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How much difference does the Key make?

RTim 08 Mar 08 - 10:48 AM
Skivee 08 Mar 08 - 11:07 AM
Bert 08 Mar 08 - 11:10 AM
Richard Bridge 08 Mar 08 - 11:32 AM
kendall 08 Mar 08 - 12:12 PM
Leadfingers 08 Mar 08 - 12:14 PM
Suegorgeous 08 Mar 08 - 01:18 PM
RTim 08 Mar 08 - 01:54 PM
Jon Bartlett 08 Mar 08 - 01:59 PM
The Mole Catcher's Apprentice (inactive) 08 Mar 08 - 02:04 PM
Stringsinger 08 Mar 08 - 02:21 PM
kendall 08 Mar 08 - 02:22 PM
Suegorgeous 08 Mar 08 - 02:38 PM
Suegorgeous 08 Mar 08 - 02:40 PM
The Mole Catcher's Apprentice (inactive) 08 Mar 08 - 02:44 PM
Marje 08 Mar 08 - 03:07 PM
The Mole Catcher's Apprentice (inactive) 08 Mar 08 - 03:15 PM
RTim 08 Mar 08 - 03:34 PM
Don Firth 08 Mar 08 - 04:19 PM
Suegorgeous 08 Mar 08 - 05:54 PM
GUEST,Chicken Charlie 08 Mar 08 - 06:06 PM
Tattie Bogle 08 Mar 08 - 06:44 PM
GUEST,Chicken Charlie 08 Mar 08 - 06:52 PM
GUEST,leeneia 08 Mar 08 - 11:44 PM
GUEST,.gargoyle 09 Mar 08 - 01:02 AM
GUEST,.gargoyle 09 Mar 08 - 01:12 AM
GUEST,.gargoyle 09 Mar 08 - 01:15 AM
GUEST,.gargoyle 09 Mar 08 - 01:22 AM
GUEST,.gargoyle 09 Mar 08 - 01:26 AM
Janie 09 Mar 08 - 01:38 AM
Backwoodsman 09 Mar 08 - 03:06 AM
eddie1 09 Mar 08 - 05:24 AM
Rockhen 09 Mar 08 - 07:01 AM
Backwoodsman 09 Mar 08 - 07:29 AM
Mr Happy 09 Mar 08 - 07:37 AM
The Fooles Troupe 09 Mar 08 - 08:42 AM
GUEST,tony geen 09 Mar 08 - 08:44 AM
Marje 09 Mar 08 - 08:44 AM
The Fooles Troupe 09 Mar 08 - 08:46 AM
The Fooles Troupe 09 Mar 08 - 08:49 AM
The Fooles Troupe 09 Mar 08 - 08:56 AM
Jack Campin 09 Mar 08 - 09:43 AM
Backwoodsman 09 Mar 08 - 10:39 AM
Big Al Whittle 09 Mar 08 - 11:32 AM
Don Firth 09 Mar 08 - 02:27 PM
Newport Boy 09 Mar 08 - 04:51 PM
Suegorgeous 09 Mar 08 - 04:57 PM
Richard Bridge 09 Mar 08 - 05:29 PM
Jack Campin 09 Mar 08 - 07:00 PM
Newport Boy 10 Mar 08 - 04:43 AM
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Subject: How much difference does the Key make?
From: RTim
Date: 08 Mar 08 - 10:48 AM

How much difference does the Key make?

When singing a song or playing a tune, how much difference to the performance does the Key you use make?

When songs and tunes were collected from Traditional performers at the time of Sharp, Gardiner, Hammond et al, the collectors wrote the tunes out in notation in particular keys.
We do not know that this was the EXACT key the source played or sung in, it could have been what the collector preferred, etc..
Also, it is possible that the singers (in particular) did not ALWAYS sing in the same key; it is less likely that musicians changed keys, i.e. did Harry Cox always perform songs in the same key?

Do we learn anything about the singer or the song by knowing the original Key?
Does it matter if it is changed?
Does changing the Key also change the song?

