How to Change the Key of a Song

How to Change the Key of a Song How to Change the Key of a Song

If you play music in a live setting or want to make your composition more enticing, learning how to change keys is essential. Changing keys can help you experience your favorite music in entirely new ways, letting you move songs to a more comfortable range, improvise with new partners, and add complex modulations and changes to your songwriting toolkit.

Don't know any music theory? Not to worry! Below, we'll break down everything you need to know about shifting keys in a piece, share iconic examples of modulations in popular songs, and explain four methods to change keys in any song.

What Is a Key Change?

As the name suggests, a key change is a shift from one key to another. This could mean moving up or down half steps and whole steps in the case of pitch shifting. It could also mean modulating from major or minor using a key signature's parallel minor key or major key. We'll break down all of the different types of key changes below, but note that key changes often create a remarkable change in a track, making them powerful tools for transformation and expression.

When Do You Use Key Changes?

Key changes can be drastic musical movements, so they should be used carefully and deliberately in your compositions. Here are a couple of instances in which you might want to consider incorporating a key change:

Add Interest

There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to making amazing art, but a key change often creates a dramatic effect, which can be felt by the listener, even if you're just moving up or down a mere half step. It's commonplace to experience key changes during the final chorus or bridge of a song, where the pitch shift builds to the crescendo of the song.

Transposition for Performance

Everyone has a different singing voice with its own natural vocal range. If you perform a song that isn't specifically written for your range, there is a good chance it may fall outside of your comfortable vocal range. In this case, you could change the keys of the song to fit your voice more appropriately. In other cases, you might be performing with instruments that are limited to a particular key. A key change can unlock a whole library of tracks that otherwise might be limited by the physical limitations of instruments.


If you're a DJ, music producer, or simply someone who enjoys creating mashups for family and friends, knowing how to find the common key signature between very different notes is essential. The reason why a great DJ's set sounds great is that DJs build their sets so that they can move seamlessly between two keys without disrupting the flow of the music.


Practicing music in keys slightly outside your comfort zone can help you grow as an instrumentalist or vocalist. You might find that you perform a song more effectively in another key. Having the ability to move between different notes and keys can help you build stronger music by giving you an entirely new skillset to exercise.

Modulation Versus Transposition: What's the Difference?

It's worth noting that key changes may be referred to as modulation, transposition, or even shifting the pitch or root note as one would with a capo on the guitar. A key change essentially equates to a broad umbrella that refers to any instance where notes are shifted in such a way that the key signature changes.

The subgroups, however, may have more specified definitions. For instance, modulation generally speaks to when one chooses to adjust pitch within the context of a singular piece, with the transition incorporated directly into the composition itself. Transposition refers to shifting an entire piece to a different key. This could be taking songs in major keys and transposing them to minor keys, or just shifting notes up or down tones.

Transposition encapsulates the shifting of an entire piece usually for the purpose of performance, practice, or creating a derivative work like a cover.

6 Examples of Songs That Change Keys

In most cases, the songs we hear daily stay in the same key for the duration of the composition. If you're not super familiar with the sound of key changes, these popular music examples will help you get a sense of how most key changes feel.

I Get Around by The Beach Boys

The Beach Boys stand as kings of complex harmonies and keys. Their hit I Get Around includes a modulation during the instrumental solo that shifts the song from G major, to A major, to finally landing on Ab major.

Perfect Illusion by Lady Gaga

Perfect Illusion by Lady Gaga is an impressive rock ballad that wouldn't be complete without Gaga's impressive vocal range and the whole tone shift that occurs around the two minute mark of the track:

Love Story by Taylor Swift

One of Taylor Swift's early hits Love Story includes a key change, holding the same common chords for the entire song until the final chorus. At the crescendo of the track, the same tonic notes are transposed up one whole step:

Penny Lane by The Beatles

The Beatles were known to sneak deceptively complex structures into their ominous pop songs. Penny Lane , for instance, includes a smooth modulation into the chorus.

Invisible Touch by Genesis

Before Phil Collins forged his own wildly successful solo career, he cut his teeth in the popular band Genesis. One of Genesis' hits, Invisible Touch , includes a key change in the final chorus chord progression that truly leaves an impression:

Man in the Mirror by Michael Jackson

Man in the Mirror by Michael Jackson is well regarded as one of the most successful pop songs with a notable key change. This song encapsulates a key change one whole tone up, shifting from the G major key to the A major key:

Do I Need Music Theory to Understand Changing Keys?

