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Why Keys?

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Doctor John 07 May 00 - 03:22 PM
Racer 07 May 00 - 04:08 PM
sophocleese 07 May 00 - 04:15 PM
Jon Freeman 07 May 00 - 04:48 PM
Barbara Shaw 07 May 00 - 05:36 PM
Pene Azul 07 May 00 - 06:11 PM
Magpie 07 May 00 - 06:13 PM
Pene Azul 07 May 00 - 06:19 PM
GUEST 07 May 00 - 07:09 PM
Jon Freeman 07 May 00 - 07:23 PM
MK 07 May 00 - 07:35 PM
Jon Freeman 07 May 00 - 07:48 PM
MK 07 May 00 - 07:53 PM
Gary T 07 May 00 - 08:20 PM
Barbara Shaw 07 May 00 - 09:15 PM
Jon Freeman 07 May 00 - 10:36 PM
Mark Clark 07 May 00 - 10:41 PM
Escamillo 07 May 00 - 11:42 PM
Gary T 08 May 00 - 12:39 AM
Jon Freeman 08 May 00 - 01:13 AM
Crowhugger 08 May 00 - 01:42 AM
Pene Azul 08 May 00 - 01:59 AM
John in Brisbane 08 May 00 - 02:07 AM
Rick Fielding 08 May 00 - 02:10 AM
Crowhugger 08 May 00 - 03:36 AM
GUEST,Roger the skiffler 08 May 00 - 05:04 AM
Escamillo 08 May 00 - 06:27 AM
JPRameau 08 May 00 - 11:20 AM
Marion 08 May 00 - 11:26 AM
Barbara Shaw 08 May 00 - 12:55 PM
Jon Freeman 08 May 00 - 01:07 PM
Doctor John 08 May 00 - 02:34 PM
GUEST,JZG 08 May 00 - 03:49 PM
Jeri 08 May 00 - 05:03 PM
Gary T 08 May 00 - 06:28 PM
GUEST,Albert 08 May 00 - 06:44 PM
Pene Azul 08 May 00 - 07:27 PM
John in Brisbane 08 May 00 - 08:56 PM
GUEST,Roger the skiffler 09 May 00 - 08:30 AM
Easy Rider 09 May 00 - 10:26 AM
Jon Freeman 09 May 00 - 10:39 AM
Barbara Shaw 09 May 00 - 12:43 PM
GUEST,Penny S. 09 May 00 - 12:47 PM
GUEST,Penny S. 09 May 00 - 12:49 PM
Amos 09 May 00 - 01:32 PM
Pene Azul 09 May 00 - 01:50 PM
Jon Freeman 09 May 00 - 01:55 PM
Pene Azul 09 May 00 - 02:06 PM
Jon Freeman 09 May 00 - 02:25 PM
Jon Freeman 09 May 00 - 02:27 PM
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Subject: Why Keys?
From: Doctor John
Date: 07 May 00 - 03:22 PM

Could anyone out there please tell me the difference between music written in (say) the key of C or D. Is it just that in D all the notes are a tone higher? If so why bother. And why difficult keys like E flat? It can't be (as I have seen written) that certain keys are easier on some instruments; for example E is easier on the guitar than F; just retune the instrument! Perhaps on stringed instruments the open strings sound different to fretted strings and each chord thus sounds different rather than higher or lower. Am I right in saying that going up the scale the gap (in frequency) actually increases slightly between succesive notes - they're not laid out like sleepers on a rail way line. This would certainly explain it as a higher key wouldn't just be higher but the gaps between the notes would also be slightly different. Please solve a puzzel my music degree course daughter can't explain in a language that I can understand. Dr John (physicist!)


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Subject: RE: Why Keys?
From: Racer
Date: 07 May 00 - 04:08 PM

For most people's ears, the difference between keys is just like you said. All of the notes in D are one whole step higher than the notes in C. Some of the more experienced, classically trained, musicians will go through the harmonic/overtone series and talk to you about tuning vs. tempering. I think I've met three people in my life who understand the concept and can hear the difference between the first and third note in C, and the first and third note in D. One of them was my Music Theory teacher in high school.

I have changed keys to many songs in order to accommodate my (or someone elses) limited vocal range. Also, if someone has a tin whistle (usually in D), everyone else is almost certainly limited to playing in either D or G (or the relative minors: Bm and Em).