Tim Radford


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: Skivee
Date: 08 Mar 08 - 11:07 AM

To my mind there are few reasons that a song must be in a particular key. You might play a nonchromatic instrument and transposition is not possible. Or if a tune of a song is wide ranging, the choice of key becomes important.
An example of the second is The Star Spangled Banner. Common arrangements for bands frequently pitch the song at a point that only Uma Sumac could sing.
You will frequently see arrangements of folk songs in books that are pitched by the publishers arrangers into weird keys (F#m, for instance) that have nothing to singability. I think of this as part of the "Hal Leonard Effect", when a publishers claims (lamely) that any change whatever to a song make the WHOLE WORK rather than just the printed presentation as copyright protected. The claim is then made that any use of the song in F#m must certainly have originated with the publishers version.


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: Bert
Date: 08 Mar 08 - 11:10 AM

A semitone ;-)


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 08 Mar 08 - 11:32 AM

Depends on the clock.

But seriously, I's say it's only a matter of pitching it where the instruments can play it (or not, I do a number in F sharp-ish) and the singer can sing it best.

When my late wife was alive and we were trying to arrange songs so that they would work on guitar and recorder and fit both voices there was more than one occasion when we went all the way round the octave and still were not happy!


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: kendall
Date: 08 Mar 08 - 12:12 PM

Now that I am no longer able to sing, I just play guitar while Jacqui sings. When we are doing one that I used to do, I often have to transpose it into a higher key simply because she can not sing in my old key. If it's a simple transposition, G to A or B, I can just clamp on a capo and use the same chord finger pattern.

Quite often, when I have to play in a different key, I lose the old finger pattern and have to re learn the picking part.

It has never mattered to me what key someone else sang in, I had to sing it in my key, and that meant transposing.That brings up something else, that is,I don't have a key, as such. It depends on where it is comfortable for me to sing it, so I know songs in every key from A to G and all the flats, sharps and minors in between. I can't get my head around the idea of having a key that I sing in.


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: Leadfingers
Date: 08 Mar 08 - 12:14 PM

A LOT of singers with excellent delivery and voice may have a limited range available - So IF a song covers a wide range , sometimes a difference of a semitone may render a song uncomfortable ,or even impossible to sing !
IF you want to play Ashokan Farewell on a whistle in the key of D , it is neccessary to play on a G whistle in One Sharp (Concert D is G wgistle A )to avoid octave jumps !


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: Suegorgeous
Date: 08 Mar 08 - 01:18 PM

Agreeing a key that both I can sing in and my band can play has been the bane of my life in the past. There've even been one or two songs where the guitarist has stubbornly refused point blank to do it because he can't/won't play it in the key I can sing in comfortably.

My recent cunning plan is to work out with my vocal teacher the key(s) I can do a new song in, and present it with it/them, rather than work out the key with the band as I used to do... just can't be bothered with all those arguments!

Sue


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: RTim
Date: 08 Mar 08 - 01:54 PM

Suegorgeous Says:
"Agreeing a key that both I can sing in and my band can play has been the bane of my life in the past. There've even been one or two songs where the guitarist has stubbornly refused point blank to do it because he can't/won't play it in the key I can sing in comfortably."

This is the main reason I took to singing solo unaccompanied!!

Tim Radford


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: Jon Bartlett
Date: 08 Mar 08 - 01:59 PM

Does the key change the "character" - "flavour" - "feel" - of a song, though? I'm in two minds here. I'm also thinking of the ancients' notions of the modes - "lascivious" is one that springs to mind.

Jon Bartlett


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: The Mole Catcher's Apprentice (inactive)
Date: 08 Mar 08 - 02:04 PM

"he can't/won't play it in the key..."

if he can't, he should learn, if he won't, he should find another gig.

Charlotte (still learning on Ma and Pa's piano stool)


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: Stringsinger
Date: 08 Mar 08 - 02:21 PM

For a singer, all the difference. Certain keys bring out specific frequencies in the voice.

For guitar players who are folkies, open-string keys make the difference unless
capos are used.

Some synesthetic people associate keys with colors. They make a visual distinction.
Many were well-known composers.

For some instruments, such as brass, flat keys are generally preferred (concert, not
transposed) and for strings, sharp keys. Depending on the range of the instrument
plus its frequency response, the key does affect this.

Frank Hamilton


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: kendall
Date: 08 Mar 08 - 02:22 PM

Right on Mole catcher. There is nothing more irritating than a Prima Donna in a band.

