When I hear a song that immediately follows another one - like a DJ mix, the radio, or even on an album where the gap is very short - would it sound wrong if the 2 songs were slightly out of tune with each other?

I can see two possibilities:

1) Songs are always out of tune with each other and we are just very good at retuning our ears to the new one

  • or -

2) Musicians are very good at making sure their recordings are always perfectly tuned to a standard (rather than just to each other) and it would sound very odd indeed if I ever heard a segue that was out of tune.

I genuinely have no idea which of these is the case - if any!

EDIT: In response to a comment.

By tuning I mean the tuning of the instruments used in the recording - and hence the tuning that the vocalist will automatically adjust to.

For example, without using a tuning reference, I can tune a guitar to itself, making all 6 strings sound good together, whilst not necessarily being accurately tuned in a technical sense, where A is 440Hz.

If a bass player joins me, he can tune his bass slightly to match me; neither of us are "right", but no-one would know.

If a pianist joins us, that's different prospect; retuning his instrument is a massive undertaking - so we would retune the guitar and bass to match the piano.

My guess is that more recent music will be more likely to be tuned accurately due to the technology being used, but we still regularly hear music from the 80's and earlier - most of which could have been recorded "out of tune".

  • Can you specify your usage of the words tune, tuning? The purpose of mastering an album is to make sure that the album sounds a whole, levels are consistent etc...
    – Bebs
    Nov 29, 2019 at 8:33

1 Answer 1


Unless you're a rare person with perfect pitch, you'd be unlikely to even notice this, let alone be distressed by this. Most people only have "relative pitch" which means they compare a note solely to the notes around it, and not to any universal standard.

That does mean there will be a moment of disconnection at the transition point --but in actual fact, songs modulate keys all the time. It's not uncommon for a section to be in one key and another section in another (for example, the bridge in "Still Crazy After All These Years," or the constantly modulating key in "Love on Top"). So I would think that your #1 is more likely to be the case.

Would it make a difference if the songs were not just in different keys, but in incompatible tunings (i.e., a different A than 440)? I'm not basing this on much but my own judgement, but I don't think so --not after the first couple of notes. You can test this out for yourself with this video featuring the same song played in different tunings.

  • Logic says this is the correct answer - but I still would have thought there would be a moment of clash between the 2 songs that would be bad enough for us to remember it had happened, rather than just glossing over it after 2 seconds.
    – Lefty
    Dec 2, 2019 at 20:53
  • @Lefty Well, it's a testable theory, listen to this video and tell me what you think: youtube.com/watch?v=F_T5bnwDrY8 . Personally, I don't experience any real clash beyond the first note of the new pitch. The new key takes over pretty quickly. Dec 2, 2019 at 21:06
  • I have to say that having watched the video, for me, the switch do the new tuning does linger for a few seconds each time it happens. I wonder if this might be because it's the same piece of music - does that make it more difficult for my brain to accept the change? Incidentally, it's worth noting that the retune that happens from 440Hz to 430Hz is almost exactly as "bad" as it can be, since Ab is 415Hz (in normal tuning), so a half-semitone step between 415 and 440 would be 427Hz.
    – Lefty
    Dec 3, 2019 at 14:51
  • @Lefty Until I started researching this answer, I had no idea how much controversy there is over different tunings. Personally, I think it probably matters much less than antiphonal seating and that neither is as significant a tampering with the natural order as is instrument "tempering." Dec 3, 2019 at 17:04

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