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psychology of keys
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does key affect a song's mood?
yes
76%
 76%  [ 32 ]
no
23%
 23%  [ 10 ]
Total Votes : 42

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jazzclif



Joined: 02 Jan 2007
Posts: 153
Location: Colorado

PostPosted: Thu Mar 15, 2007 1:28 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Psychology of keys is a really interesting thing. First, on guitar keys do sound different because of the resonance of the instrument if for no other reason.

I always thought that the psychology of keys was something that individuals invested in according to their personalities, so there's probably no single correct position.

I'll have to say I sense a difference in playing different keys on guitar, so keys aren't exactly identical to me even though I'm generally a pretty pragmatic person. I read that George Van Eps sensed differences in keys too and he was a self described hard headed dutchman.

I know (electronically) a splendid guitarist in New York named Tony DeCaprio who incorporates the use of synaesthesia in teaching music. This is a bleed through of senses so that you can smell colors, taste sounds, hear temperature, or any other synaesthetic combination you can imagine. It's a real condition with lots of clinical histories, not something made up.

Tony has trained himself to identify tones this way and he has some success in teaching it as well. I know that his adult students have included people like Al DeMeola and Carlos Santana, so when he writes about this I take it seriously.

Clif
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Viper



Joined: 04 Oct 2005
Posts: 568
Location: Bristol, UK

PostPosted: Thu Mar 15, 2007 10:45 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I usually play Goodbye Porkpie Hat in Eb and it's a blues with a lot of altered chords.

I have heard that anthems and triumphal music were often in D and G because this was the natural key fo pre-valve trumpets, which feature strongly in such music.
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wildschwein



Joined: 30 Nov 2007
Posts: 70
Location: Mundaring Western Australia

PostPosted: Sat Dec 15, 2007 1:24 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I don't have perfect pitch but I have good relative pitch which I have developed over years of playing and practicing. Although with a guitar in hand I can find the key very quickly.

I tend to think that keys on guitar have their own thing going on and it's mainly due to the various timbres of different positions. Anything in the more "open" keys of A, G, D or E, be them major, minor or seventh, have a particular type of droning resonace and sweetness to them. The problem, however, is that this can make your music boring to an audience over a sustained period of time if you play a lot of pieces in these keys.

Maybe on an instrument like a piano there is less discrepancy between the keys as guitar is a more imperfect instrument in terms of timbre (Although there is also the whole argument about the imperfect nature of the Western diatonic system but that's another subject). A lot of the flat or less "open" keys on guitar don't resonate as sweetly, which can be a good thing in terms of mood contrast at a show.

Certainly on guitar I think of different keys as having different flavours and colours even if all the intervals are the same. To me F# minor sounds and feels different than E minor or D minor. It's subtle but the difference is mainy in the timbre which comes from the position of all the related notes. Certain things just ring out in different ways in different keys.
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wildschwein



Joined: 30 Nov 2007
Posts: 70
Location: Mundaring Western Australia

PostPosted: Mon Feb 04, 2008 4:02 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

hmh!!!
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burchyk



Joined: 29 Jun 2007
Posts: 30

PostPosted: Wed Mar 12, 2008 2:47 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I can't hear any difference between keys, sorry. I even had an argument with a music school director about that where he was trying to convince me (using a piano) that the same song played in a different key sounds different, but my ears/brain just refuse to hear anything beyond root chord tonic being higher or lower in the register. The teacher was trying to support his theory or whatever the difference he could hear using the temperment (sp?) imperfections something which might be the case in theory but in practice if you play me some tune that I know transposed just a half step I would not be able to tell... Now if we would use a guitar then I can feel a very subtle difference between keys but it might be just some sort of rudimentary absolute pitch, i wonder
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Last edited by burchyk on Fri Feb 04, 2011 4:28 am; edited 5 times in total
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wildschwein



Joined: 30 Nov 2007
Posts: 70
Location: Mundaring Western Australia

PostPosted: Fri Apr 25, 2008 5:02 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I think if you truly believed that keys make no difference, or are all the same you wouldn't bother playing songs in different keys at all. You could just transpose everything into C, A minor or G7 be them dim or aug etc and just play every show/performance like that. The only thing though is I'm sure your audience would fall asleep or leave. Pitch has a timbre and if you overuse it everything sounds the same. I'll admit that this conversation is devoid of things like rhythm, space and other factors that create difference in music but hearing the same pitches over and over again is boring in some regards - at least to my ears. I actually get annoyed if I hear 2 songs in a row if they are in the same key unless there is something that really differentiates them.

At the other extreme atonality can be annoying for some listeners 'cause there is no traditional/sentimental sense of resolution. I've always liked the sourness of atonality though - it has a particular social realism to it, as life is often about dissonance and a lack of resolution which doesn't match the fairytale bullshit expectations you were fed as kid.
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Viper



Joined: 04 Oct 2005
Posts: 568
Location: Bristol, UK

PostPosted: Mon Apr 28, 2008 9:13 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

In well tempered music the different keys will be out of tune in different ways so a keen ear might discern this. It might be also be true that that the dynamics of the harmonics (overtone sequence) could be affected between different notes in a natural scale.