Definition of band:
A group of musicians, each of them convinced that the others are holding them back.


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: Suegorgeous
Date: 08 Mar 08 - 02:38 PM

Charlotte

Yes, that's been suggested to me before! unfortunately (or fortunately for 99% of the time), he's a brilliant guitarist. And (just to offset my complaint), the head tutor at a folk study week that I went to last year told me that some keys can be tricky/awkward for both guitarists and fiddlers, though he still agreed that the singer should ultimately set the key.

I'm hoping my solution in my above post will maximise the chances of us finding a key we're all happy with and minimise the squabbles...

Sue


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: Suegorgeous
Date: 08 Mar 08 - 02:40 PM

Tim - you've had a stubborn guitarist too?? :) do say more!!! (it's a lonely life being the singer, when faced with rebellious musos)

Sue


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: The Mole Catcher's Apprentice (inactive)
Date: 08 Mar 08 - 02:44 PM

"rebellious musos"

off with their heads I say!!

Charlotte (currently reading Alice in Wonderland)


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: Marje
Date: 08 Mar 08 - 03:07 PM

To get back to the (very interesting) questions in the original post: I think it unlikely that traditional singers always used the same key for a given song if they were singing unaccompanied. This would entail having perfect pitch, which not many people have, or else having an instrument or pitch pipe to give them the starting note or key.

I know Bob Copper used to have a tuning fork to set the pitch for their family songs, but I don't know how long this has been the habit in the family. I'd guess that most singers who sang in pubs or private homes didn't use a tuning device, and just plucked a note out of the air.

It's important for a singer to find the right key for each song - but this means the right key for the singer too. Songs with a big range will leave you either screeching or growling unless you get it right. A different singer may require a different key to sing the same song comfortably. It's even more crucial for harmony groups, as the total range covered is likely to be greater, and one part can easily get squeezed out at the top or the bottom if the key isn't right.

I wouldn't be at all surprised it Sharp et al didn't transpose the songs to a key that was easier to notate or to write a piano accompaniment for. And no, I don't think it changes to song that much if you alter the key. It's the same song - Happy Birthday is always the recognisably the same no matter what key it's sung in.

If instruments are chosen to accompany the song, then that's what they should do. The singer's key preference should be respected, as voices don't come with capos (alas). If the instrument can't play in a key that suits the voice, then it's the wrong instrument for this particular singer and song combination.

Marje


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: The Mole Catcher's Apprentice (inactive)
Date: 08 Mar 08 - 03:15 PM

"To get back to the (very interesting) questions in the original post: "
a serious musician obviously.. *LOL*

"I'd say it's only a matter of pitching it where the instruments can play it and the singer can sing it best."

there it is right there perfectly, it works for me

oh and the key is important...get's me through the front door og my house (I'll get my coat)

Charlotte (sometimes serious, sometimes not_


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: RTim
Date: 08 Mar 08 - 03:34 PM

My motives for asking the original question has to do with the project/CD I am working on at present.
I am going to record a large proportion of a particular singers collected repertoise, and there are also going to be instrumental versions of the some of his other songs interleaving the unaccompanied vocals.
Because the source is one particular singer (who has been long dead and we have no examples of him singing) I was wondering how different the songs maybe in different keys. Even though I don't feel there is a difference when I sing them.

Tim Radford


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: Don Firth
Date: 08 Mar 08 - 04:19 PM

I have heard some musicians of the classical persuasion say things like "D major has a bright sound compared to other keys," or "G major is a very serious sounding key." Maybe I'm missing a few neurons in my auditory centers, but I think this is more a subjective feeling than an inherent quality of a particular family of notes and harmonies.

Specific instruments have their own characteristics. Woodwinds and brass instruments are easier to play in flat keys. Strings are easier in sharp keys. This may not affect their sound that much, but it can have the musician either smiling contentedly or muttering ominously. I have heard some singers, particularly pop or jazz singers, say things like "my key is Bb," as if their voice is locked into that key and can operate in no other. That kind of thinking strikes me as perhaps a bit of pomposity growing out of ignorance of both music and the characteristics of the human voice. A particular song, perhaps, but their voice? For all songs? I don't think so.