Re-tuning the instruments is not really a workable solution because it takes too long. Also, with stringed instruments, you can only really tune the strings up or down so much before you start adversely affecting the sound of the instrument and possibly warping the neck. I'll use a capo before re-tuning my guitar.

Some songs seem to sound better in some keys than others, but I think it probably has more to do with open strings and the way people are used to hearing them than the miniscule difference between note distances within the various keys.


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Subject: RE: Why Keys?
From: sophocleese
Date: 07 May 00 - 04:15 PM

Aagh! Frequencies! MTed will likely be able to do a good job of answerin gthis thing. I will answer the first part of the question though.

Yes a tune written in D will have all the notes one tone higher than the same tune written in C. Why bother with keys? They are a structure that the music is built in and around. Think of it like an apartment building. Every apartment has the same layout but they are on different floors. The floors stop you from losing your way and falling into other people's apartments. You can walk into any apartment and turn right to open the closet door. Troglodytes with a fear of heights live in the basement and claustrophobic birds live on the top floors.

Different keys can be played more easily than others on instruments and when you put different instruments together you need to find a suitable key. You're right when you say that chords with open strings sound different from chords with no open strings, they do and the guitarist will want to play with the voicing they like best and that best suits the tune. Voices come in a variety of different ranges and if the instruments are backing up a singer than they need to be in the key which the singer sings best in.


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Subject: RE: Why Keys?
From: Jon Freeman
Date: 07 May 00 - 04:48 PM

Related question for someone like MTed. Why is it that we chose our scales and divided them up in the various ways we did? Also, how much of what we find musical is simly determined by our ears growing up with our scales? I can see the ocatave in terms of doubling a frequency but why divide by 8 (or 12)... It is a subject that is starting to interest me - any info or recommendations of sites which explain the maths behind it? - I know how to do 12TET but that is my limit.

Jon


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Subject: RE: Why Keys?
From: Barbara Shaw
Date: 07 May 00 - 05:36 PM

I don't know the theory behind it, but every key has its own sound and feel. Pieces in the key of D are often bright and uplifting to the spirit, while ones in Eb have a completely different temperament. Classical composers choose their keys carefully, considering the statement they are trying to make and the mood they are trying to create. Traditional musicians often pick or transpose a key based on the instrument they play or the range of their voice. You can play the same song in two different keys and get a completely different sound, different feel, different reaction.


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Subject: RE: Why Keys?
From: Pene Azul
Date: 07 May 00 - 06:11 PM

There is a very nice description of the well-tempered scale  here.

Another site with an interesting approach to theory is  The Tonal Centre.

PA


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Subject: RE: Why Keys?
From: Magpie
Date: 07 May 00 - 06:13 PM

Jon I think what we think of as musical is closely tied to us being used to our scales. Why we chose eight notes, I don't know. Maybe it's because it just "felt" right, or maybe it feels right because we are so used to hearing it.

In other cultures, they have other scales, based on different intervals, not just larger intervals (like a pentatonic scale)but also with intervals so small that we have problems differentiating between the different notes.

Magpie


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Subject: RE: Why Keys?
From: Pene Azul
Date: 07 May 00 - 06:19 PM

Here's a nice one on  The Physics Of Sound with a sub-category on  scales.

PA


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Subject: RE: Why Keys?
From: GUEST
Date: 07 May 00 - 07:09 PM

Anyone thinking that particular keys have a particular character must also explain why old instruments are often grievously out of tune with modern pitch (which would make someone playing in D come out in some other key, hence some other character). And why, though any text- book you read will say that pitch has drifted sharper over the years, old flutes are always almost a semitone sharper than concert pitch.


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Subject: RE: Why Keys?
From: Jon Freeman
Date: 07 May 00 - 07:23 PM

Guest, I doubt that the frequency that we use to base other notes on like A=440 has much to do with much of this. I think it has more do do with the ways we have divided the frequencies to make our scales and I found well temered scale article that Pene pointed to interesting.

With regards to the original question, I don't know why say the guitar is tuned to the notes it is but having chosen that, the fact there are more open strings available in E is likely to make something sound different to say F. We can get onto a whole new (probably discussed many times) subjects like the merits of DADGAD... if I keep those thoughts up.

