Have you ever wanted to learn how to sing in key?
Well, you’ve come to the right place!
If you’re just starting out in your singing career (or you simply want to sing for fun), being able to sing in key is one of the most crucial steps to nail.
In this jam-packed guide, we’re bringing you a simple 3 step process for singing in tune. We’ve also thrown in a bunch of examples, infographics and tips we’ve picked up from our incredible community of musicians.
Ready? Let’s get started!
Step 1: Brush Up On Your Theory
Here’s the deal:
Singing in key is fundamentally rooted in having a good understanding how how keys work.
Therefore (yep…you guessed it…), you’ll need to spend some time brushing up on your knowledge of keys in order to sing tunefully.
Learning how keys work won’t just help you sing tunefully, but it’ll also seriously hone your musicianship. For example; if you go to a singing audition at some point in the future:
- They’ll almost-always ask you to improvise a section (for which you’ll need your knowledge of how keys work)
- They’ll likely ask you to sight-read a piece (one of the first things you’ll see on the sheet is the key of the song!)
But where do you start if musical keys are new to you? Well, here’s a couple of tips to get started:
Understand The Meaning Of Singing “In Key”
In short, a key is a grouping of pitches (known as a scale) that form the foundations of a piece of music.
So, if a song uses the key of C, it’s using this array of notes:
A, B, C, D, E, F, G
If you sing notes other than these seven, then you will be “off-key” for this piece.
Therefore, it’s super important to have that fundamental knowledge so that you know which notes to aim for. Otherwise, you could get lost in the weeds.
Learn What Key You’re Singing In
If you’re singing from a sheet of music, you can do this by checking the key signature. Otherwise, you should be able to look up the key of the song online.
This way, you can be sure what the actual key of a song is rather than trying to guess by merely listening.
One of the best ways to get started with learning keys is to use the circle of fifths.
Basically, the circle of fifths (shown below) is a visual diagram that shows the different relationships between keys. Here’s how to decipher it:
- Outer section: How the key is notated on a piece of sheet music
- Capital letters: The actual name of the key
- Lowercase letters: The relative minor
When I was first getting to grips with music theory, I actually stuck up a pretty big poster like this one on my bedroom wall in order to learn the circle of fifths by heart. Prioritizing this diagram early on in my musical career helped me more than I could have ever imagined.
Bonus Tip!: Widdle down the songs you sing to those which are easiest for you to sing on-key. No need to get frustrated with songs that may never be in your range.
Step 2: Nail Your Technique
Once you’ve gained a good foundational knowledge of how keys work, it’s time to put it into practice!
However, no matter how strong your knowledge, you’ll struggle to hit the right notes if you haven’t nailed your technique.
Here’s a quick overview of how to nail your technique when learning to sing in key:
Implement A Warm-Up Routine
Remember, just like any other part of your body, you need to warm up your voice before exercising it!
A good warm up routine will improve your range and allow you to spend more time honing your pitch.
Here’s a great example of a basic vocal warm up routine you might consider implementing:
- Stretches: Upper body stretches allow you to relax, adopt a proper posture and expand your ribcage to full capacity.
- Breathing exercises: Breathing exercises help you place your pitch accurately and control the flow of air during each phrase.
- Yawns: Yawns extend your range and relax your soft palate, allowing you to sing in a diverse range of keys.
- Lip trills & hums: These exercises warm up your resonators and relax your facial muscles, making them an excellent precursor to working on your pitch.
Adopt The Right Posture
Believe it or not:
A good singing posture is one of the most-common areas that singers neglect when they’re just starting out.
By adopting a proper singing posture, you give yourself a far better chance of placing your pitch correctly (and doing it with confidence).
Here’s a great infographic on how to adopt proper singing posture:
Use Proper Breath Control
Sure, we threw this in the warm-up routine example…but we can’t stress enough how important breath control is to singing in key.
To be good at singing in key, you need to make sure the very first note you sing is the right one.