Although I can vocalize a couple of octaves, and on a clear day, a bit beyond, the extremes of my range can get pretty uncomfortable to sing in, and don't necessarily sound all that good when I do, so I like to keep things in a fairly comfortable range for a couple of reasons. A song like "The Golden Vanity" has a range of an octave and a fourth. I do that in the key of G, which takes it from a low G (easy for me) up to a C (starting to verge on the uncomfortable). Also in the key of G, I can get a pretty nice guitar arrangement for it. I would actually prefer to do it a step or half-step lower (F of F#, but those are monster keys to play in on the guitar and I can't get anywhere near as good accompaniment (bloody bar chords almost all the way!). I would need to capo up to the 3rd or 4th fret and work out an accompaniment using the D cycle of chords. It works, but the arrangement isn't quite as good as the one I can in G.

This has nothing to do with the characteristics of the keys themselves. It has to do with the interplay between the characteristics of my voice and the characteristics of the guitar. Richard Dyer-Bennet, for example, with his light tenor voice, sings it in the key of C, and that works well for him.

Don Firth

P. S. Operatic arias and many art songs are usually set in specified keys because the composer wrote the songs with that particular voice type in mind. That constriction, obviously, doesn't apply to folk songs.


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: Suegorgeous
Date: 08 Mar 08 - 05:54 PM

Don - sounds very reasonable to me! and to most musicians and singers, I imagine! :)


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: GUEST,Chicken Charlie
Date: 08 Mar 08 - 06:06 PM

There are two factors that arise when I'm trying to figure out what key we're going to use for a given song. The obvious one is "can I sing it starting on that pitch, or is it too high/low?"

Another one is, "Are we trying to incorporate any instrument that has limited coverage as far as keys?" Lap dulcimer, hammer dulcimer, autoharp, harmonica, are all "challenged" to greater or lesser degrees in this area, so sometimes a compromise is necessary.

There are then two more factors that don't affect the key you play in, but do affect which form you use after you decide on the key. This may be a personal eccentricity, but I have two guitars which I think sound better capoed a couple frets up than they do open, so if I sing in D, I'll capo at 2 and use C forms.

The other part of the "what forms?" question is how I want the melody to sound against the background. (I fingerpick a lot.) Yes, a person should be able to pick out a melody in any of the common major keys, but at least if you're stuck in first position, you might have a "baritone" or "alto" sounding melody that's easy to finger but is mainly on the bottom or middle strings. Melodies played on C or E chords, in my experience, tend to be up on the higher strings, so there again, if I'm playing a song in G and I want the melody to be up toward the "high lonesome" range, I'll capo up and use C forms. I'm still in G, so that's not really a change of KEY, but it's a logical consequence of deciding on a key.

I suppose I've said enough to say too much, so I'll go to my room now.

CC


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: Tattie Bogle
Date: 08 Mar 08 - 06:44 PM

For instrumentals there are definitely "Brighter keys": a common progression in a set of tunes is from G to D to A.(all major) Not sure of the theory of it: something to do with harmonics? But can certainly sense it.
As far as singing goes, if I'm singing unaccompanied, I don't use any tuning device to decide start note. I have a fair sense of pitch if not "perfect pitch". If the song has a wide range, I "sing in my head" the highest and the lowest note in the song to determine where I should start, which usually works.
Session musicians who try to accompany complain that most of the women sing in either A flat or B flat: no probs for a capo-able instrument, but not so good for fixed pitch instruments!


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: GUEST,Chicken Charlie
Date: 08 Mar 08 - 06:52 PM

Having re-read previous posts, I see I managed not to answer the original questions. No, Tim, I don't think we learn anything meaningful about the song or the singer by knowing what key the original was in. No, changing the key, IMO, does not change the song. The reason it "matters" if you change the key is not that I will call the Key Police if I learn you have, but it's the most commonsense reason: I can't sing "Jeannie" in the key Foster wrote it in without my voice breaking. So I have to either forego singing it, make my audience uncomfortable or change the key.

I do think, now that I think of it, that one should not perform too many songs in the same key in a row. In some opinions, it bores the audience.