In short, yes, you need some level of basic music theory to understand changing keys in a song. This is because proper transposition or modulation requires foundational knowledge surrounding the relationship between major and minor keys, the circle of fifths, and the context of scale degrees. We have a whole knowledge base on music theory here , or you can use supplemental resources to expand your learning like this video from Andrew Huang:

Manual Modulation Techniques

If you're not using a tool to help you shift the pitch or notes of your track, here are some common modulation techniques designed to help you make a smooth transition from one key to the next:

Parallel or Relative Modulation

One way to shift keys is to move to a parallel minor key or parallel major. Each key has a parallel major or minor chord that shares the same key signature. For instance, you could easily move from G major to E minor, since the relative minor key of G major is E minor, i.e. both key signatures share the same notes.

Dominant 7th or Pivot Chord

The dominant 7th chord or the concept of secondary dominant chords can help you transition to a new key. For instance, you can use a dominant 7th chord to move to a tonic chord in a new key. In G major, you might use a G major 7th to move to the key of C major since G major is the dominant of C. The added 7th note helps create a seamless pivot since it has a strong pull towards the tonic of the new key.

Common Chord Modulation

You can make the transition between changing keys easier if the two keys in question share some of the same chords. For example, the keys of both C major and G major share every chord outside of F major and F# major. Each other chord within these progressions could be used to transition between the C major and G major keys.

Chromatic Modulation

One way to move from one key to another is to slowly transition to a new key by playing in half-step increments. For example, if you had to move from C Major to D major, you might play a C# major chord in between to bridge the gap. Moving upwards in a step-wise fashion is a smooth, common occurrence for modulation within songs.

Change the Key of a Song in 4 Steps

Now that you understand the different techniques behind key changes, it's time to get to work! Use these 4 steps to change the key of any song. Keep in mind this refers to key change modulation within a song; in the case of transposition, you simply move the notes simultaneously up or down semitones until you reach your preferred key.

Identify the Starting Key and Your Modulation Approach

To know where you're going, you have to start with where you begin: Identify your starting key by using the circle of fifths to help track down your starting key:

You can figure out the key of your song by counting the number of sharps and flats and then using context of the piece - does it sound more likely to be major or minor? Which note appears to be the tonic?

Once you've figured out your starting key, start thinking about how you'd like to modulate within your piece.

Select Your Transition Point

Think about where you're going to strategically place your key change. Oftentimes, musicians use key changes to communicate a shift in dynamics or the story of the song. Use your key change to your advantage - common places for key change modulations include during the final chorus of the song, during the bridge, or during the chorus chord progression. Key changes are built for creating contrast.

Try Out Your Modulation

Write out the same notes of your song and modulate them, taking care to ensure you're altering each note proportionate to your key change. For instance, if you modulated the notes of C Major up two half steps, each note would have the same half step distance between the new key and original key. C D E F G A B becomes D E F# G A B C#.

Experiment and Refine

Chances are, there are several ways to incorporate your modulation into your song. Experiment with several modulation methods to find which technique fits best within the style of your composition.

Key Change FAQs

Understanding how to execute a key change can be difficult, especially if you don't have a strong foundation in music theory. Here are some commonly asked questions and answers to help you master changing the key of a song:

How do I change the key of a song digitally?

You can change the key of a song digitally by using any digital audio workstation, or any other pitch shifting tools at your disposal. Moving the master file or all of the individual files of your track simultaneously up or down pitches will change keys in a song.

What is it called when you change the key of a song?

A key change can be referred to in several ways depending on the context of how you're creating. Changing the key of a song might be referred to as transposition, modulation, or simply pitch shifting. You might also think of it in the context of shifting the starting note, as you would when placing a capo on the guitar.

What website can change the key of a song?

Sites like Audioalter and Moises can both be used to change the key of a song. You can also use simple pitch shifting or transposition tools at your disposal in your digital audio workstation.

Is there an app to change the key of a song?

There are several applications that can help you change the key of a song. Any tool that can help you change the pitches of your composition can be used to transpose or create a key change. You can use any DAW to adjust the key of your track, just make sure you double-check to include all tracks in your transposition.

How do you transpose a song into a different key?

To transpose a song into a different key, you first have to identify your target key and how that relates to your starting key in context with the circle of fifths. You can then shift the chord progression along with individual notes to the new key change. The key change should be relative across all notes. For instance, moving from C Major to D major requires moving up two semitones, so each note in your original key will be transposed up two semitones.

Learning how to change keys in a song is an essential skill for any musician. Hopefully, this guide makes it easier for you to practice and perform your favorite tunes in entirely new keys. Have fun exploring your abilities across the full circle of fifths!

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