So choice of key could produce subtle changes of colour in production of different notes. Hence the mind of the listener could come to associate keys with different musical characteristics. This might lead listeners to say statements like E min is more X than D min.
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jazzkat



Joined: 19 Jul 2008
Posts: 29
Location: The outer fringes of planet bebop! England

PostPosted: Tue Jul 22, 2008 9:14 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

An awful lot of this is discussed in classic/western art music.

I believe it comes from before tempered tuning was totally adopted. In this case certain keys would be more in tune or out of tune depending on the tuning of the instrument. All musical instrument tunings are a compromise, especially things like guitars and pianos. Look at the fuss the buzz feitin (spelling??) thing caused a few years ago. I am/was a brass player. On the larger brass instrument certain notes require several extra inches to compensate for intonation issues on some notes. Trumpet players use triggers to extend certain valve combinations.
This is also one of the reasons why brass players don't enjoy playing in sharper keys. Flat keys definately feel easier to blow in.

So in many ways people are correct in describing certain keys as having a sound. But I believe you would need ears like a bat to appreciate it. I think it is more to do with a learned response. If all the "sad" piano music is in Dm then when you hear Dm it will elicit that response in you because of your learnt response to that particular sound.
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MangoTango



Joined: 08 Sep 2008
Posts: 307
Location: UK

PostPosted: Thu Nov 13, 2008 3:22 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I dunno - if I got to the bandstand and all the charts were written in C#, that might inspire real feelings of sadness...... Wink
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jazzerchick



Joined: 31 Oct 2006
Posts: 968
Location: SanAntonio , Tx

PostPosted: Thu Nov 13, 2008 5:38 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Ha!

Maybe it's not the sound , but the number of #'s and b's that sets the mood.
I know I get depressed when I'm in B natural!
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john_kidder



Joined: 25 Jan 2010
Posts: 3
Location: Vancouver

PostPosted: Thu Feb 11, 2010 9:33 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

New member browsing, found this thread. Amazed that no-one cited ancient stuff like:
    C major Completely pure. Its character is: innocence, simplicity, naïvety, children's talk.
    C minor Declaration of love and at the same time the lament of unhappy love. All languishing, longing, sighing of the love-sick soul lies in this key.
    Db major A leering key, degenerating into grief and rapture. It cannot laugh, but it can smile; it cannot howl, but it can at least grimace its crying.--Consequently only unusual characters and feelings can be brought out in this key.
    D major The key of triumph, of Hallejuahs, of war-cries, of victory-rejoicing. Thus, the inviting symphonies, the marches, holiday songs and heaven-rejoicing choruses are set in this key.
    D minor Melancholy womanliness, the spleen and humours brood.
    D# minor Feelings of the anxiety of the soul's deepest distress, of brooding despair, of blackest depresssion, of the most gloomy condition of the soul. Every fear, every hesitation of the shuddering heart, breathes out of horrible D# minor. If ghosts could speak, their speech would approximate this key.
    Eb major The key of love, of devotion, of intimate conversation with God.
    E major Noisy shouts of joy, laughing pleasure and not yet complete, full delight lies in E Major.
    F major Complaisance & calm.
    F minor Deep depression, funereal lament, groans of misery and longing for the grave.
    F# major Triumph over difficulty, free sigh of relief utered when hurdles are surmounted; echo of a soul which has fiercely struggled and finally conquered lies in all uses of this key.
    F# minor A gloomy key: it tugs at passion as a dog biting a dress. Resentment and discontent are its language.
    G major Everything rustic, idyllic and lyrical, every calm and satisfied passion, every tender gratitude for true friendship and faithful love,--in a word every gentle and peaceful emotion of the heart is correctly expressed by this key.
    G minor Discontent, uneasiness, worry about a failed scheme; bad-tempered gnashing of teeth; in a word: resentment and dislike.
    Ab major Key of the grave. Death, grave, putrefaction, judgment, eternity lie in its radius.
    Ab minor Grumbler, heart squeezed until it suffocates; wailing lament, difficult struggle; in a word, the color of this key is everything struggling with difficulty.
    A major This key includes declarations of innocent love, satisfaction with one's state of affairs; hope of seeing one's beloved again when parting; youthful cheerfulness and trust in God.
    A minor Pious womanliness and tenderness of character.
    Bb major Cheerful love, clear conscience, hope aspiration for a better world.
    Bb minor A quaint creature, often dressed in the garment of night. It is somewhat surly and very seldom takes on a pleasant countenance. Mocking God and the world; discontented with itself and with everything; preparation for suicide sounds in this key.
    B major Strongly coloured, announcing wild passions, composed from the most glaring coulors. Anger, rage, jealousy, fury, despair and every burden of the heart lies in its sphere.
    B minor This is as it were the key of patience, of calm awaiting ones's fate and of submission to divine dispensation.

from: Christian Schubart's Ideen zu einer Aesthetik der Tonkunst (1806) translated by Rita Steblin in A History of Key Characteristics in the 18th and Early 19th Centuries. UMI Research Press (1983). Here
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