Plato somewhere--I have to look it up--said there were some modes that he didn't think should ever be sung in. They were immoral, and civilization would collapse if they were used. But that's modes, and you can't change from one mode to another without changing the intervals in the melody--you CAN change keys and not change intervals.

Chicken Charlie, who hopes he did better this time. :)


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 08 Mar 08 - 11:44 PM

True story.

I have two friends who are very into piano. One, whom I shall call A, started at age five and is still taking lessons at age 52. The other, B, plays and tunes. I'm talking serious music here, where the pages are black with notes.

One day they had an argument. A said that different keys sound different. B said that because of the mathematical averaging of equal temperament, they all so the same. So they did a test.

A went into the kitchen where she could hear but not see the keyboard. B played the same music in different keys. To B's surprise, A could tell when the key being used involved more black notes. A says that the more black notes there are in a key, the more it 'chimes.'

I agree.

For folkies, who usually play in C, D, or G, this won't be a factor. However, it certainly seems to be true that the more black notes you have, the more the piece chimes or jingles. I think most people would perceive the blacker keys as sweeter.

Let us do an experiment - play the same tune in C and in E and see if you hear a difference. The world awaits your reports, 'catters. If you can't do E, use A.


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: GUEST,.gargoyle
Date: 09 Mar 08 - 01:02 AM

LEENEIA -

Thank you for your contribution and insight.

I am a keyboard player.

There is soooo much on to say.....and sooo many "arguments" on this topic throughout the years.

My distilled beliefs:
1. The VOCALIST is ALWAYS right
2. Musician Accompanists should be able to transpose to any Vocalist
3. The "foundation" of "western tonality" is I,VI, V (1,4,5)
4. Start in "C" work from there
5. Playing by ear if it ain't "C" then its "minor A" then modal/penta
6. To "jazz it up" flat your 5ths slur to a the third
7. If you want 20's/30's honkey tonk....Eb or F#
8. Making a break in a "boring tune" (i.e. Big Mary) jump at least two # or flats.

ANYTHING can be played in ANY-KEY - the "catch" is ... somethings are easier...or sound better in other keys

An accomplished saxaphonist recently said, "Tell me the key and tune...you lead...I WILL follow...you have three, four, seven notes, I only have one."

What a welcome relief.

Sincerely,
Gargoyle

Learn the chord "voicings" "inversions" and transposing to any key becomes instictive. (The I,IV,V built in "C" becomes the same spacing in "Bb") ((whole, whole, whole, half, whole, whole, whole, half, whole.

This reference is "traditional" Anglo/Western


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: GUEST,.gargoyle
Date: 09 Mar 08 - 01:12 AM

RT -

Excellent question.

Take a simple piece (nursery tune)

Play it "by ear" (keep trying - if this is new - give it about half an hour -)

If the first part was a struggle let it rest and return later.

When you have the simple tune down....start on a new note/key

Work and work and work until you have performed the simple piece in 3 starting points/keys.

Let it rest.

Later, perform the three....which is best?

DO NOT gravitate to which is easiest....but which is BEST?

Sincerely,
Gargoyle

For me....Mulberry Bush/Monkey Weasle....is best in Eb


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: GUEST,.gargoyle
Date: 09 Mar 08 - 01:15 AM

Sorry - cannot help being flippant.

For some the difference between "pinching an inch" and a "Key" has been twenty years room and board courtesy of the fed.

Sincerely,
Gargoyle


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: GUEST,.gargoyle
Date: 09 Mar 08 - 01:22 AM

TIM - serious again.

Through software you can create a "histogram" (sic) of the original voicing...registering key, nuances, and change it...speed, key, etc

You can also take an original later recorded sound and match it to the singer.

I once used "Cakewalk" but have fallen outside the current trends beyound "Garage Band."

You CAN do it.

Sincerely,
Gargoyle


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: GUEST,.gargoyle
Date: 09 Mar 08 - 01:26 AM

RT -

You are not a muscian????

If your singer is in "F" and the instruments are in "G" it will sound like .... a MC (multi challenged) gathering ... aka crap.

Sincerely,
Gargoyle


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: Janie
Date: 09 Mar 08 - 01:38 AM

I remember Alice Gerard telling me that if it is a song, the singer chooses the key. If it is a tune, the fiddler chooses the key.

