Example: Say you randomly want to sing Toxic by Britney Spears out loud, but you sing it in a lower key or pitch(idk the terminology) you've never practiced the song this way, heck you're not even a singer, but you know exactly which keys to sing even if it's different/lower than the original without going off-key or getting confused.

Am I making sense? is there a term for this?

3 Answers 3


It's called "relative pitch". It's the ability to accurately reproduce the relationships between between notes without reproducing the specific pitches.

By singing the song in a different key, you have transposed the music (see this answer to your question), using relative pitch to keep everything sounding correct in the new key.

You might also be interested in the Levitin Effect, which is that even when singing a song in a different key, that key is often very close to the original. People with Perfect Pitch (also called Absolute Pitch) can sing in the correct key every time.

  • 3
    Also, a word for “changing the key, so that you start on a different pitch but all the notes are the right distances apart” is transposing. Sep 3, 2021 at 1:26
  • @AndyBonner Yes, transposing is the right term and should be included in the answer. "Relative pitch" would be done whether you transpose it to a different starting pitch or not. Sep 3, 2021 at 9:20
  • @AndyBonner With your okay, I'll include transposing in the answer.
    – Aaron
    Sep 3, 2021 at 13:12
  • @Aaron Sure; I agree that the OP is focusing on an individual's ability (and it's not even clear that intentional transposition is intended!). I also considered mentioning the distinction from "perfect pitch," but wondered whether it would be wandering from the question too much. At the moment I think no, it could help clarify. Sep 3, 2021 at 13:15
  • The subject of the question is in fact the subject of transposition. I have posted an answer. Sep 3, 2021 at 13:20

Yes there is a term for this. It is called "transposition". The tune is transposed into another key.

You can read more on the matter here: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transposition_(music)

Here is a quote from that link:

The shifting of a melody, a harmonic progression or an entire musical piece to another key, while maintaining the same tone structure, i.e. the same succession of whole tones and semitones and remaining melodic intervals.


The clever thing would be if you COULD sing it in the exact key of the recording without reference to it! This would indicate some degree of Perfect Pitch.

Or maybe just physical memory, if you're used to singing along with the recording. The published sheet music of a song is often not in the exact same key as a well-known recording. I've sometimes played the written introduction on piano only to have a singer continue in the (different) pitch of the recording!

But, left to themselves, singers generally reproduce a song they've learned 'by ear' in whatever key they find comfortable. There's no conscious process of transposition - that's when an instrumentalist sees written music in n one key and plays it in another, and that IS clever! If you want a word to describe it, I'd suggest 'normal'.

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