Jon


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Subject: RE: Why Keys?
From: MK
Date: 07 May 00 - 07:35 PM

To my mind, your question is analagous to Why don't all artists just use one or two colors when they paint, regardless of what it is they're painting?


Every key is like its own "color" and presents the listener with a different range of sonic and harmonic frequencies, and tonal coloring...and, I agree with Barbara Shaw's comments.

If all songs ever recorded or performed were written in the same key, don't you think it would become extremely boring for the listener?

Different keys keep things FRESH for the listener.

How 'bout if the Beatles had recorded every single song they ever released on every album, in the same key? Think about that for a second, and perhaps you'll end up answering your own question.


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Subject: RE: Why Keys?
From: Jon Freeman
Date: 07 May 00 - 07:48 PM

Yes Michael but i don't think it is as simple as that. Ify you read the article that Pene linked to on the well temered scale, you will find that the intervals used on some tuning systems will produce slightly different interavals in terms of what we call tones and semitones depending on the key relative to the original base scale and it appears that classical comoser have used these subtle differences to effect the feel of a tune.

Jon

(who is still ignorant but trying to learn)


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Subject: RE: Why Keys?
From: MK
Date: 07 May 00 - 07:53 PM

I agree with what you have written Jon. Spot on.

I deliberately over-simplified what I had written so that it could be readily interpretted by a lesser informed person, without a lot of deep and analytical thinking.

Let the composer do the thinking.
Let the listener sit back and enjoy.


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Subject: RE: Why Keys?
From: Gary T
Date: 07 May 00 - 08:20 PM

Doctor John, one very basic reason for different keys, as mentioned previously, is to accomodate vocalists. Voices don't retune. Not only can two different singers need to do a given song in different keys, but a given singer can't sing every song in the same key (always C, for instance). It depends on the singer's vocal range and the particular song's range.

As to this: And why difficult keys like E flat? It can't be (as I have seen written) that certain keys are easier on some instruments; for example E is easier on the guitar than F; just retune the instrument!
Oh yes it can! E flat may be a bear on a guitar, but I suspect its not difficult on an E flat horn--although C might be. And horns don't retune, either. I'm sorry to have to say that the use of different keys indeed CAN be, and often IS at least partly, because certain keys are easier on some instruments. It can also depend on the particular song and its chord sequence. Some songs that are easy for me in G or C would be a major pain in A or E, and vice versa, depending on which direction in the cycle of fifths most of the chords come from.

I can't buy the notion that different keys have different characters. (Sorry Barbara, but I know several songs that I happen to do in D that are anything but bright and cheery.) Now I could accept there being some difference in the sound of song done on the guitar between, say, C and D, in that the particular inversions of the chords used will be different. But "a completely different sound, different feel, different reaction" strikes me as a stretch. I would wager that if the same song were done in the same style on a piano in both D and E flat, by someone proficient in both of those keys, that the only difference anyone could tell was that one rendition was slightly higher-pitched than the other.

Jon, although a full understanding of scales can get highly technical, I find it useful and essentially accurate to view the chromatic scale as having a consistent a PERCENTAGE increase from note to adjacent note (half step). For example, the space between guitar frets can be seen to get X% wider with each step up the neck.


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Subject: RE: Why Keys?
From: Barbara Shaw
Date: 07 May 00 - 09:15 PM

To Guest: maybe we need to hear the music on the original instruments used by the composer to get the original intent. If old instruments are out of tune with modern pitch, that still doesn't negate the idea that the piece was written in a particular key for a reason, although I agree that it would have a different message in a different key.

I firmly believe that different keys have a different feel, different quality, and perhaps even each individul tone has its own character. I definitely notice a difference when I switch a song from one key to another, even by half a step. Pieces that I've done on the piano and then transposed to another key for the violin or guitar are completely different pieces, aside from the different instrumentation. Someone explain to me why.

There was an article in "Bluegrass Unlimited" about the late Roy Huskey, Jr. who was a phenominal musician. He used to say that each room had a note or tone that identified it and each instrument had a sweet spot where it was most resonant.


