How to Sing on Key – Understanding Key Signature and Singing in Key

Published Categorized as Singing

Learning to sing on key is a little bit different from learning to sing the right pitch. You may find that you have difficulty singing in certain keys as they may be designed to better suit vocals with a lower or higher range.

In this article, we will explore what a key signature is and how you can make sure that you sing in key.

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Table of Contents

What Is a Musical Key?

If you hear people talking about a key signature when you are either rehearsing or in class, you may need to brush up on your theory so you can understand too.

When you are referring to music, music of different kinds all have a key signature. The key is a way of describing what chords and notes are associated with that piece of music.

Therefore, the key describes what pitch, scale, and chords should be used during that piece of music. The keynote is called the tonic note, which is the home note of the piece. The keynote could also describe the central chord in a piece of music.

Now that you know what a key signature is and what a key describes, it will make it easier to describe what it means to sing “in key” or “not in key”. If you sing “in key” this means that the notes you are singing fit the other chords and the main scale of the music. If you are not singing “in key” then you are singing notes that do not belong with the chords used in that piece of music.

For example, If you are singing a song that has a key of C Major that means that the song can only use notes from either the C major scale or its relative minor scale. Therefore, you will be singing in key if you sing any of these notes: C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C. If you sing any sharp notes or flat notes, it will not match the music and it will be out of key.

Having knowledge of different keys and key signatures means that you will find it easier to stay in the key and see where you were going wrong.

What Are the Different Types of Musical Keys

Now that you have a basic understanding of what a musical key describes, you may be wondering about the other musical theory branches that are involved with different types of keys. This could involve major keys, minor keys, and relative minors.

It is good to have knowledge of what these terms mean and what they are describing. This knowledge will help you when learning how to sing in key and also when learning how to musically communicate with other people.

What Is the Difference Between a Major and Minor Key?

When listening to what a major key sounds like compared to what a minor key sounds like, you will notice that they do sound different from each other mainly in the mood. A major key sounds happy whereas a minor key sounds sad. This is the best and fastest way to be able to identify if a chord or scale is major or minor.

When looking at chords, the difference between a major and a minor chord is the third note in the scale. A major chord is made up of the 1st note in the scale, the 3rd note in the scale, and the 5th note in the scale. A minor chord is made up of the 1st note in the scale, a flattened 3rd note in the scale, and the 5th note in the scale.

When looking at scales, there is an easy way to see if the scale is major or minor. On a minor scale, the 7th note in the scale will be raised. This is called a raised 7th note. The raised 7th note is only raised by one semitone but this semitone can make a difference to the overall sound.

For example, in an E minor scale, you should look for D sharp in the music. The D sharp will be 7 notes up from the tonic which is the E.

What Is a Relative Minor?

In music, relative keys are the major and minor scales that have the same key signatures, meaning that they share all the same notes but are arranged in a different order of whole steps and half steps. A pair of major and minor scales sharing the same key signature are said to be in a relative relationship.

When looking at musical theory, you may hear the term relative minor. Some major and minor scales have the same key signature meaning they are made from the same notes. The notes in both these scales are the same but they are arranged in a different order of whole steps (tone) and half steps (semitone).

Every major scale shares the same key signature as a minor scale. To understand this better you could look at the two scales as brother and sister; they are made from the same notes but they are different from one another. When a major scale and a minor scale share the same key signature they are called relatives. Therefore, every minor scale has a relative major and every major scale has a relative minor.

The Different Types of Major and Minor Key Signatures

  • C major
  • G major
  • D major
  • A major
  • E major
  • B major
  • F sharp major or G flat major
  • C sharp major or D flat major
  • A flat major
  • E flat major
  • B flat major
  • F major
  • A minor
  • E minor
  • B minor
  • F sharp minor or G flat minor
  • C sharp minor or D flat minor
  • G sharp minor
  • D sharp minor or E flat minor
  • A sharp minor or B flat minor
  • F minor
  • C minor
  • G minor
  • G minor

C Major

A C major key has a relative minor of A minor. A C major has a key signature that contains no flat notes and no sharp notes. The C major scale starts on the C and continues D, E, F, G, A, B, and C.

G Major

A G major key has a relative minor of E minor. A G major has a key signature that contains no flat notes and one sharp note which is an F sharp. The G major scale starts on the G and continues A, B, C, D, E, F sharp, and G.

D Major

A D major key has a relative minor of B minor. A D major has a key signature that contains no flat notes and two sharp notes which are an F sharp and a C sharp. The D major scale starts on the D and continues E, F sharp, G, A, B, C sharp, and D.

A Major

An A major key has a relative minor of F sharp minor or G flat minor. An A major has a key signature that contains no flat notes and three sharp notes which are an F sharp, C sharp, and G sharp. The A major scale starts on the A and continues B, C sharp, D, E, F sharp, G sharp, and A.

