Sax on the Web Forum banner

1 - 20 of 47 Posts

·
Registered
Joined
·
1,365 Posts
Discussion Starter #1
Heard the great classical guitarist John Williams describe
the key of 'A' as "cheerful" in reference to its choice for his
recording of George Harrison's 'Here Comes the Sun."
This was on the tube some years back and may not be
precisely correct but you get the point. Have heard
other, similar appraisals.

I don't hear this. All keys of a type are emotionally
equal to me. What do you hear?
 

·
Distinguished SOTW Member, Forum Contributor 2009-
Joined
·
2,759 Posts
Berlioz (among others) ascribed all sorts of characteristics to different keys, but, like rabbit, I'm afraid I don't hear much difference. Ornette Coleman once said that you could really get to people with a Db minor blues; sounds like any other minor blues to me. But I don't doubt that there are people who are atuned to this sort of thing.
 

·
Distinguished SOTW Member
Joined
·
13,018 Posts
I believe it has to do (in my experience as a violinist) with the way the plates of the stringed instrument are tuned. I did an arrangement of Faure's Pavanne Op. 50, for string quartet. In f minor it was nice, in g min it was nice, but in the original f# min is was almost ethereal the difference in the way it sounded. I did the 3 keys because F# min is nasty to play as a string player and was being considerate of future subs. We played all 3 versions and f# was a standout.

I have never experienced this with a wind or percussion instrument, but acoustic stringed instruments are very different from winds. This may account for the ambivalence at best to this theory.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
1,880 Posts
rabbit said:
I don't hear this. All keys of a type are emotionally
equal to me. What do you hear?
Oh man, this is a great topic.

As the key goes higher, the sound gets brighter. This is just plain physics where higher notes have higher frequency content.

But some keys do make me feel different. It's much more noticeable with wind instruments (like saxophone). The flat/sharp keys tend to be brighter and much more vibrant, e.g. Eb as opposed to D. Besides Eb being pitched higher than D, this has much to do with where the notes are relative to the 'breaks' or open note (C#) on the horn. This is why it takes more work to really "sing" in certain keys. Some keys it just happens. Other keys not so much.

Guitar is the same way with open strings. With piano it's more difficult to hear because there are no breaks. It slowly changes timbre as you go up or down the scale, not abruptly.

Another thing to consider is how so many songs are written in the common keys (thus they're called common), like concert C for instance. I do get bored of that key simply because I hear it all the time. Now go up a half step to Db...ahhhh! That's nice! D is boring, how about Eb? Ah, that's nice too!
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
680 Posts
Yes - great topic.
Ask Billy Strayhorn what the deal is with Db.
He wrote all those great tunes in Db for a reason.
Lush Life, Chelsea Bridge, Isfahan, others I can't think of now.. Body and Soul ( not by Strayhorn I know ) etc.
Ask a saxophonist (Johnny Hodges?) if Bb is a good key on alto..or Eb on tenor. Easy answer there.
It's subtle but it matters.
 
F

·
Guest
Joined
·
0 Posts
The flavours of the key signatures were described in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Here is a translation.

Also, this comes from Wikipedia:
Besides this though, the timbre of almost any instrument is not exactly the same for all notes played on that instrument. For this reason a song that might be in the key of C might sound or "feel" somewhat different (besides being in a different pitch) to an observer if it is transposed to the key of A. This effect is more pronounced on instruments like the piano where certain notes have more strings associated with them or a thicker string. However, it is observed that some musicians overstate this element, and in fact this is a joke in the movie This Is Spinal Tap where the guitarist, in response to a question about a particular piece, says that it is "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."
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
239 Posts
:cool: Mainly I play Alto and Tenor sax and can hear a little difference in the music when played in different keys. I have been playing the harmonica 40 years longer than I have played the sax and the difference in the music when played in different keys is really a stand out. Because of this, I own 14 harmonicas in different keys just to get the proper feeling into the music. How to put that into words is beyond my ageing brain. You just have to exsperiance it.:cool:
 

·
Distinguished Technician & SOTW Columnist. RIP, Yo
Joined
·
17,204 Posts
SaxyAcoustician said:
...Guitar is the same way with open strings. With piano it's more difficult to hear because there are no breaks. It slowly changes timbre as you go up or down the scale, not abruptly....
As I understand it, this is not true. There are timbre changes going down the piano when you change from undamped strings to damped ones, from 3 strings per note to 2 strings per note, from unwound strings to wound strings, from 2 strings per note to 1 string per note, from single wound to double wound.

A good "bass-string" (i.e the wound ones) maker for pianos takes these factors into consideration, and attempts to hide the transitions by adjusting the diameter of the core, the diameter of the winding wire, and the length of the string near the bridges that is not wound.