The a capella group formerly known as Soup Kitchen (and now, Bare Bones) say they do not attempt to pitch songs to the same key each time. Depending on time of day, weather, how warmed up their voices are, a song might go best in one key this morning, and another key tonight or tomorrow.

I find that is true for my voice also. It is not always a question of range. Sometimes I can be more nuanced, and seem to have more vocal flexibility in terms of tone and resonance in a lower key - sometimes in a key that is a bit higher - and that changes from day to day, from morning to evening, with how much or how long I have been singing, etc.

I ain't no real musician, but I think some keys sound "brighter" than others on instruments. I wonder if that is similar to leeneia's friend A's description of keys that 'chime' more?


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: Backwoodsman
Date: 09 Mar 08 - 03:06 AM

I'm a folkie singer and moderate guitarist and I use the best key for my voice.
I play using mostly G, C and D shapes in standard, and in D in DADGAD.
I capo to match the key my voice is in.
Works for me! :-) :-)

HOWEVER - songs can sound 'better' using particular shapes - e.g. a song which sounds good using G shapes might not sound as good using C or D shapes. That's what a capo's for! :-)


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: eddie1
Date: 09 Mar 08 - 05:24 AM

Interesting Thread (aren't they all?).

I remember the first time I played with an old-time group and they asked me what key I sang in. They seemed to have difficulty in understanding my reply to the effect that it depended on the song.

I have also realised that at home, sitting comfortably with a mug of coffee nearby, I can sing in a key that lets me get "way down there".
When I sing in front of an audience, I need to pitch it perhaps a tone higher. It seems that the "stage-fright" which I believe is essential to a good performance, tightens up the vocal chords.

Eddie


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: Rockhen
Date: 09 Mar 08 - 07:01 AM

Interesting thread. I have always thought that certain keys have a richness to them...Eb is one of my favourites....BUT I am not sure whether this is just in my head and because of the 'feel' of physically playing on certain combinations of white or black notes. (Yep, if you are a piano player, I know!) rather than being the actual sound.
Maybe if I got someone to use the transpose button on my piano...then tried playing it without knowing the number of semitones, changed...I would find out if I have been deluding myself.
When I play for others, I try to find a 'comfortable' key for the vocalist, if possible, or find a compromise between non concert pitch instrument players so that they aren't playing in a key they find difficult. I do think it affects the overall sound of a piece, particularly if you have already got used to hearing it in a certain key. If I play blues piano with many guitarist mates, I have to get in quick or they always make me play in E and they really don't like playing in F, which is my favourite!
Is it the actual physical motion of playing of a tune on your instrument of choice,(where you put your fingers?!) or the sound that you hear that makes the difference...or a combination? Not got a clue, really!


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: Backwoodsman
Date: 09 Mar 08 - 07:29 AM

H, the key of F is crap for a blues guitarist (unless he puts a capo on F1! Some keys are 'easy' for particular styles on the guitar, and some are 'hard'. If a guitar-player is in standard tuning, he/she will want E, because its 'easy' for blues. Comparatively speaking, and IMN-AHO of course! :-)
J


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: Mr Happy
Date: 09 Mar 08 - 07:37 AM

I too am a singer both unaccompanied renditions, & with guitar.

Some've me repertoire is easily done in the same key every time, but others I frequently do, can have a changeable pitch, particularly depending on a number of variables including:

Time of day, affecting my range

Size of venue coupled with the amount of ambient background noise

Needing to 'sing out' – to produce more volume without stretching or shouting.

I don't use a pitch pipe for unaccompanied items [perhaps I should?] , but after the first couple've notes, I'll know if I can hit the range comfortably, & if a mod is necessary, can 'slide' up/down a tone without 'throwing' the song off too much.


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 09 Mar 08 - 08:42 AM

"Does it matter if it is changed?
Does changing the Key also change the song?"

No & Yes.

No - all keys in 'modern 12 tone chromatic tempered tuning' are equivalent. Totally. Absolutely. The 'old idea' that there WAS a difference only applied when 'just tuning' (in Western European Society) or other tempermanents in other cultures were used. Basically the Piano Accordion killed most of those.... (I'm a Piano Accordion player!)