E Major

An E major key has a relative minor of C sharp minor or D flat minor. An E major has a key signature that contains no flat notes and four sharp notes which are an F sharp, C sharp, G sharp, and D sharp. The E major scale starts on the E and continues F sharp, G sharp, A, B, C sharp, D sharp, and E.

B Major

A B major key has a relative minor of G sharp minor. A B major has a key signature that contains no flat notes and five sharp notes which are F sharp, C sharp, G sharp, D sharp, and A sharp. The B major scale starts on the B and continues C sharp, D sharp, E, F sharp, G sharp, A sharp, and G.

F Sharp Major or G Flat Major

An F sharp major or G flat major key has a relative minor of D sharp minor or E flat minor. An F sharp major has a key signature that contains no flat notes and six sharp notes which are an F sharp, C sharp, G sharp, D sharp, A sharp, and E sharp. The F sharp major scale starts on the F and continues G sharp, A sharp, B, C sharp, D sharp, E sharp, and F sharp.

C Sharp Major or D Flat Major

A C sharp major or D flat major key has a relative minor of A sharp minor or B flat minor. A C sharp major has a key signature that contains no flat notes and seven sharp notes which are an F sharp, C sharp, G sharp, D sharp, A sharp, E sharp, and B sharp. The C sharp major scale starts on the C sharp and continues with D sharp, E sharp, G sharp, A sharp, B sharp, C sharp, D sharp, and C sharp.

A Flat Major

An A flat major key has a relative minor of F minor. An A flat major has a key signature that contains no sharp notes and four flat notes which are an A flat, B flat, D flat, and E flat. The A flat major scale starts on the A flat and continues B flat, C, D flat, E flat, F, G, and A flat.

E Flat Major

An E flat major key has a relative minor of C minor. An E flat major has a key signature that contains no sharp notes and three-flat notes which are an A flat, B flat, and E flat. The E flat major scale starts on the E flat and continues F, G, A flat, B flat, C, D, and E flat.

B Flat Major

A B flat major key has a relative minor of G minor. A B flat major has a key signature that contains no sharp notes and two flat notes which are a B flat and E flat. The B flat major scale starts on the B flat and continues C, D, E flat, F, G, A, and B flat.

F Major

An F major key has a relative minor of D minor. An F major has a key signature that contains no sharp notes and one flat note which is a B flat. The F major scale starts on the F and continues G, A, B flat, C, D, E, and F.

A Minor

An A minor key has a relative major of a C major. An A minor has a key signature that contains no flat notes and no sharp notes. The A major scale starts on the A and continues B, C, D, E, F, G, and A.

E Minor

An E minor key has a relative major of a G major. An E minor has a key signature that contains no flat notes and one sharp note which is an F sharp. The E major scale starts on the E and continues F sharp, G, A, B, C, D, and E.

B Minor

A B minor key has a relative major of a D major. A B minor has a key signature that contains no flat notes and two sharp notes which are an F sharp and C sharp. The B major scale starts on the B and continues C sharp, D, E, F sharp, G, A, and B.

F Sharp Minor or G Flat Minor

An F Sharp Minor Or G Flat Minor key has a relative major of A major. An F Sharp Minor Or G Flat Minor has a key signature that contains no flat notes and three sharp notes which are an F sharp, C sharp, and G sharp. The F major scale starts on the F sharp and continues G sharp, A, B, C sharp, D, E, and F.

C Sharp Minor or D Flat Minor

A C Sharp Minor Or D Flat Minor key has a relative major of E major. A C Sharp Minor Or D Flat Minor has a key signature that contains no flat notes and four sharp notes which are an F sharp, C sharp, G sharp, and D sharp. The C sharp minor scale starts on the C sharp and continues with D sharp, E, F sharp, G sharp, A, B, and C sharp.

G Sharp Minor

A G Sharp Minor key has a relative major of B major. A G Sharp Minor has a key signature that contains no flat notes and five sharp notes which are an F sharp, C sharp, G sharp, D sharp, and A sharp. The G sharp minor scale starts on the G sharp and continues A sharp, B, C sharp, D sharp, E, F sharp, and G sharp.

D Sharp Minor or E Flat Minor

A D Sharp Minor Or E Flat Minor key has a relative major of F sharp major or E flat major. A D Sharp Minor Or E Flat Minor has a key signature that contains no flat notes and six sharp notes which are an F sharp, C sharp, G sharp, D sharp, A sharp, and E sharp. The D sharp minor scale starts on the D sharp and continues E sharp, F sharp, G sharp, A sharp, B, C sharp, and D sharp.