(I know an outstanding bass string maker, and made a lot of his string-winding machine.)
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
8,025 Posts
senior said:
:cool: Mainly I play Alto and Tenor sax and can hear a little difference in the music when played in different keys. I have been playing the harmonica 40 years longer than I have played the sax and the difference in the music when played in different keys is really a stand out. Because of this, I own 14 harmonicas in different keys just to get the proper feeling into the music. How to put that into words is beyond my ageing brain. You just have to exsperiance it.:cool:
I guess there are more keys in harmonica music than in Western music. 14?
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
1,567 Posts
FujairahMan said:
The flavours of the key signatures were described in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Here is a translation.

Thanks, I've been trying to find that list since hearing about the key attributes in theory class years ago.
 

·
Distinguished SOTW Member, Forum Contributor 2011
Joined
·
1,033 Posts
I'd certainly buy the idea of individual intruments doing things better in certain keys, but as to the theories that the keys themselves have particular emotional content - how does that take into account the downward drift in pitch since the 18th century? Eb then was closer to E now.
 

·
Forum Contributor 2008/Distinguished SOTW Member
Joined
·
3,295 Posts
As a result of a class I took at NEC I learned (truly learned) that not only do the different keys have differing colors, shapes, and feelings, but, that each individual note has a different shape, color, and feeling. The course was called "Aspects of Perfect Pitch" taught by Alla Cohen. Amazing stuff. I went in there as a complete skeptic (no way anyone can teach "perfect pitch"). I kid you not when I say it totally blew me away.
 

·
SOTW Administrator
Joined
·
26,204 Posts
Swampcabbage said:
As a result of a class I took at NEC I learned (truly learned) that not only do the different keys have differing colors, shapes, and feelings, but, that each individual note has a different shape, color, and feeling. The course was called "Aspects of Perfect Pitch" taught by Alla Cohen. Amazing stuff. I went in there as a complete skeptic (no way anyone can teach "perfect pitch"). I kid you not when I say it totally blew me away.
So, did you come away from the class with perfect pitch?

My personal experience with keys has to do with me noticing that all of my favorite Classical pieces are in Eb. Don't know why...
 

·
Forum Contributor 2015, SOTW Better late than neve
Joined
·
4,272 Posts
Interesting topic :)

One thing you are hearing when playing the same music in different keys is the effect pitch interval relevance to the waveform frequency. A tune that has an original key in "A" will have the effect of varied listen requirements when raised or lowered in pitch due to the relevant pitch of the highest and lowest interval note value frequency. So, for example, if the tonic is "A"= 440 in the original key, lowering the overall key will reduce the frequencies per second the ear has to listen for and process. Basically, you're slowing the tune down in terms of waveform per second time. Going higher is more fatiguing and/or exciting to the ear due to more information it has to process. This is partly the cause of why we loose higher end hearing first as we age. So there is an effect in how your ear perceives the sound. Add that to the needs of instrument arrangement mentioned earlier and you do get something different every time you change the key.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
337 Posts
princeganon said:
I believe it was the acclaimed composer, Nigel Tufnel, who found D minor to be "the saddest of all keys."
one of my favorite pieces by Mach. Lick My Love Pump.
 

·
SOTW Administrator
Joined
·
26,204 Posts
Tj--interesting theory. I'm not sure it would hold up under experimentation.

Our ears are more sensitive to the 'critical band' of frequencies from about 1KHz to 6KHz (depending on the size of your ear canal). It would seem to me that if the average frequency of tonal content is in this sensitive range, that is what would 'fatigue' our ears.

I think this is why an orchestra seems quieter than a rock band, even though they can emit approximately the same SPL. Something to measure anyway.

I'm not sure I buy into the 19th century notion that 'keys' have emotions. Rather, I agree with Carl that it is the different timbres created in the instruments in different keys.
 

·
Distinguished SOTW Member, & Forum Contributor 201
Joined
·
587 Posts
Carl H. said:
I believe it has to do (in my experience as a violinist) with the way the plates of the stringed instrument are tuned. I did an arrangement of Faure's Pavanne Op. 50, for string quartet. In f minor it was nice, in g min it was nice, but in the original f# min is was almost ethereal the difference in the way it sounded. I did the 3 keys because F# min is nasty to play as a string player and was being considerate of future subs. We played all 3 versions and f# was a standout.
So, wouldn't this imply that many compositions in minor keys for similar ensembles would sound better in F#m?
 

·
Distinguished SOTW Member, Forum Contributor 2015-
Joined
·
32,929 Posts
tjontheroad said:
Going higher is more fatiguing and/or exciting to the ear due to more information it has to process. This is partly the cause of why we loose higher end hearing first as we age.
Loss of higher frequency perception with age is due to the hardware (ear) wearing out, not due to the difficulty of processing the information (brain).

Or are you saying that we selectively lose high frequency sensitivity bacause we don't like it? :shock:
 
1 - 20 of 47 Posts
Top