When you look up the key to a song and it says the key is something like E♭ or F, how do you know what octave the singer is singing in? Is it, for example, an F3 or F4? Is it above or below middle C?

I am asking in regards to rock or pop songs that may not have notation. I guess you just have to use your ears?

I also ask because I want to get better at picking a key to sing my songs in with similar voices.

  • 4
    When looking up 'the key of a song', it may well have very little reflection on the written key, and also the key someone sings it in. Check my answer on 'How do you choose what bass notes... And what octave - it'll depend on male/female singer, their register. Picking a key you can sing well in actually has nothing to do with a particular key. The range of the song is what's important.
    – Tim
    Mar 19, 2020 at 8:30

3 Answers 3


If your goal is to find which octave the original recording is... just go to the keyboard and find which note matches the voice on the recording. This process can be tedious at first but will help you to develop your ear for hearing which octave something is in. Know that identifying octave instantaneously is not a crucial musical skill unlike identifying pitch or function. Timbre and orchestration can also do a lot to distort perception of octave.

If your goal is to find a good key for you to sing a particular song in... try following these steps:

1) Find your range. Go to a keyboard and find which notes are your personal high and low extremes. Write it down.

2) Listen to the song you are trying to learn and determine the rang of the song. There will be a highest and lowest note. This is easy to do looking at sheet music, but also very doable at a keyboard if your ears aren't there yet. Again, this process will help you develop this skill. Write it down.

3) Now do the math. Move the key of the song however many half steps up or down that you need in order to put the range of the song within your comfortable singing range.

** Intentionally changing octave of the vocal melody is a cool arranging choice and sometimes necessary when the singer is a different gender than the original singer.


You won't get better at 'picking a key to sing my songs in' by knowing what octave they're singing in. You'll either be able to sing in the key they sing in, or you won't. Knowing the key of a particular track by a particular artist is pretty well academic. For example, if you want to sing a song at an open mic, and you know what the key is, it might help. Then again, it might not.

Songs are sung in different keys because of the range of each song - and its relationship with the particular singer. Just because one sings a song in one key doesn't mean it's a good key for another. And, you may find you sing one song in E♭, but another in C, or G. The key of a song, in other words, doesn't dictate whether you can sing it, or another way, you cannot say 'I sing best in D'. You might sing certain songs best in D, which is not the same!

All you can do is sing along to tracks, and with the ones you can do successfully, make a note of the keys for each. As far as octaves are concerned, you sing where you are comfortable. If it's a song by a female, chances are you'll sing an octave lower. Again, what those notes actually are is academic.

  • Can you explain more on what you mean by "the range of each song"? Are you talking about just the vocal part? Or what do you mean?
    – BlueBoy
    Mar 19, 2020 at 20:08
  • Yes, the vocal range is the important one (to vocalists). The highest and lowest notes are the limits of that range. A vocalist's range must be within the range of a song. That's where it's sometimes needed to 'change the key'. Although the tessitura may be a factor worth considering in some songs, which may be well within someone's range, but difficult to sing. because of this.
    – Tim
    Mar 20, 2020 at 7:10

There is an explanation about why you can't really say what octave the melody is in.

You can list the key of a song in most cases, like F major.

But when it comes to the melody your are dealing with a range. For example, the melody could have a highest note of F5 and lowest note of F4, sort of moving around C5 in the middle. Such a melody is spanning two octaves.

The numbering of octaves starts on the C naturals.

Actually you can't have any melody ranging one octave or greater fitting within a single octave.

You could have a song with a relatively small range sort of centered in the middle of C's, like E4 to A4 or D4 to A4 with a few notes a step or two above/below, and then you could say the melody is in octave 4. But you wouldn't be able to classify all melodies in a consistent way like that.

So, you can give bpm and key as single values for a song, but the melody needs to be a range - two values.

You could get melody ranges from song books, but often those arrangements are not in the key of the recorded song. You probably are stuck with doing it by ear from recordings.

You probably should also look at standard vocal ranges https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vocal_range and keep those in mind when writing a song.

  • F4>F5 is two octaves?
    – Tim
    Mar 20, 2020 at 7:18
  • @Tim Well, it is in both the fourth octave and the fifth octave. Not sure that's what OP's asking, though.
    – user45266
    Mar 20, 2020 at 17:51
  • @Tim, read the context it spans two numbered octaves in Scientific Pitch Notation. Meaning the range goes into octave 4 and octave 5. Obviously the actual distance is only one octave. Mar 20, 2020 at 18:00

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