A Sharp Minor or B Flat Minor

An A Sharp Minor Or B Flat Minor key has a relative major of C sharp major or D flat major. An A Sharp Minor Or B Flat Minor has a key signature that contains no flat notes and seven sharp notes which are an F sharp, C sharp, G sharp, D sharp, A sharp, E sharp, and B sharp. The A sharp minor scale starts on the A sharp and continues B sharp, C sharp, D sharp, E sharp, F sharp, G sharp, and A sharp.

F Minor

An F Minor key has a relative major of A flat major. An F Minor has a key signature that contains no sharp notes and four sharp notes which are A flat, B flat, D flat, and E flat. The F minor scale starts on the F and continues G, A flat, B flat, C, D flat, E flat, and F.

C Minor

A C Minor key has a relative major of E flat major. A C Minor has a key signature that contains no sharp notes and three sharp notes which are A flat, B flat, and E flat. The C minor scale starts on the C and continues D, E flat, F, G, A flat, B flat, and C.

G Minor

A G Minor key has a relative major of B flat major. A G Minor has a key signature that contains no sharp notes and two sharp notes which are B flat and E flat. The G minor scale starts on the G and continues A, B flat, C, D, E flat, F, and G.

D Minor

A D Minor key has a relative major of an F major. A D Minor has a key signature that contains no sharp notes and one sharp note which is B flat. The D minor scale starts on the D and continues E, F, G, A, B flat, C, and D.

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How to Sing in Key

Firstly, before starting any song you should try to learn what key you will be singing in and what notes are in that key. If you are singing and you are using sheet music, checking the key will be very simple. You can check the key by looking at the key signature at the start of the manuscript.

Secondly, aim to match the notes you are singing to the notes that are in the key signature scale. This will help you understand if you have an issue with the pitch rather than the key. Learning pitch will help you correctly sing notes, whereas the key is a more generalized singing.

How to Know You Are Not Singing in the Right Key

Learning to sing on key can be difficult and sometimes you may not even hear that you are singing on key. The best way to see if you are singing in the right key is to record yourself. Once you have finished singing, simply listen back to the recording to see if there are any areas that sound a bit off.

How to Learn to Sing on Key Quickly

If you are wanting to think about your issues with singing in the right key quickly, then here are some things to focus on:

  • Learn your music theory
  • Include a warm-up routine in your practice
  • Make sure you have the right posture

Learn Your Music Theory

If you want to know how you can sing in key, then you will need to understand how key signatures work. Learning musical theory can not only help you pass vocal singing grades and exams but it can help you to write and read music.

If you find that you struggle to stage in the same key without guidance, then you can always turn to written music to help guide you. You will need to know how to read music for this option.

Include a Warm-up Routine in Your Practice

Your voice is your instrument and if you are not taking good care of it, it may not be as reliable as you would hope. It is important to include a warm-up routine in your daily practice in order to take care of your voice. Your warm-up routine can include stretches, breathing exercises, lip trill, and melodic hums.

Make Sure You Have the Right Posture

Having the right posture while singing can really help your body not to tense up, which could be affecting your pitching and staying in the right key. Here is how your posture should be:

  • Shoulders: Aim to have your shoulder in a neutral and relaxed position. They should not move while you sing but make sure that you do not tense up.
  • Neck: Keep your neck high and straight and do not bend your neck forward. 
  • Arms: Keep your arms hanging by the side of your body and make sure that you are not grasping your hands together or in a fist. 
  • Hips: Do not push your pelvis forward or backward, make sure that you are aligned with the rest of your body.
  • Torso: Allow your stomach to relax so that you can breathe deeply.
  • Legs: Position your legs hip-width apart and make sure that your knees are relaxed.
  • Feet: Your feet should be shoulder-width apart and make sure you are not leaning to one side.

Learn Your Music Theory

The best way to make sure that you understand and can apply key signatures is to learn your theory. Once you understand how key signatures work you will know what notes you need to include or not include when singing in a certain key.

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FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Can you learn to sing on key?

Yes, you can learn how to sing on key and correct your pitch. You can do this by practicing voa exercises. You should aim to match the notes you are singing to the notes that are in the key signature scale. This will help you understand if you have an issue with the pitch rather than the key.

How do you start singing on key?

Make sure you understand what a key signature is and what key you should be singing in before starting a song. It may be necessary to learn your music theory if you haven’t already. When singing, you should include a warm-up routine in your practice and make sure you have the right posture throughout.

By Nate Pallesen

Nate is just your average (above average) guitar player. He's no Joe Satriani, Jimi Hendrix or Jimmy Page - wait this site is about acoustic guitars (sorry) He's no Django Reinhardt, Chet Atkins, or Michael Hedges, wait? who!? He's no Robert Johnson, Eric Clapton or Ben Harper - more familiar? Anyway you get the point :-)

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