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Subject: RE: Why Keys?
From: Jon Freeman
Date: 07 May 00 - 10:36 PM

Yes but Barbra, I think the different feels exist for various reasons. as an examlpe and nothing comlicated, the Athol Highlanders is better on banjo in A than in G - much of that is not down to difficulty but that the natural oen a string seems to come in and add its own note even when that string is not played - ?harmonics rule for that..

There are many issues here and no scale known to mankind makes a perfect everything. As far as I understand things, the 12TET which is pretty much standard now for Western tunings makes all scales the same in terms of any possible inequalities in notes and the main issues then are to suit a voice, suit and instrument but from what I think I am learning, some tuning systems will have one true key, then there are shades in the middle... not a question of itch but one of the gaps between varying from one key to another. MTed, where are you?

Jon


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Subject: RE: Why Keys?
From: Mark Clark
Date: 07 May 00 - 10:41 PM

I suspect that the different 'character' traditionally associated with different keys comes from the combined effect of the 'sweet spots' of each voice or instrument involved in the performance. For the sake of simplicity, imagine that we have a piece of music written for the classic four-part vocal ensemble. The composer will very likely have written the score such that the sopranos have at least some passages at the very top of their range and the basses have at least some notes at the bottom of theirs. The key is then fixed by the very nature of the perscribed instruments. If we want to change the key we have to reassign the notes to different voices moving some of the notes into different ocatves. This, of course because the basses can't sing any lower and the sopranos can't sing any higher. This new arrangement may seem like the original if you're hearing it from inside an elevator but the character and effect will have been drastically altered.

The same is true in an orchestra or band, change the key and crucial parts must be reassigned to different instrumental voices give the piece a whole new character in the new key. Consider the old religious material rearranged for performance by a bluegrass band. The traditional church version will have the sopranos singing the melody but the bluegrass arrangement will assign the melody to the baratone voice and put the tenor part on top. This allows the piece to be performed in a higher key but the change totally alters the character of the music.

Of course, as Dennis Miller is fond of saying, "But that's just my opinion... I could be wrong."

Cheers,

      - Mark


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Subject: RE: Why Keys?
From: Escamillo
Date: 07 May 00 - 11:42 PM

Thanks Pene Azul (Blues Pianist) for those excellent links. I could add This one where you can find lots of exercises in MIDI format, and good explanations.
I assume everyone has understood the concept of the different intervals among notes when we change keys, not only the pitch. For example, if my voice has a higher range than a bass, and there is a nice song written for bass that I want to sing, it is generally accepted to raise the key (not in classical songs), but I have to respect the nature of the song and then I will keep the intervals intact, so if the original goes from C to D# (three semitones) and my key is D major, I´ll go from D to F (three semitones) and so on. The score will look pretty different but the intervals will be right. However if I prefer to change the nature of the song, I could choose any minor scale and create a new one, which will sound not merry and brilliant, but sad and obscure, or viceversa. A change in key in the middle of a song is called a modulation, and it is one of the richest sources of emotions for the composer. Richard Wagner was a master of modulations, there are some songs (listen to Wesendonk lieders, for example) with two or more modulations per line.
There is also a very interesting thread in this forum, on the subject of MODES - don´t remember the name but you will easily find it by filtering the word MODES and setting the period to 90 days.
Un abrazo - Andrés


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Subject: RE: Why Keys?
From: Gary T
Date: 08 May 00 - 12:39 AM

Mark Clark's observations make sense--changing the key for a given piece often necessitates corollary changes in instrumentation, vocal assignments, etc., all of which obviously will affect the nature of what we hear.

I will still contend that if NOTHING else changes except the key, the music will sound essentially the same. Now, there may be a few people for whom this is not true, including apparently Barbara Shaw, but I would think the overwhelming majority (excluding those with perfect pitch) would not detect any difference, much less a significant difference, between a piece done in D and the same piece done in Eb, if there are no corollary changes.

From my personal experience, there are a number of songs that I have performed in different keys without sensing a difference in essence or character (nor has anyone listening mentioned noticing such). Likewise there are quite a few I have heard in different keys, and I find the song and its presentation are central to the feel, but the particular key seems to be immaterial.

Modulations are indeed interesting. Again, I find their significance to be in the existence of and magnitude of the change, not which particular keys are involved.


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Subject: RE: Why Keys?
From: Jon Freeman
Date: 08 May 00 - 01:13 AM

OK, I think it again comes back to the tuning system we are using.

