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Is There Really A Right Key To Your Song?

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  • Noob

I would be the most grateful if someone could help me understand something here. 


Is there really a right key to your song? Or, you can play your song on any key and have the same effect? 


I was wondering if there is more things to be considered when writing a song apart from your vocalist's range? 

Because it kills a guitarist when they write this killer riff to then transpose it to a higher key... 


I believe that there is a right key for each song but I don't know how to be sure...


So, How would you pick the right scale before writing? And how do you know it is right? or at least the best choice?


If anybody has something to add to this subject, It will be very appreciated. 


Thank you very much for your time. 



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Just to add my support for what has already been said by Tom & Dave.


There are those who insist that different keys have unique qualities. I have never understood this. The reality is that the limitations of the musicians (always put the singer first) should determine the key.


Guitarists not wishing to alter chord shapes can always use a capo. Easy.

Keys (electronic) all have a transpose facility. Easy.


Mind you, if you use a horn section, they will use any excuse to get their own way. ;)

(especially saxes :rtfm: )



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There are a lot of influencing factors, the vocalist's range being one of the primary ones.  If the vocalist doesn't sound good on the song in that key, you've got an issue.  At the same time, if the accompanying instrument - such as guitar or piano - doesn't sound right with the chord progression or riff in that key, you also might need to take that into consideration.  A really solid singer with a big range might sound good in a variety of keys, especially ones that are close to each other.  A half step difference on guitar can make a big difference in the overall sound because of different voicings available to the player.  A capo doesn't always solve this problem, though many times it does.  Something might also sound too low and muddy or too high and thin in certain keys on piano or guitar (just picking out those two examples).  This doesn't always work out and help show off the song or singer.


At the same time, you need to consider and accept the fact that not every song is going to sound great with every vocalist or accompanying instrument.  Most songs seem to have a key (or maybe two) that sound "best" with the progression and melody.  Many songwriters and composers feel strongly that every song has a "right" key and performing the song in a different key takes something away.  This is subjective and sometimes I agree, sometimes I don't.  Many times it has to do with the arrangement, etc.  But if the vocalist doesn't sound "right" in that key, you either have to make a sacrifice somewhere, consider getting a different vocalist for the song, or consider rearranging the song to try and make it work.


There are plenty of songs I would love to do as a solo acoustic singer/player but just can't pull off because of my vocal range, the phonetics not sounding right, the arrangement not sounding right in the key that works for my voice, or a combination of reasons.  With all of the songs to be written and all of the songs already written, it's not worth fretting about (no pun intended).  Just move on to the next, or if you really love the song, find another vocalist for it, rearrange it, etc.  There are no limitations with music and collaborations.

Edited by Escape
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A capo works for me every time.


Well, nearly every time.


There is a song called Jolene by Ray La Montagne which I love to sing but I can never find the right capo position to get the right key for my voice. I could find a way of transposing it to fit, I suppose.


My workaround is to detune my guitar by a semi-tone and play it on the open strings. Then it's perfect.


But that means having two guitars for quick changeovers in gigs. Or capo first fret or one fret higher than usual for all my other songs - which is a whole new world of pain.

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  • 2 weeks later...

The melody of a song is made with notes and chords.

By using a numbering system, you can apply any key to a song.


Example: Chord progression is

I, 6m, 2m, V7 with musical notes within each chord (1,3,5).


In the key of N=  I, 6m, 2m, V7  (numbering system)


In the key of C= C, Am, Dm, G7

In the key of G= G, Em, Am, D7

In the key of D= D, Bm, Em, A7

In the key of A= A, F#m, Bm, E7

In the key of E= E, C#m, F#m, B7

In the key of F= F, Dm, Gm, C7


Have fun!

Edited by guyetrep
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  • 2 weeks later...

Honestly, I've always thought there was a right or at least fitting key for a song. If there wasn't you wouldn't hear cover songs that sound different from the original, right? I've played around with transposing certain tunes I've written, and it always, to me, affects how the song feels. Sometimes for better, sometimes for worse.


In any case, I agree that the range of the vocalist should be the primary consideration.

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