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How To Find the Right Key To Sing In While Playing Piano


Have you ever seen or heard a singer walk up to a piano accompanist and tell them what key they want to sing a tune in, then wondered how in the heck all that works, or how to figure out “YOUR” key for a tune?

That question about vocal ranges and the connection to different keys is a complex one to describe in words, yet not very difficult to understand once it kind of sinks in. I’ll give it a quick try here in this blog video (click the image above to watch)!

So the question is “How do I know, or figure out, what key is best for me to sing a tune in?”

Different songs all have different melody lines that have different ranges between their highest and lowest notes.

For that reason, a particular song will be best played for your particular range in some particular key. i.e. You need to shift the melody line into your range as best you can and then determine what key is needed to fit the melody line there.

So you can kind of sum it up as saying your range doesn’t identify one key that is best for you for every tune, but rather, you should sing tunes in whatever particular key for that tune which will gets that tune’s melody into your range. Does that make sense? For example, I might need to sing the song Misty in the key of F, but I might need to sing the song Jingle Bells in the key of D because those two tune’s melodies are not exactly the same.

So good singers tend to learn what key a particular tune they are wanting to sing is best for them. But it’s not a situation where one key is best for every song, because every song has a different melody line that has a different range.

So that then leads head first into the topic of transposing, which lets you easily (once you get it figured out) “slide” a tune up or down a few notes to get the melody comfortably in your range. Transposing is beyond the realm of what I want to get into in this post – but the main concept is just taking the chord changes to a tune and moving them all up or down the same interval (or number of half-steps) throughout the entire tune.

In the real world, if I am looking at a new tune to learn I’ll sing along with it from a Lead Sheet at the beginning and see if I can sing it in that key without it getting way too high or low for me. If it is uncomfortably high, I’ll just transpose it down a couple of notes until it gets that high part I am having trouble with down into my range. I then will just adjust every chord symbol up or down the same interval and “learn” the tune in that key instead, and will play it there enough times until I get the chord changes memorized. Then – no more Lead Sheet and I have another tune in my basket I can play in a key that works for my vocal range 🙂

So to summarize and wrap this up – just remember: No one has one key that is “their key” to sing in all the time. Rather, you’ll have a favorite key to sing some particular tune in, and that key may be different for different tunes based on the range of that tune’s melody line.

Hopefully that helps clear something that is OFTEN misunderstood.



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  • Larry Finke
    Posted at 11:49h, 05 April

    Haven’t been able to get audio on your last two posts. Is it you or me? All other programs work fine for me.

    • Ryan Eldridge
      Posted at 11:51h, 05 April

      Hello! My name is Ryan and I work with Scott. I haven’t had anyone else mention audio, so I believe the problem is on your end. Check the master volume on your computer, or when going into YouTube, check the volume settings on the video itself. It might be muted for some reason.

      – Ryan

  • Elaine Sternquist
    Posted at 13:22h, 05 April

    Wow! What a timely post for me! I woke up this morning wondering how to shift keys and then discovered your e-mail telling me how it works! Thanks, Scott, your explanation is perfectly clear and so very helpful! Elaine

  • Tony
    Posted at 13:46h, 05 April

    Dear Scott,
    I love you and your program. I purchased your one on one DVDs of the song “Misty”. Johnny Mathis sings it so GOOD. I love the song and I can play it “solo” on the piano, “Thank you very much”. But the song has such a wide range I have difficulty singing it. Other than trying a different song do you have any suggestions on how I could sing it and accompany myself. Thank you in advance for your response.

    • Scott Houston
      Posted at 16:48h, 13 August

      Thanks for the nice words Tony… That tune IS a very hard tune to sing because it has such a wide range. Barring trying to transpose it up or down a few notes possibly find a range that works for you, maybe you should try whistling it? Ha! Just kidding… It is frustrating to not have th range to get a tune sung. I fight that all the time as I am a pretty weak singer. My advice: the one-note samba by Jobim 🙂

    Posted at 14:00h, 05 April

    Thank you Ryan. I share Larry’s concerns.
    I can hear the audio but it is almost imperceptible and as far as my pc is concerned the master volume is fine and works on every other site I visit where audio is incorporated in a recording. Likewise the U tube volume settings are not muted. Thank you

    • Ryan Eldridge
      Posted at 14:28h, 06 April

      Eric – I will look into the volume issues it looks like we are having. Thanks for your input!

      Piano In A Flash

  • Tsedal Bahta
    Posted at 14:27h, 05 April

    Hello Ryan: Grateful for Scott’s hard work to give us tips continuously, specially those of us seniors trying to play better. But with regard to the audio unlike Larry’s problem, what is normal playing is to low for Scott’s presentation. So, I have to increase the volume up to and close to100 to hear him well. Believe me I am not hard of hearing. I have seen similar comments in the past..

    • Ryan Eldridge
      Posted at 14:27h, 06 April

      Hi Tsedal – I will look into the volume issues it looks like we might be having. Thank you for your input!

      Ryan Eldridge
      Piano In A Flash

  • Ray J
    Posted at 14:53h, 05 April

    Audio is fine for me as well!

  • Chris
    Posted at 15:43h, 06 April

    As usual, you make things clear that have perplexed me as an amateur singer/piano player for years. Thanks again!

    • Scott Houston
      Posted at 14:35h, 11 April

      Glad that it helped Chris -)

  • Walter
    Posted at 17:52h, 21 April

    I take exception to Scott’s video on determining a key to sing in: For Happy Birthday, I assumed the key was “C” since that was the first note. Scott then said to go to the last note, which is almost always the key the song is written in. When he went to Take Me Out to the Ballgame, he started on “F” and only went through part of it and said it was in “F”, without going to the end to verify it. I found that could be very misleading to new piano players as it was contrary to what he had previously said to do.

    • Scott Houston
      Posted at 17:10h, 23 April

      Hi Walter – Sorry for any miscommunication … For that “almost 100% of the time” rule of the last melody note being the key of the tune to work, you need to get to that last note to confirm it. If you start Happy Birthday’s melody on a C and work through to the end, you’ll find the last note is an F. So the key there is F.

      If you start “Ballgame’s” melody on an F and work through the whole thing it will also end on an F, so playing it in that location would be in the key of F as well.

      Fairly often, the both the first and last notes of a melody line are the same note, but certainly not always (like Happy Birthday). So for that reason if you want to use that little trick I mentioned, always work your way to the last note to see what it is. THEN (and this is kind of important to really confirm it for yourself…) play the last note with the major chord of the same root. (i.e. if the last note is an F, play or sing the melody note all the way through and when you get to the last note play or sing it along with an F Major chord.) If it sounds “final” or “correct” then you can be sure the trick worked … (and it will in the VAST majority of cases.)

      Hope that clears things up. -)