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The Trombone ForumCreation and PerformanceMusical Miscellany(Moderators: JP, BGuttman) composing in various keys - emotional effects?
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Mahlerbone

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« on: Apr 13, 2006, 02:33PM »

Do composers have reasons for composing in various keys?  Do they experience different emotional and psychological effects?  For example, why did Beethoven compose his "Moonlight" Sonata in C#, and his 7th Symphony in A major?  And why is Mahler's 6th Symphony in A minor, and Shostakovich's "Festive Overture" in Ab?

I was reading some other forum, and this kid asked why all music isn't composed in C major, because C major is the "easiest" (no accidentals).  But it got me thinking.  Obviously, music would be very dull if all of it was in the same key.  

Also, I once read something where an expert on perfect pitch said that he felt that Eb major was mellow and relaxing, yet Gb major felt uncomfortable.  That's interesting, because I have perfect pitch, and I feel the same way.
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Brisko

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« Reply #1 on: Apr 13, 2006, 02:43PM »

Well, the emotional aspect is open discussion.

Certainly, different keys sound different.  I don't have perfect pitch, but if I take something I am familiar with and transpose it to a different key, it sounds much different, to my ears.

I write things in whatever key sounds the best to me.  And usually, when I'm hearing something in my head, it ends up being quite key specific, even though I don't have the perfect pitch to tell me what that key is.  That I only find out when I sit down at the horn, the piano, or Finale.
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« Reply #2 on: Apr 13, 2006, 02:45PM »

Quote from: "Mahlerbone"
Eb major was mellow and relaxing, yet Gb major felt uncomfortable.


Of course Gb is uncomfortable.  5th position!!!

I don't buy that one key is aurally different from any other, at least in an idealized world.  Would Gb-high pitch still feel uncomfortable?  I think that any difference we perceive has to do with instrument construction and pedagogy.  Gb is harder on most brass instruments because of the less-used slide positions (and with the valvers, more notes require valve combinations, which affect the pitch or timbre). Other keys probably have similar effects on the string or WW instruments.

Vocalists... I dunno.
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BFW
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« Reply #3 on: Apr 13, 2006, 02:46PM »

Interesting question.

There are effects of how the music in different keys fits in the range of instruments, and how comfortable they are to play.  In equal temperament, I think there isn't much absolute difference.  Much music was written for various unequal temperament tunings, which did have rather significant characters for the various keys.

I do think that some people (e.g. Mahlerbone!) have different sensations for the different keys; Schubert, I think, had colors.

If you're going to compare, it's not enough to play the same music in two keys, because then you get effects of range differences.  You have to play two pieces with roughly the same absolute range and roughly the same musical character, but in two different keys.
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« Reply #4 on: Apr 13, 2006, 02:51PM »

Quote from: "This Is Spinal Tap"
Marty DiBergi: It's very pretty.
Nigel Tufnel: Yeah, I've been fooling around with it for a few months.
Marty DiBergi: It's a bit of a departure from what you normally play.
Nigel Tufnel: It's part of a trilogy, a musical trilogy I'm working on in D minor which is the saddest of all keys, I find. People weep instantly when they hear it, and I don't know why.
Marty DiBergi: It's very nice.
Nigel Tufnel: You know, just simple lines intertwining, you know, very much like - I'm really influenced by Mozart and Bach, and it's sort of in between those, really. It's like a Mach piece, really. It's sort of...
Marty DiBergi: What do you call this?
Nigel Tufnel: Well, this piece is called "Lick My Love Pump".

Practically speaking, I think keys can be a function of range (where a high or low note of the piece sits) and contrast (ending up in key of G# because of it's relationship to an initial key of E, let's say). Creatively, there are other reasons and theories. Most people are in agreement that D minor is the saddest of all keys, though.
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« Reply #5 on: Apr 13, 2006, 06:27PM »

yes... see this string? i play this string alot...

love that spinal tap...

but seriously... look into the composer SCRIABIN... some fine theories about keys and colours and moods and light...

justin
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prototypedenNIS
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« Reply #6 on: Apr 13, 2006, 07:39PM »

Emotiuonal attachment to keys and pitch is only a cultural artefact conjured by our perceptions of music, prevously defined by what we've heard.

This is only caused by how we introduce music to humans.  One can be trained to like tritones, for example.
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« Reply #7 on: Apr 13, 2006, 07:50PM »

Ah yes... Spinal tap.

