As a long-time chorister, I've always wondered what drives choirs to flat or sharp out of certain keys. For instance, the choir I sing with consistently fails to remain in the key of F, whereas shifting the music to F# fixes our tonality issues instantly.

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    Have any studies been done under rigorous experimental conditions that show this to be true?
    – NReilingh
    Commented Apr 29, 2011 at 0:16
  • @NReilingh, If there are, I'm unaware of them, or even where I would go about looking for them.
    – Babu
    Commented Apr 29, 2011 at 13:41
  • I have also sung in several choirs which have experienced the exact same problem with specific keys. And yes, F does seem to be problematic for some mysterious reason. Commented Mar 10, 2013 at 1:15
  • I've never experienced this, with any of the many choirs I've worked with. A lot of them cope with pieces that are in key F and I'd modulate to F# (for fun), and the results would be as good in one as the other.
    – Tim
    Commented Dec 25, 2023 at 16:26

1 Answer 1


If you're absolutely sure that this is occurring, I'd guess it has something to do with the voices of the singers in your particular choir: there are areas called "breaks" in the human voice, and around those particular pitches, it can be easy to allow yourself to slip flat or sharp. I suspect the pieces you're singing stay close to some singers' breaks, and shifting the key is moving the pitches in a way that causes them to fall cleanly into one area of the voice or another, reducing the tendency to fall out of tune.

But this seems very unlikely. It could be psychological--changing to an unfamiliar key could cause the singers to listen more closely. I'd be surprised if this phenomenon arose in a controlled experimental environment.

  • I agree. I have found it to be very difficult to maintain the correct pitch in this "break" notes. Commented Apr 30, 2011 at 2:35

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