My dad always tells me that when I sing I change keys. Like I'll start out right and then change for a single phrase or word and then change back.

I don't know when I do this, I can't tell and my dad seems unable to help. So how can I tell when I am changing keys while singing?

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    By the look on the bassist's face? At least, that's what always tipped me off... Commented Aug 7, 2019 at 20:36

3 Answers 3


When you're singing unaccompanied, it can be difficult to stay in the same key, or even to tell whether you're staying in the same key. (Ideally, you would "play" the other instrumental parts of the song in your head while you're singing, but that doesn't come naturally if you don't play an instrument or take music or singing lessons.)

If you sing along to a recording of a song, even a karaoke version that doesn't contain any vocals, you'll find it's easier to stay in tune, because the accompanying instruments constantly remind you of what the key is, and which notes are "okay" to sing at any moment. If you want to practice singing solo, you could sing along to the start of a recording, then turn the volume down and continue singing, and then turn up the volume again now and then to check whether you're still singing the right notes.

If you have a guitar or keyboard instrument at home, you could look up the chords for the song you're singing, and look up how to play those chords on the instrument, and play them while you're singing. Even if it doesn't sound anything like the record, it should give your ear and brain enough information to know whether you're singing in the right key. (There are probably apps that can do this as well.)

And if you really want to learn to sing well, see if you can take lessons somewhere.

  • Thanks! I'll definitely try all that. It's just very frustrating not being able to tell that it's off and shakes my confidence a bit. Commented Aug 7, 2019 at 2:06

Not even Beethoven, even when he was trying, could pull off what we now call "changing keys" for a single word. Four bars at a minimum. Your dad means something else. Ask him to phrase it differently, if he's had some musical training.

Better yet, both of you listen to a recording of you singing. Have him point out where it happens therein. Then use your own judgement, or your singing teacher's judgement, or (last ditch, but it's worked sometimes on this site) post the recording here via soundcloud and ask us for advice.

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    I assume the "changing key" simply means misjudge an interval and then go on singing a few semitones higher or lower then where you started out from. That often happens with untrained singers who think of the vocal melody as an isolated thing, instead of something which sits logically on top of the accompaniment. Commented Aug 7, 2019 at 3:14
  • Thanks! Whenever he says that I always wonder if it would be changing keys or just singing the wrong note... I will ask him to clarify what he means but I've tried this in the past and he seems to be no help. Commented Aug 7, 2019 at 3:15
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    @Emmieldowell - if you are singing the wrong notes for a moment or two, that's effectively 'changing key'. But you might just be singing a harmony instead of the 'right notes'. That's not changing key. Your dad may not actually know what it is you're doing! Go to a person more experienced and qualified - a teacher, for example!
    – Tim
    Commented Aug 7, 2019 at 7:04

If you are not singing the correct note, you are either completely missing the intended key or most likely you are singing in 3rds, 4ths or 5ths of the intended note.

If you are singing the correct note, Your Dad could be picking up on modal changes (or even note borrowing/substituting) They are quite popular in music. It happens when a song includes a note from a neighboring scale or key. Anytime there is a “key change” there is a “modal change” The ways to know when you are doing it are either, learn and understand the notes as you sing them. Or listen to the scales of different notes and song examples and eventually you will hear the interval changes that are unique and but very identifiable.

Say if you are singing In the key of... C Major - C D E F G A B C (Starting with C, ending with C) This is also known as: “C Ionian” - Upbeat, happy & half pop songs.

If you change to the key of... A minor - A B C D E F G A (Starting with A, ending with A) This is also known as: “A Aeolian” - melancholy, sad & the other half of pop songs.

Different modes, same notes, different order. It’s created a completely different emotion. There are 7 modes per set of 7 notes for each 12 keys. You don’t need to stay within the set of 7 notes to change modes,.. for example..

Changing from C Ionian(C Major) to: C Lydian (same notes as G Major)

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    Discriminating between such modal changes is for theorists and composers. It sounds like the OP's struggling with singing pitches that are already written down, quite a different issue from harmonic analysis. Commented Aug 7, 2019 at 15:17

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