When trying to write songs in F-major, I realize that by using inversions I can achieve a range that is manageable for instruments and voices to play. Yet, I notice that more often than not, my harmonic progression changes up radically compared to my songs written in C-major.

So although the overall frequency of the song sound similar despite a large gap in the tonic, it seems that it requires compensation in my chord progression. If I want to preserve my chord progressions and their root/inversion positions, my songs will sound exactly 5 semitones higher in a key of F-major instead of C-major, which may mess up the ranges of voices and instruments.

Must this always be the case? Are different keys supposed to have a chord progression that works better on them?

3 Answers 3


You tagged your question with "transposition" but most of the question seems to be about writing different songs in C and F.

A general melodic approach you can take is to switch between placing the tonic at the top and bottom of the range or in the middle. You could treat F with a range of F3 to F4 and C with a range of G3 to G4 with the tonic in the middle C4.

A similar approach can be taken for accompaniment. You can change the octave of a tone or use different inversions to keep the range within some limit.

enter image description here

The treble isn't meant to be a real melody, only to show the tones with the ranges.

Are different keys supposed to have a chord progression that works better on them?

Not really. Common progressions like I vi IV V are playable in any key. You can use different voicings to put things into a good range and to some extent you can use different inversion too. In the examples I gave notice how the progression is tonic to dominant in both, but in F it's all root position I V7 and in C an inversion is used I V4/2. The basic tonic/dominant harmony is preserved.

If root position harmony is desired, you might be able to arpeggiate the bass to start with the root.

enter image description here


There seems to be some misunderstanding between key and range.

It is quite conceivable to have two completely different songs, one in key C the other in key F, with exactly the same range.Not only in the number of tones but also in which notes are highest and lowest.

The range of any piece is the difference between the highest and lowest notes in that piece. For one voice or one instrument, a range of an octave and a half would be reasonable - a lot of pieces have smaller range, some larger.

So, moving a piece out of key by half an octave - up or down - shouldn't phase instruments, although singers with limited ranges may baulk.

The range of a piece is often not a lot to do with the tonic note - it may start or end on it, but whether the rest of the notes are mostly or all above or below that note will depend on how it was written.

Bearing all this in mind, a particular song may be too high or too low for a particular singer, so a different key needs to be used. So that the song's range and that of the singer match.

However, if you are considering one song in particular, then moving its key from C to F could have two distinctly different results.A singer may then not be able to reach the high notes, so would sing it down, compared with another singer who was happier singing it up an octave higher. Which is maybe where your question emantes from. Not sure.

Your last paragraph is also difficult to answer. A sequence of, say, I vi IV V - quite common - will work exactly the same in any of the 12 keys. in key C it's C Am F G, in key F it's F Dm B♭ C, and in 12tet there will be no difference, except that one will sound higher (or lower!) in key F than it does in key C.

I just hope I interpreted the question accurately! Voicings are really a different issue.

  • For your 3rd last paragraph, yes that is what I was trying to ask. It appears if I have written a piece at C-major, it is doomed from ever being played at F-major.
    – David LE
    Jun 26, 2020 at 20:13
  • @DavidLE - could it be that there are some Bb notes in that piece? If so, it probably is actually in key F, whether you meant it to be or not!
    – Tim
    Jun 27, 2020 at 5:51

Not necessarily. Don't forget that a song in F major can easily be exactly 7 semitones lower (a.k.a. a perfect 5th lower) than that song in C major. This may also take the music out of the range of the singer you're working with, force you to rewrite parts for instruments such as tuba and guitar (or possibly transpose them up instead of down), etc.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.