"What key do I sing in?"
"What is all this key business anyhow? What does it all mean?"
"What does transpose mean?"

I am often asked this question by beginners. The answer is, that it doesn't really work that way.

All singers have a particular "range" of notes that they can manage comfortably. For instance, "I can sing as low as G below middle C and as high as D above top C". But this is not referred to as a particular "key". The term is "range", or some other word like that, not 'key'. Therfore, what you say is: "My range is from G below middle C to D above top C". This is a good thing to know by the way. Next time I see you for a session, ask me to  find this out for you.

So songs or music are described as being in a particular key, not people!

What does this "key" business means anyhow?
Well, think of it as being a bit like getting fitted for clothing:

You walk into the shop and see a particular style of jeans that you want to wear, so you ask for sales assistant for that particular style or brand of jeans, but in your size. You try on the pair of jeans and if they don't fit right, (they are either too tight or too loose), you ask for them in another size. You will get EXACTLY the same design and style, but all the measurements will be slightly larger or slightly smaller.
Now, why I have been talking about fitting clothes? Because changing the 'key' of a song
is a bit like getting the jeans in another size!
  Another name for it is 'tranposing'


(NOTE: There are some sound samples below in MP3. If you have a sound card and your computer speakers are turned on, you should be able to hear them.
They are small, low quality files so they won't take too long to load.)

Here is a recording of 'Happy Birthday' 
played in the KEY of G major:

but TRANSPOSED DOWN to a different key, the KEY of D major:

With the version in the key of D major, all I have done is just move every note in the song 'down a bit' from the G major version. (Just like the jeans. Every 'measurement' is changed but the design stays the same) You can still hear that it is 'Happy Birthday'.

The relationship between the notes stays the same, so you still hear 'Happy Birthday',
just lower and easier to sing if your voice is set low and some of the notes
in the G major version were to high for you to reach.

See how it is sort of like the jean size analogy I used before? 
Same 'design' (i.e., 'Happy Birthday') -- just in a different 'size

Here is 'Happy Birthday' transposed into the KEY of C major -  up quite a bit higher than before.
This would suit somebody who favours a high range of notes.

Does that all make sense?   (Please write to me if it doesn't)

So the questions are:

"What key should I sing THAT song in?"  
OR.. "What key should that song be in to suit me?"
NOT "What is MY key?"

By the way, some singers may observe that they appear to favour a particular key, but that has more to do with the tendency of publishers to print songs in certain ranges to favour the 'average voice' - bit complicated to explain further, but ask, me if you really want to know!!)

Over the years, a lot of beginner musicians have found themselves arriving at this page after doing Internet searches and looking for information on the theory of music, so I have created a page where I will be publishing some of the questions and my replies:
The 'Letters to Geoffrey' Page

This diagram is worth keeping. It may help explain a few concepts:
 PDF of this image