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Thread: Choosing a key

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    Default Choosing a key

    Among D Minor, G Minor, C Minor, or F Minor, how would you describe the differences in sound that would help a composer choose one of these keys?

    What would make a composer choose F# Minor instead of a minor key with flats, or vice versa?

    Eb Major and D Major are both for powerful, even exalted music. Again, how would a composer choose?

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    Senior Member EdwardBast's Avatar
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    You mean a composer today writing a tonal piece? Or are you thinking of an earlier era and historical practices?

    One answer, I think the best one, would be: Don't start out choosing a key. Compose ideas in whatever key they occur, ideally with the instruments that will play them in mind, hear where they want to go and where they naturally come to a resolution. Let the main ideas choose the key.

    The vagaries of instrumentation can influence decisions about keys. Do important passages benefit from the use of open strings? Is there a big melody that has to fit into a particular range of a wind instrument?

    As for the character of Eb and D major: These are just conventions based on previous pieces, long ago influenced by their suitability for brass instruments and other factors that aren't necessarily relevant anymore.

    Why are they so sick and ridiculous, Dannie?
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    In a world of equal temperament, IMO all major (minor) keys are equivalent. I.e., it makes no difference whether it is G major or F major. Some folks feel higher keys (e.g., say E minor vs B minor) convey a different emotion, but I'm not so sure. The only consideration in picking a key I believe is to do with the nature of the parts (vocal, violin, piano, etc.) so they operate in their best range.

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    Member vsm's Avatar
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    There is actually some truth on choosing the right key to give different "feelings" and "characters" to music (of course if you plan to compose a tonal piece).

    Composers have always chosen a key according to the "tone" and "feeling" they wanted to instill in their music. For example, it hasn't been a random choice for Beethoven to choose the key of F to compose his famous Pastorale symphony. You can find it in several books about Beethoven, he chose that key because it express mostly "calm" and "tranquillity", a compelling character of that particular symphony.

    It is possible there is an "acoustic" explanation of that involving harmonics and what they trigger in our brains... a very deep subject to explore.

    Here is an interesting page which gives you an idea of what I am talking about:

    http://www.wmich.edu/mus-theo/courses/keys.html


    Maybe it is mostly speculation and "tradition", but I guess there is some physical and objective truth to it.
    Fabrizio Ferrari, supervisor
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    Senior Member Phil loves classical's Avatar
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    Like Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto's main theme has a certain higher range which keep the listener on the edge of the seat, it is possible to exploit certain timbre ranges which work better on some keys than others.
    "Forgive me, Majesty. I'm a vulgar man. But I assure you, my music is not.“ Mozart

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    I recall reading somewhere -- maybe on this very Forum, maybe on another Forum, maybe in a text on music (I no longer recall where) -- someone suggesting that one attempt to play the opening movement of Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 14 "Quasi una fantasia", Op. 27, No. 2 in any other key than C♯ minor -- perhaps lifting it up a half-step to D minor or down a half-step to C minor -- and listen for the sense the music gives in that other key. It was the writer's contention that the music loses it's very essence when it is placed outside of C♯ minor. Hmm.

    Perhaps those of you with a piano handy and hands handy enough to play the sonata attempt the experiment and see what you think. You might post back here your reactions.

    Me? The only key I really care about is the one that starts my old Jeep, which is the same one I have a harder and harder time each day keeping track of where I put it. Alas ....

    Well ... if I can't drive off to anywhere, I suppose I can stay home and listen to more music. (I sometimes wonder if someone is deliberately hiding those keys.)

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