Yes - the key is important if using another jey would not fit the vocal range of the singer or the instrument - or if a particular key is more difficult for a particular instrument to play in.


End of Story.

The rest is just personal opinion... (often by the musically untrained) :-)

:-P


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: GUEST,tony geen
Date: 09 Mar 08 - 08:44 AM

Rockhen, allow a pianist to shed a bit of light.

Imagine a D major triad - the middle note F# is higher (in space, not in pitch) than the other two notes, i.e. it's nearer the hand and will tend to be hit harder.

Move up a semitone to E-flat, and the middle G is suddenly further away from the hand and will tend to be played more quietly.

So a piece in D will have a different 'tone colour' to the same piece played in E-flat.


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: Marje
Date: 09 Mar 08 - 08:44 AM

As to the issue of whether different keys have different characteristics (apart from the obvious one of being lower/higher): it depends, I think, on whether you're using a fixed-pitch instrument such as a piano or a concertina, or one that you can tune as you play. A fixed-pitch instrument uses tempered tuning, which means that the intervals between different notes of the scale are very slightly (but perceptibly to some listeners) tweaked so that they can sound acceptable in any key. This means that a tune played in different key on such instruments may well sound, to some ears, to a have a "brighter" or more "melancholy" sound, etc.

But I don't think this applies to unaccompanied singing, where the singer will instinctively alter the pitch to give the right sound for the chosen key. The same applies, to some extent, to stringed instruments: a fiddler who doesn't use open strings will be able to tune as they go along, just as a singer would, and so can many flute/whistle players. For a fretted instrument like a guitar, the good player may well find that they need to retune slightly for playing in certain keys, as the chords and intervals may not sound quite right.

I really despair when people talk as if a singer could or should always sing in one key. It makes no sense at all. What matters, as Don has said, is the range of the tune in relation to the key, which will vary very much between songs. For example, one song will span a complete octave of the key it's in (tonic to tonic), while another will go up to the fifth note of the scale (the dominant) and perhaps down to the fifth below. If you want examples, try "Land of My Fathers" and "Happy Birthday". Both of these have a range of an octave, but if a singer has an optimum range of, say, C to C, the first will be best sung in C, while the second will work best in F. That way, both tunes will be within the C to C span.

Marje


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 09 Mar 08 - 08:46 AM

". However, it certainly seems to be true that the more black notes you have, the more the piece chimes or jingles. I think most people would perceive the blacker keys as sweeter."

That's because the '12 tone equal tempermanent' is BASED on C.... :-)

And if you don't understand THAT - I can't explain it without lots of hand waving - at least not easily in words - and my maths is not very good these days.... I could do it on a blackboard with drawings though.... :-)


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 09 Mar 08 - 08:49 AM

"it's nearer the hand and will tend to be hit harder."

Classically trained musicians would respond "that's only with someone with poor technique" (who hasn't practised sufficiently!) ... :-)


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 09 Mar 08 - 08:56 AM

"it depends, I think, on whether you're using a fixed-pitch instrument such as a piano or a concertina, or one that you can tune as you play"

This only partly negates my answer of 09 Mar 08 - 08:42 AM - "all keys in 'modern 12 tone chromatic tempered tuning' are equivalent" - this holds for the 'fixed tuning instruments - keyboards, etc. It DOES NOT HOLD for VOICE, and ANY instrument that you can 'play in' such as almost ANY reed wind instrument, and and stringed instrument without frets, or a manually retunable on the fly percussion instrument like a 'talking drum'. Such instruments (including voice) TEND to drift into nearer 'just tuning'... that's life!


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 09 Mar 08 - 09:43 AM

Equal temperament is NOT based on C and can't have anything to do with it.   The point of equal temperament is to make all keys sound the same, so if they don't there is something else at work.

One "something else" is mains electricity. The civilized environment is permeated by mains hum, which is A flat (50Hz) in most of the world and 60Hz (no standard musical pitch) in the US. This often made playing British pubs before the smoking ban a nightmare, as they needed huge loud extractor fans to keep the air even marginally breathable, and you got a thunderous A flat drone under whatever else you were playing. Since most Scottish music is in one to three sharps, the effect was grotesque.


