given that a singer knows his/her vocal range, (and an awful lot don't...) makes it quite easy to determine a good key for a new song. Most songs will have their own range of less than two octaves.So set your own 'base' notes as F3 to C5. That should cover most songs.

Search through the song to find its lowest and highest notes. Then work out how far off your range that song's range is. Move accordingly, and there's your new key. For example, if a song has its highest note as G5 (too high by five semitones) and it's already in, say, key A, then you'll need to transpose it into key E (lower by five semitones).

There will be songs that do exactly what I've described, but dropping them down that far then puts the lowest note too low! That's why I suggested having a margin top and bottom of your existing range.

However (there's often one of those!) the tessitura of some songs can rear its head. That's a place in some songs, where there is a concentration of high (or low) notes. They may well be at the limits of your range, making it tricky to sing. That says a song has a 'high' or 'low' tessitura.

Another however is that some words or syllables are not easy to sing - particularly at the high end. So it is sometimes worthwhile dropping the whole song another tone or so, to alleviate that problem.

So, while there is a sort of scientific way to establish a good key, the trial and error will still come into the equation! And the problem never goes away! Working in 4/5 part harmony groups is more fun, as compromises crop up all the time - find a good key for four and it's out of range for the bass voice, for instance!

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  • "There will be songs that do exactly what I've described, but dropping them down that far then puts the lowest note too low!" - this happens more often than not. What do we do in that case? Also, I didn't understand how the top and bottom margin help in this case. – Valamorde Jun 16 at 11:09
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    The margin would be there to give a ball-park key. If you need to drop a key down so low to enable the high parts to be sung, and they are then too low, how could you sing that song in any key? Sometimes either let someone else sing, change the tune, or forget it.You might find, if you had transposing instruments that were included in the song, that they may well not be happy with a key the rest of you are happy with. Sometimes compromises aren't the option, scrapping a song is. – Tim Jun 16 at 11:17
  • I just found out that the song "Let It Go" (-2 semitones) is a perfect example of what you describe above with a top and bottom margin of 1 semitone and my voice fits perfectly into it. Could you please refer to a website or tool (if any) that provides information on the lowest and highest note of a song (or an imported track) ? – Valamorde Jun 16 at 17:30
  • No. I can't. What's wrong with being proactive, and just doing what I've (and countless others have) done for decades, and worked it out ourselves. I'm sorry if this comes across as harsh, but why rely on sites when do it yourself is still alive - and personally viable? – Tim Jun 16 at 18:03
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    My concern with automating all sorts is that there is rarely a 'one size fits all'. If there was a facilty, and the app told you to play a song in, say, Ab, a lot of guitarists - and some other players would baulk at the idea, so there would be not a lot of help there. – Tim Jun 17 at 6:28

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