"D Minor is the saddest Key"
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« Reply #8 on: Apr 14, 2006, 04:40PM »

In the past month I've heard 2 people refer to F as the Key of Love.
I never heard that before - in 28 years.
Has anyone else?
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Brian Santero

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« Reply #9 on: Apr 14, 2006, 07:35PM »

Interesting trivia: The "ohm" used in Indian meditation should be based on C# (not Db (they are different). C# has a certain resonance in the nervous system that is very relaxing yet clearing.

Ever play a pitch on trombone and notice something resonant in your room like a music stand or other metallic object?

Ever use an electric toothbrush and notice it gets instantly louder when you put it to your teeth?

Your head is a resonance chamber, it resonates to certain pitches better. A reason why chromatic fundamentals sound muddy: your head to resonating to very very very close harmonics. You might be hearing the entire chromatic scale at extremely high frequencies (8,000 khz+) over the length of four chromatic fundamentals.

There have been studies about music and resonances in the body. Mozart wrote in d minor a lot because he worked extremely in it and it always seemed to have a profound working on the listener's ears.

Recommended Read: Superlearning 2000. There's a couple chapters in it about the resonances of pitches in the body.

If being a pro musician never worked out, I would definitely look into something in audio resonance.
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Brian Santero

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« Reply #10 on: Apr 15, 2006, 01:28PM »

Gosh, I hate it when I kill interesting topics.
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prototypedenNIS
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« Reply #11 on: Apr 16, 2006, 04:33PM »

there is a great effect when you compose a piece in B major and put it in front of a high school band...
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denNIS
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« Reply #12 on: Apr 16, 2006, 05:44PM »

Quote from: "prototypedenNIS"
there is a great effect when you compose a piece in B major and put it in front of a high school band...


LOL. Fog horns? Cows? Pigs?

A band director who does that needs to be shot, or...if they're willing to spend a few months on telling each section how many sharps they've missed, good luck.
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BFW
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« Reply #13 on: Apr 16, 2006, 05:50PM »

Seriously, that's one of the reasons people pick keys: because they can be played easily on the instruments required.
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AdamK

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« Reply #14 on: Apr 16, 2006, 06:52PM »

As I composer, I've noticed you can convey different moods through key based on how you know the musicians will react. There's a segment in one of my pieces that I want to feel very uncomfortable, so I put it in Ab minor. If I want something to feel free and easy, I'll usually put it in F major or Bb major.
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« Reply #15 on: Apr 16, 2006, 07:17PM »

Quote from: "prototypedenNIS"
Emotiuonal attachment to keys and pitch is only a cultural artefact conjured by our perceptions of music, prevously defined by what we've heard.

This is only caused by how we introduce music to humans.  One can be trained to like tritones, for example.

Exactly.  And with most winds pitched around the Bb, C, or Eb scales we become comfortable applying small intonation adjustments to really bring the music into tune (just intonation) in the more common keys.  The only reasons the other keys would sound different are:

a) because the musicians aren't as comfortable tuning up those less common keys, or

b) those keys put the instruments into a stretch part of their range.
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Mahlerbone

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« Reply #16 on: Apr 17, 2006, 10:21AM »

Quote from: "prototypedenNIS"
there is a great effect when you compose a piece in B major and put it in front of a high school band...


There's kids in high school that can solve complicated calculus formulas.  Yet, these same kids can't play a piece of music in B major?   Expectations among us musicians these days are so low.
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« Reply #17 on: Apr 17, 2006, 10:32AM »

Quote from: "BFW"
Seriously, that's one of the reasons people pick keys: because they can be played easily on the instruments required.

Often true when playing trombone with church guitarists ... most of the tunes are in E major. Any Bb parts (trumpet, tenor sax, etc.) end up playing in F# major. Oh yea, and since tunes often spend time in the dominant key, you end up playing a lot of stuff in B major (C# major for the Bb instruments  Eeek!  ) !!!
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prototypedenNIS
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« Reply #18 on: Apr 17, 2006, 02:40PM »

Quote from: "Mahlerbone"
Quote from: "prototypedenNIS"
there is a great effect when you compose a piece in B major and put it in front of a high school band...
There's kids in high school that can solve complicated calculus formulas.  Yet, these same kids can't play a piece of music in B major?   Expectations among us musicians these days are so low.


Not everyone in a school band necessarily wants to put that kind of effort in... that's where the problem is.
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« Reply #19 on: Apr 17, 2006, 05:04PM »

I think that B major is one of the prettiest keys to play on trombone. Play a tune in C, play the same tune in Bb, then play it in B. Beautiful tones, especially on bass trombone.
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