Results 1 to 12 of 12

Thread: Choosing a key

  1. #1
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Sep 2011
    Posts
    107
    Post Thanks / Like

    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?

  2. #2
    Senior Member EdwardBast's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2013
    Posts
    3,760
    Post Thanks / Like
    Blog Entries
    8

    Default

    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.

    'Ere I am J.H., the ghost in the machine.

    Terry Gilliam, Brazil

  3. Likes Larkenfield liked this post
  4. #3
    Member
    Join Date
    May 2016
    Posts
    69
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default

    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.

  5. #4
    Member vsm's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2017
    Posts
    67
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default

    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
    Virtual Sheet Music
    https://www.virtualsheetmusic.com

  6. #5
    Senior Member Phil loves classical's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2017
    Location
    Ford Nation
    Posts
    3,186
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default

    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

  7. #6
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    May 2014
    Location
    Paradise, Montana ... on
    Posts
    1,923
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default

    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.)

  8. #7
    Junior Member
    Join Date
    Apr 2018
    Posts
    42
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by vsm View Post
    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.
    Interesting link. Bless their hearts back then for thinking their personal opinions were akin to objective fact. I think my favorite (in the sense of being so blatantly cultural/subjective) is this one:
    E minor: Naïve, womanly innocent declaration of love, lament without grumbling; sighs accompanied by few tears; this key speaks of the imminent hope of resolving in the pure happiness of C major.

  9. Likes ldiat liked this post
  10. #8
    Banned
    Join Date
    Jun 2018
    Location
    Dutchland
    Posts
    161
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default

    Make sure it has a key, else it won't sound good

  11. Likes ldiat, EddieRUKiddingVarese liked this post
  12. #9
    New Member
    Join Date
    Feb 2016
    Posts
    2
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default

    I usually find for instrumental music, I choose a key that allows the instruments to play in preferred ranges. (For singers, whatever they are comfortable with.) There are some audible differences in the sounds of different keys even on the piano. These are small effects though. First, the actual pitch may change if one transposes upward from C to D or C to A. A more subtle change (though I never found it important enough to worry about during composition) is that on a piano, one likes to keep the accompaniment in a nice range just below middle C (at least in some styles.) A change from C to D usually is just a move up. When changing from C to A, not only does the bass move up; the accompaniment may "fold over." A C-chord be played as E-G-C whereas when moved to A, the chord (not the bass) may be played as E-A-C keeping the chord in the same register.

  13. #10
    Member
    Join Date
    Jul 2018
    Posts
    83
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default

    There are the synaesthetic color theories.
    And personal emotional feel: i find E-flat to be soothing, relaxing; and D energetic, even spiky.

  14. #11
    Junior Member
    Join Date
    Jul 2018
    Posts
    12
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default

    depends a lot on the instrument too!

    a violin in D sounds way different than Eb, compared to a trumpet in D vs Eb. yes the keys have their own flavor, but it also has a lot to do with the harmonic structure of the instrument and how it resonates - as well as which scale degrees are more readily available depending on the key.

  15. #12
    Junior Member
    Join Date
    Aug 2018
    Posts
    34
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default

    I find on the piano, there are the emotional 5 keys and all other minors are equivalent to each other. Here are the emotional 5 and what I see happen, at least with simple music as I change the factors. And keep in mind that this is for natural minors only, harmonic, and especially melodic minors sound too Major to me(Like in the case of C melodic minor, the only minor chord out of I IV and V is I, so it sounds like it wants to resolve to C major but can't):

    D minor:
    Slow: Peaceful or Sad
    Fast: Happy
    Loud: no effect
    Soft: More likely to be Sad
    Octave lower: Mysterious
    Octave higher: Definitely peaceful

    G minor:
    Slow: Same as D minor
    Fast: Same as D minor
    Loud: Angry or Happy
    Soft: Same as D minor
    Octave change: Same as D minor

    C minor:
    Slow: Definitely sad unless in higher or lower octaves
    Fast: Happy unless it gets too loud
    Loud: Angry, like in the first movement of Beethoven's 5th symphony
    Soft: Reinforces sad feeling you get from it just being slow
    Octave change: Same as G minor

    F minor
    Slow: Sad
    Fast: Sad
    Loud: Sad
    Slow: Sad
    Octave change: same as C minor
    Polytonal with C minor: Feels the way C minor feels(So I have a C minor alberti bass that isn't too loud and an F minor melody, F minor sounds happy because the C minor is fast)

    Bb minor:
    Slow: Angry in octaves except for low octaves and very slow tempo, those low octaves and very slow tempo make Bb minor feel sad
    Fast: Angry
    Loud: Angry
    Soft: Angry
    Octave change: Feels more like C minor when high(in other words, it is easily variable), feels mysterious if the melody is in low octaves and not just the harmony

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •