In my previous question I asked about how many notes are needed to establish what key you are in. That kind of dodges around the purpose of me asking so here’s a more direct question.

With an instrument or with a duet what are the main concepts that aid a lead vocalist in staying in key.

Is it really as simple as singing around a TONIC and being careful as you add more tones? Also, I know one way could be using your brain and ears (having good taste).

Is the only theoretical information for this concept the idea of the drone(s). Example books: The Harmonic Experience by W A Mathieu, Music and the power of sound by Alain Danielou.

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    Don't think tonic has much bearing on the situation. Listening, both to the accompaniment and one's own voice are more important. A key is only really a concept, and whilst playing an instrument 'in key' will involve using particular notes, singing, with its continuum of notes available, is a far more complicated (imo) situation, which ironically is far easier for the majority than playing an instrument, with pre-determined note-producing places.
    – Tim
    Oct 7, 2023 at 14:13
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    Note, the phrase "in key" (or "on key" or "in tune") is usually taken to mean "using accurate intonation," producing the exact pitch that one means to. If this is an outgrowth of your previous question, that's not really about identifying tonal center. The singer whose pitch "drifts" until they're in fact singing in a different key doesn't realize they've modulated. Being able to avoid this is an important foundational step for any successful singer. If the question is how you can write in such a way as to minimize this danger for beginning singers, maybe edit to make that clearer. Oct 9, 2023 at 18:24
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    One way of framing the question might be: There are definitely things you can do to make it harder, even for trained singers (destabilizing a tonal center, asking for unprepared dissonances, giving little accompanimental support especially at an entrance, etc.), so... do the opposites of those things! Oct 9, 2023 at 18:26
  • @AndyBonner I guess a better way to describe it could be, what are different techniques to best present and sustain the tonal atmosphere/key for singers to stay in tune. I’m very stuck on the concept of the drone or tonic now that I’ve come across the book Music and the power of sound by Alain Danielou. Indian classical music, Ancient Greek, and modern Byzantine all have the idea of using the drone/tonic as a tool to help singers stay in key. Although, I’m not quite sure one note is the best way to do it, but in theory it makes sense. There always seems to be one particular note
    – Lecifer
    Oct 9, 2023 at 20:44
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    Btw, I use a drone as a practice aid to perfect intonation. If I play an arpeggio, it's harder to evaluate the distance from my C to my E, as they happen sequentially in time, than to evaluate both of them against a drone C simultaneously, letting me hear interference patterns. I'm not sure it's the key to your intent, though, because if you have to sing a m2 or M7 against the drone it can take skill. Instead, a nice blunt chordal accompaniment that can keep things steady: Ask someone to sing "Happy Birthday," give them a big dominant 7th chord, and they'll take your key. Oct 9, 2023 at 21:10

1 Answer 1


With an instrument or with a choir what are the main concepts that aid a lead vocalist in staying in key

The most important thing is probably to be able to listen to what's going on around you while you are also singing. If you are singing with an unaccompanied chorus and they start going flat, you don't want to stay in key; you want to adjust to them.

Knowing how to adjust your pitch slightly higher or lower depending on the melody and the harmony, or for an expressive reason, is important.

Having a good vocal technique so your voice is actually producing the pitch your ear wants it to produce is another important factor. Many amateur singers simply lack the control needed to sing the pitches they want to sing; caricatures of amateur "off key" singers typically capitalize on that.

As Tim says, key and tonality are actually secondary here. What matters most is whether the pitch you're singing at any given time matches with the pitches others are singing or playing at that time. If a piece opens with C and E flat, it doesn't matter whether the key is C minor or A flat major or anything else. What matters is that everyone with C matches each other and everyone with E flat matches each other and that the distance between C and E flat is the correct distance (whatever is "correct" for that piece, depending on the tuning system or temperament chosen by the performers or the music director).

  • (whatever is "correct" for that piece, depending on the tuning system or temperament chosen by the performers or the music director). Thank you for mentioning this.
    – user59346
    Oct 7, 2023 at 23:58

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