Controlling the immediate air output from your lungs is also important if you need help holding the key once you’ve hit it.
When doing this, you’ll want to avoid the sound of your breath being the first sound people hear (by the way, we’ve got another detailed guide on how to do that).
Rather, grip your air with your vocal cords at the onset of singing the note.
Be conscious of this because many notes are short, so you don’t have much time to get it right. Also, once you do sing the note, you will have more air power to hold the longer ones.
Step 3: Test Yourself Throughout The Session
Like anyone who sings, you likely sound fantastic in the car or shower.
But if you’re serious about nailing your pitch, you’ll need some kind of honest reference point to test yourself against.
Here are our top three suggested methods for testing yourself while learning to sing in key:
We get it; hearing your voice back on recording is never a pleasant thing.
But, it’s one of the best ways to improve.
You can record yourself using the voice notes app on your phone (or, if you’re serious, you can always invest in a cheap home recording kit).
When you record yourself, keep the music on low volume so you can hear your voice a bit easier against the track.
If you’re not overly-happy with how your pitch sounds, don’t fret! Listen to the recording and jot down which beats have two notes rather than one, then try and improve on the next attempt.
Use a Piano
If you have a piano or an electric keyboard, try using it to guide you and practice singing one key at a time.
All you have to do is play through a scale on the piano and sing along to it. If your voice sounds the same against each note, you’re on key!
Keep doing that until you never get it wrong; practice makes perfect!
Use A Free App
Yes! There are lots of free apps on singing in key for iPhones and Androids.
They’re fun and you get immediate results as you practice because they give you a key to sing, they record you as you sing it, and then tell you how you did. Some even keep track of your progress.
Check out your favorite app store for all of the free apps on “singing in key” and try them out until you find the most helpful to you.
Once you’ve perfected the app’s practice rounds, you’re probably good and ready to belt out a tune and feel confident doing it.
Bonus Step: Stay Persistent!
Tuneful singing won’t happen overnight.
Even if you’ve got a great ear for pitch, it can take months (or sometimes even years) to get to a point where you’re happy with your ability to sing in key.
Here are a few actionable tips on staying persistent when learning to sing in key:
Make Learning To Sing In Key A Regular Part Of Your Day
As cheesy as it sounds, being consistent is being persistent.
When it comes to learning any type of singing technique, it’s much better to take a ‘little, but often’ approach over trying to cram everything in whenever you have a few hours free.
Doing this will allow you to:
- Focus on just one element of your technique for the session (such as breath control) and perfect it over the course of a few sessions
- Allow you to make a habit out of singing, which will ensure regular progression
We’d recommend scheduling a 45-60 minute singing slot into your daily routine. Try to pick a time that you know you’ll be able to do each day, such as when you get home from work/school or shortly after waking up in the morning.
Create A Dedicated ‘Singing Space’
This point goes hand-in-hand with setting aside a dedicated time for singing.
Think of any routine activity in your everyday life:
It probably has some kind of dedicated area in your home for it.
For example; your living room serves as a sanctuary to unwind in your free time. By having a dedicated space to relax and enjoy your free time, it’s much easier to take advantage of your surroundings.
So: why not do the same for singing?
Even if it’s just one of the corners in your bedroom, a dedicated singing space can remove distractions and allow you to focus on improving your pitch.
Here’s a couple of tips for setting up a fit-for-purpose singing space:
- Use it for just singing: A dedicated environment for singing will allow you to block out the outside world and focus on the task at hand. Make sure you only use it for your singing sessions.
- Ensure it’s distraction free: Let other members of your household know you’d prefer not to be bothered while in your singing space.
We’d recommend decking out your singing space with equipment, artwork and accessories. Here’s an example:
And there you have it! An all-encompassing guide on how to sing in key. If you follow the steps we’ve laid out, you’ll no doubt be singing tunefully in a short period of time.
If you’re looking to expand other areas of your musicianship, why not check out our list of stage presence tips next?