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: Backwoodsman
Date: 09 Mar 08 - 10:39 AM

I'nt this fun! :-)


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 09 Mar 08 - 11:32 AM

of course you change the nature of the song if you change the key - however if you didn't have ambitions to change the song to some extent - you'd get more satisfaction working in MacDonalds - their product has a certain sameness about it that will satisfy your urges for duplication.

if it sounds rubbish in the key you sing it in, that's god's way of telling you to sing something else.


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: Don Firth
Date: 09 Mar 08 - 02:27 PM

Good point, WLD!

As to the black keys on the piano "chiming" or sounding brighter, there is sometimes a simple mechanical factor involved. One of my music profs at the Cornish School of the Arts covered this. Compared with, say, a bloody-great concert grand sitting on a concert hall stage someplace that's frequently played by the likes of Van Cliburn or Andre Watts, most home-based pianos aren't played quite as thoroughly. Lesser skilled pianists tend to avoid pieces containing lots of sharps and flats (black keys). One of the results of this is that the felt hammer that are actuated when the player strikes a black key tends to be far less worn than the others, gives the string a crisper blow, and the tone produced is a tad brighter than those produced by the more frequently used keys on which the business end of the felt hammer is worn a bit.

If a person who says they can tell a black key by its sound can still do it with a piano that has been recently tuned and had the felts replace might be an interesting challenge. My guess is that they probably couldn't.

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: Newport Boy
Date: 09 Mar 08 - 04:51 PM

I don't think some of the explanations of 'equal temperament' have it quite right. There are many versions of equal temperament, but the most commonly used in Western music is the 12 tone version.

The system is intended for fixed-pitch instruments (keyed & fretted mainly) and is designed to make a scale played in any key sound the same. This means that all major triads (3-note chords) sound the same, and all of them sound equally out of tune.

The alternative 'just intonation' for a fixed-pitch instrument makes chords in one key sound perfect, and other keys out by varying amounts.

I could explain the theory, but I'd be here typing until midnight. The essence of the explanation is given clearly in two Wikipedia entries. Frequencies in 12-tone equal temperament are compared with just intonation in a table under the heading Comparison to Just Intonation in this article, and there are 3 sound files which illustrate the differences here.

The idea that some keys sound "brighter" than others is widespread - I prefer most hymn tunes in Ab rather than A, for example. However, a number of my musical friends do not agree, and I think this effect is a very personal thing. The first Wiki article includes: (Correspondingly, there is a great deal of variety in the particular opinions of composers about the moods and colors of particular keys.)

Finally, I wonder how many pianos are actually tuned exactly to equal temperament. Unless an electronic tuner is used for each of the 12 notes (only a recent possibility) the tuner is trying to "detune" notes by a very small amount from the perfect 4ths and 5ths that we all hear fairly easily. Just look at some of the differences in that table.

I know I always tune the top E string of my guitar up a fraction if I'm playing in C or G - it just sounds better to me. The rest of you don't have to listen!

Phil


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: Suegorgeous
Date: 09 Mar 08 - 04:57 PM

My head hurts..... :(


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 09 Mar 08 - 05:29 PM

It takes a perfect pianist (say that carefully) to play a tune precisely the same in no sharps or 7 sharps. The fingerings are different. I bet that no-one is perfect.


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 09 Mar 08 - 07:00 PM

Pianos are never really tuned to equal temperament. Look up "stretch tuning", which is something that will sound like it's equal temperament when played with other instruments, even though a lot of the fundamentals are actually off. It is also possible to do the same trick relative to some non-equal temperament, which is what piano tuners almost always did before electronic tuners came along (they may have *thought* they were using equal temperament but objective measurements said different). In idioms that center ona few keys - Cape Breton music, for example - the piano will usually be tuned to make the thirds for those keys as pure as possible.

Whereas guitars have to be equally tempered because of the layout of the frets. Which is why guitars all sound shite.


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: Newport Boy
Date: 10 Mar 08 - 04:43 AM

Exactly, Jack, re piano tuning.

But I disagree about guitars. I habitually play in C, G and D and related minor keys, and I tune my guitar accordingly. For the few tunes I play in E and A, my ear insists that I adjust a couple of strings. There is also some pitch adjustment during playing slight sideways pressure on the string.

Phil


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