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Different Key Characteristics (Read 5714 times)

Offline johannesbrahms

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Different Key Characteristics
« on: January 15, 2014, 02:45:10 PM »
Many people seem to think that different keys have different characteristics.  They tend to have certain emotions that they express than the other keys.  If you don't understand what I mean, look up Christian Schubart's list of musical key characteristics.  Then there are others who think this is nonsense.

What do you guys think about this?

Offline iansinclair

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Re: Different Key Characteristics
«Reply #1 on: January 15, 2014, 04:03:03 PM »
There are enough different ways to tune a piano to fill a book.  Or two or three, and the books are out there.  Very scholarly, some them are.

In theory, a piano tuned to perfectly even intervals between each note -- so that the frequency of each note is exactly 2 raised to the 1/12th power times the frequency of the note just below it (1.05946... times), for the mathematically inclined -- would show no difference between keys; they'd all sound the same, just transposed (which a few golden-eared folks might be able to hear).  However... the overall sounds would be dull and lifeless.

Most well-tuned pianos which I have played do seem to have different characteristics from key to key.  But... maybe I am fooling myself?

Ian

Offline kakeithewolf

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Re: Different Key Characteristics
«Reply #2 on: January 15, 2014, 04:50:50 PM »
To me, keys do seem to have near unavoidable characteristics. For the most part, when I choose keys for compositions, I refer to Schubart's Ideen zu einer Aesthetik der Tonkunst, though some mentions seem redundant due to them being enharmonic with another listed.

Whenever I write in certain keys (often ones containing all white keys or all black keys), melancholy seems next to impossible to exact from it. Then you have keys that happiness seems to be impossible to exact from it. Whether or not others may share anyone's particular views on a particular key, it seems like it's not entirely farfetched that keys have, in a sense, their own signature in the minds of people.
Per novitatem, artium est renascatur.

Finished with making music for quite a long time.

Offline faulty_damper

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Re: Different Key Characteristics
«Reply #3 on: January 19, 2014, 06:26:44 AM »
In equal temperament, there is no key characteristic; they sound all the same.  However, their relative characteristic does differ.

Here's the historical tuning temperament thread that affects the actual characteristics of the music.  It was quite eye-opening for me to hear things the way the past composers heard and composed for.
http://www.pianostreet.com/smf/index.php?topic=53574.0

Offline ted

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Re: Different Key Characteristics
«Reply #4 on: January 20, 2014, 12:41:27 AM »
Every now and then this question is asked on forums. As I cannot tell what key I am listening to, one is as good as another for me. The differing physical grips of keys, however, might possibly incline players to establish convenient mental collections of associated sound and movement, perhaps depending on pieces they had played in the past. Purely from my own experience, I find these physical differences have tended to disappear with age and improved technique. Nowadays, in improvisation at least, keys and key centres, if they occur at all, come and go spontaneously with no particular preference. Leafing through my old compositions, I find the keys of Db major and E major to occur quite frequently, although I haven't the faintest idea why.

I would expect people with absolute pitch to have more marked affinities, such as my old teacher, who had what amounted to an obsession with Db - the actual sound of it that is, not grips or mental associations.

"We're all bums when the wagon comes." - Waller

Offline g_s_223

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Re: Different Key Characteristics
«Reply #5 on: January 28, 2014, 11:08:38 PM »
One thing to bear in mind is that keyboard instruments are only one, although important, part of the whole gamut of Western musical instruments used in classical performance. On stringed instruments of the violin family, which are typically tuned in fifths C/G/D/A/E, music in keys closely related to those open strings will sound clear and bright. Similarly, string music in Eb minor, for instance, sounds distinctly dark due to the absence of those open string sounds. So, one might expect by a natural process of association that those impressions migrate to the context of keyboard music.

Another recognized association is that particular composers often had personal associations with specific keys, e.g. Liszt often picks F# Major for moments of strong spiritual elevation. This leads on to the topic of synaesthesia, which has been debated on this site from time to time...

Offline coda_colossale

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Re: Different Key Characteristics
«Reply #6 on: January 29, 2014, 12:46:13 AM »
Most definitely. I have both perfect pitch and chromesthesia (I don't think the former is required for the latter, but the other way around may be useful to obtain it.) But I don't agree with Scriabin's associations, could he be lying  :P ?
I can tell what key I'm listening to since I was like 4 or 5, and I have an obsession for G# minor, which is sadly a rarely used key, both in composing or in my music taste,with a few another favourites, and I can't find a single work written in some keys except preludes in my 20 gigabyte mp3 archive.
Also I think that music written for movies or documentaries are usually pretty correlated with the context of the thing, key-wise.
And Liszt was synaesthetic.

Offline michaeljames

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Re: Different Key Characteristics
«Reply #7 on: February 27, 2014, 08:09:38 PM »
All of the tuners I've employed throughout the years tune to an equal temperament.  Until my current (of the last 2 1/2 years) tuner extraordinaire!  He tunes with the same historical tuning that was used when Chopin was composing.  It was like magic the first time I experienced the piano under one of these tunings!  I'll never go back to an equal temperament. 

There is a local piano restorer who was asked to put a  "Baroque temperament" on a piano he restored for a Bach enthusiast.  He asked me to come out and play it.  YIKES!!! If not playing Bach, that particular tuning was horrific! 

I don't know how a person finds a capable, expert tuner, but it is so very worthwhile to find someone who tunes the way Dennis does.  The piano comes alive and I now have a full understanding/appreciation as to why the Master composed in different keys!!!

Offline lateromantic

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Re: Different Key Characteristics
«Reply #8 on: February 28, 2014, 03:32:10 PM »
In theory, a piano tuned to perfectly even intervals between each note -- so that the frequency of each note is exactly 2 raised to the 1/12th power times the frequency of the note just below it (1.05946... times), for the mathematically inclined -- would show no difference between keys; they'd all sound the same, just transposed (which a few golden-eared folks might be able to hear).  However... the overall sounds would be dull and lifeless.

Most well-tuned pianos which I have played do seem to have different characteristics from key to key.  But... maybe I am fooling myself?


I don't know.  Do you have perfect pitch?

If you have perfect pitch, then synesthesia is fully possible:  You may have extramusical associations for different keys, even though each key has the same internal mathematical ratios (including 2^(1/12) for every semitone).