Let's say for the sake of simlpicity we are dealing on a linear scale. We can divide the notes up evenly and say C to C# is one step with a value of 1, C# to D = 1, etc, the gas are all equal and any key has the same feel as another. As far as I understand things, this is pretty much the situation we have with even tempering (except we are not looking at a linear scale and the maths are more complex).

The problems come in where what are natural divisions of a note - ie take a string and divide it to 2/3 which makes what we call a fifth and sounds perfect to us does not fit exactly into that system and other older tuning systems take that into account. The end result is bigger and smaller gaps rather than the exact spacing is that how a key sounds relative to the root key depends on where in the scale these differences occur and are going to have some effect on how one key may feel, relative to another. As an example, ever tuned a guitar so one chord, say a G sounds perfect but say C sounds miles out - G may well be perfect in terms of hitting the natural divisions that make the chord....

Jon

(guessing here and still trying to make sense of it all himself)


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Subject: RE: Why Keys?
From: Crowhugger
Date: 08 May 00 - 01:42 AM

About the effect of changing keys, I find that although I don't necessarily 'hear' it differently, something feels different. For me it isn't always related to the particular resonance of a specific instrument. My piano rings like mad in E-flat, my mother's does not. But moving a song from F major down to E-flat major changes the feel even though it still sound the same except lower.

Are you now even more confused, Jon?


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Subject: RE: Why Keys?
From: Pene Azul
Date: 08 May 00 - 01:59 AM

I think the difference in the "feel" of different keys may be related to the effect of difference vs. ratio in intervals. If you transpose an interval down one octave, the ratio of the notes' frequencies will remain the same, but the difference in the frequencies will be cut in half. I believe this is why chords played in lower registers have a "thicker" sound than those played in higher registers. In key transposition the contrast is less pronounced, but even the smallest transposition changes the "thickness" of the sounds of the intervals.


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Subject: RE: Why Keys?
From: John in Brisbane
Date: 08 May 00 - 02:07 AM

Without getting too complex about tempered tuning this is what I've been taught about the nature of different major keys.

The piano was, until a few decades ago, the dominant instrument for musical accompaniment.

Piano tuning is a compromise whereby some notes are slightly flattened and some slightly sharpened.

My classically trained mum told me as kid that the flat keys, such as Bb, were useful for more sombre pieces, whereas the sharp keys tended to be brighter. A piano tuner muso friend confirmed this for me some years later, albeit with a greater emphasis on the physics.

I have read in the past that Earl Scruggs tunes his banjo just a few cents sharp, to make it sound brighter and punch through other accompaniment. This is (perhaps) the equivalent of slightly sharpened keys on the piano. I frankly have no idea whether the scales used in sharp keys are on average slightly sharper than the notes in flat keys. If that were the case it would provide a reasonably satisfying answer that would bind together a lot of the opinions on this thread, but I honestly don't know.

To change the subject slightly - I have been learning to sing the full version of Pennies From Heaven for this coming weekend. It has quite a large range which I can handle OK, but because I'm a basso I have transposed it down somewhat from the original key and it comes out sounding like a poor copy of a Paul Robeson spiritual. I've only ever heard it sung by crooning tenors - because it's a fairly happy song I think I may have to ditch it. To answer Doctor John's original query, quite simply I can't sing it in the right key.

Regards, John


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Subject: RE: Why Keys?
From: Rick Fielding
Date: 08 May 00 - 02:10 AM

Wow, great thread. If you're a guitarist play something in A. Now capo 2 and play the same thing in G. Capo 4 and play it in F. Capo 5 and play it in E. The music will sound hugely different in each situation...but it's still in A.

I'm not sure my ear would REALLY hear the difference on a piano played in F or F# (not the pitch..which I WOULD hear...but the "feel". I think most keyboardists would hear it instantly.

Rick


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Subject: RE: Why Keys?
From: Crowhugger
Date: 08 May 00 - 03:36 AM

It's not still in A, just your fingers are, Rick.

CH.


