When writing, recording, or making music on the computer, I write what sounds good to me. I listen to it 1000 times in the process, so I'm afraid that I end up losing my ability to judge it.

To simulate what a "first listen" might be like, I try listening to the piece transposed up or down a semitone, and everything suddenly sticks out like a sore thumb.

Is my aversion to the transposed version due to me being used to the original key, or to the song simply not working?

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    Well. This is a big question in my opinion. It boils down to “how do I objectively evaluate my own writing?” You can’t though. There’s no way to objectively evaluate art. Whatever gives you perspective that you think is valuable is what works for you. If you want to know “how to tell if my writing will connect with an audience?” Then the only reasonable way is to present it to audiences and see what you get in response. In the end, your taste and your audience’s taste are the only meaningful benchmarks of the quality of your music. Jan 23, 2021 at 20:04
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    I've listened to so many sonata-allegros (which tend to involve portions of later themes transposed raw into new keys) that transposing my music raw does not make me find flaws in it more easily.
    – Dekkadeci
    Jan 23, 2021 at 20:12

1 Answer 1


Can transposing my song help me understand what's wrong with it?

If you've written it in the wrong key to begin with then, yes absolutely.

More to the point, it helps if you have something like a "composer buddy", another pair of ears to listen to what you've produced and give feedback. And, yes, probably worth trying different keys as well.

The key of composition can make an enormous difference, particularly on some instruments.

Do you choose your original key based on what you are trying to achieve? If so and you don't like the finished product then maybe you failed to achieve what you wanted or, more positively, you achieved something completely different. In that case maybe you do need to reconsider the key?

If you don't make a conscious key decision based on mood, etc., but just on what's easy then perhaps that is your problem.

To give an example of the difference a key change can make take the example of Dvorak's Humoresque No7 in G♭ Major. Originally written for piano it is also very popular for violin. Top violinists play it in the original key and it can sound hauntingly beautiful. However G♭ major is difficult for lesser performers and at amateur levels it is normal to play it simply transcribed into G major. The problem is that on the violin this is a more unambiguously happy key. Everything rings. G♭, with its 6 flats including all the open strings, is more moody. Nothing rings.

When writing, recording, or making music on the computer

It also helps a lot if you can play a real, physical instrument, even if it's just a piano. If you limit yourself to just the computer then you miss out on a world of possibility.

  • Well, ONE star violinist plays Humoresque No7 in Gb. Most play it in G. Don't over-think this one. On piano, it lies nicely under the fingers in Gb. In violin, it doesn't. It's not a 'moody' piece. 'Happy' is fine.
    – Laurence
    Jan 24, 2021 at 0:11
  • Trouble is - OP is writing on computer - so the music is not strictly speaking, instrument dependant. So it would seem that any key would do for any piece. Quite agree that a piece that's written for a specific instrument may well not translate in the same key successfully to a different instrument. Just reading your first sentence made me go 'what?!'
    – Tim
    Jan 24, 2021 at 10:02

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