I am not sure if my question makes sense to the most learned musicians, I still would like to get one simple thing clarified, and I must admit that I did search about this everywhere but there was no clear answer, or better, I did not understand.

Let us take Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody. It is based on A# sharp major (or B flat major?) key. So if a new singer who cannot sing as the original version tries to sound similar by singing at a lower key. Can he sing the same song in let us say key D sharp major?

The second example is from "The Lonely Shepherd" by Gheorghe Zamfir which is in D minor scale. Can it be played in G minor? How will it sound?


Transposing is the term for changing the key of a song as your describe.

Theoretically the music will be the same. The same in terms of the relative relationships of rhythm and the intervals that make chords and the melodic line.

But as a matter of orchestration, of timbre, range does matter. It matters a lot. As chords are played in lower and lower ranges they become "muddier." Acoustic guitar in the open string range is fairly deep and resonant, but put a capo on even the fifth fret to raise the pitch a fourth and it can start to sound thinner and bright, sort of like a mandolin or autoharp. Each instrument has certain "colors" associated with different ranges and those are often important choice in a song arrangement/recording.

Imagine a pop song by a singer with a high range, like Mariah Carey, sung in a lower octave by a bass. It probably would not have the same effect as sung in a high range. It could even sound like a comic parody!

Transposing down a fifth - what you described going from Bb to Eb or Dm to Gm - is roughly the difference between the four basic voice types, so it's like dropping a tenor to a bass. That probably isn't too big a change for the vocal part. Chord voicings in the accompaniment could be adjusted to keep things in roughly the same range for guitar or keyboard. (Example, a bass of G3 up to D4 could be transposed down a fifth by playing C4 down to G3, the letters transpose a fifth down, but the octaves are juggled to stay within the same general range to maintain timbral color.)

You might consider if dropping a third would be enough to make it comfortable to sing. That would be a change sort of in between vocal ranges, like tenor to baritone which is between tenor and bass.

  • Another example: think about the impact that the line "And the rocket's red glare" has in "The Star-Spangled Banner" because of its high register. If you transposed the song down, it would still be a jump from the previous line, but not be as spectacular if people didn't have to stretch to sing it.
    – Barmar
    May 7 at 13:56

It's called transposing. There's a system called the Nashville System where they write down key information irrespective of key, so when new singers with different ranges come along, it's easy for the band to transpose for them. It is commonly adjusted for the range of the singer, because that varies a lot between singers, and singers' voices tend to drop in pitch over time.

Most of the time? It's fine. We all know songs like "Bohemian Rhapsody" in one key because we all know that same recording, but as long as the intervals are correct, it should be identifiable and work for everyone.

(I read once that the Dave Brubeck Quartet usually played "Take Five" in Eb minor, but once played with a guest and changed the key to accommodate, and all decided it sounded wrong, but I haven't heard it.)


Any song can be (and sometimes is) played in any key. I've played many well-known songs in many different keys, with many different bands/groups of players. Really, it matters not.

With good players, any song which is in an 'original key' - whatever that may be recognised as - could get played in any of the 12 available keys. In fact, for a laugh, we often played song xyz in key whatever. Sometimes it worked really well - better than the original - others, it just worked. In fact, one ought to be capable of playing anything in any key, to help the vocalist.

In reality, and my opinion, any key will work for any song, with good players. There are certain songs which are guitar orientated, though, that need certain (open) chords to sound authentic. But take any standard, and it'll work.

The bug in the system may be those blessed (?) with absolute pitch, but why that should be a problem to them still needs clarification.

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