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Subject: RE: Why Keys?
From: GUEST,Roger the skiffler
Date: 08 May 00 - 05:04 AM

I don't understand musical theory but at the start of a Joe Brown concert he said:"This one's in A:actually they all are." He didn't use a capo and played a variety of instruments/genres: rock, folk, country, skiffle,music hall (guitars, fiddle, uke, mandolin and melodeon).Was he kidding or was it that his voice (never as good as his playing!) was the limiting factor?
RtS


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Subject: RE: Why Keys?
From: Escamillo
Date: 08 May 00 - 06:27 AM

RtS, I think the problem was his limited range of voice. There is still another phenomenon to consider, relative to voice: although you may transpose any song up or down and still keep the feeling (cause you don´t modify the intervals), the final result will not be exactly the same, as John points out when he says his result resembled a copy of a Robeson's spiritual. I learnt from the opera authors (great masters of the singing voice indeed, no matter if you like it or not) that a voice may be appropiate for some song and inappropiate for others. On the basis of their knowledge and their need for expression, they choose a soprano or mezzo or contralto, a tenor or a baritone or a bass, and some three or four sub-categories for each voice, and never allow for a change. Why ? Because they configure a full and complex personality in each role, and they know that, for example, they could never choose a contralto to impersonate a sweet virgin, never a bass to play the romantic hero, and never a light tenor to play captain of the guard. We in popular music could raise or lower the key and still obtain something beautiful, but we surely will find that some songs sound definitely out of character, as John says, and others are more adaptable.
Un abrazo - Andrés


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Subject: RE: Why Keys?
From: JPRameau
Date: 08 May 00 - 11:20 AM

As I understand it, MTed has taken a break from all this madness for a while.He has asked me, via personal mail to wish you the best, and he also says that it is important to remember that it any tuning system, there is one single pitch that used as the basis for determining all the other pitches and that you could start on an A444 instead of an A440 and build a whole system of scales,overtones and harmonics, that wouldn't have one single pitch that was the same.

Don't ask me about this, I am completely clueless, and I am only relaying a message.


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Subject: RE: Why Keys?
From: Marion
Date: 08 May 00 - 11:26 AM

Rick, with the experiment you describe, we would expect a different sound because the inversions would be different.

What you would need to do is play in A, then capo up and play Bb using the same fingering, then capo up and play in B with the same fingering... and try to decide if there's any change other than in pitch.

I don't think there's likely to be any change in feel, but if Barbara says she hears a change, who am I to tell her that she doesn't?

Marion


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Subject: RE: Why Keys?
From: Barbara Shaw
Date: 08 May 00 - 12:55 PM

I'm going to hedge a little. If put to the test scientifically, I would probably fail to identify nuances between a song in D versus Eb. However, if tested, I'm convinced I could feel differences between Eb and G, for example, a wider range.

Here's something I actually did: I used to play the Chopin Nocturne in Eb on the piano. It is a dreamy, moody, melancholy piece. I transposed it to G for the guitar, and then cleverly renamed it Chopin Nocturne in Eb in G. Now it's a rolling, cheerful thing with sweet spots that were not apparent in Eb. Much of this is because of piano vs guitar. Some because of my limitations on the instruments and how I interpret it on each. But some of it is because of Eb vs G. No doubt about it. Try it!

Some of the differences in "feel" on the same instrument can be attributed to the difference in physical experience playing in one key vs another. Playing a piece on the piano in Eb is very different from playing it in C. How you hold your hands, how you lean, whatever. Never having taken any theory courses, I can only offer subjective opinions and impressions.


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Subject: RE: Why Keys?
From: Jon Freeman
Date: 08 May 00 - 01:07 PM

OK So relay back to MTed this madness: sort our insanity out

Jon


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Subject: RE: Why Keys?
From: Doctor John
Date: 08 May 00 - 02:34 PM

John, you mentioned Earl Scruggs tuning his banjo sharper to give it a brighter sound but is'nt this because the strings are tighter rather than just of a higher pitch? If you play a guitar just above the bridge it will have a very different sound to playing it much higher (=higher up!) even though the pitch is the same. The main problem here is that some fortunate people can really "feel" music and just can't explain it to those like me who can't. Rather like explaining colour to the blind. Very interesting replies. Dr John


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Subject: RE: Why Keys?
From: GUEST,JZG
Date: 08 May 00 - 03:49 PM

Something to keep in mind about classical composers is that keyboards have really only been tuned in equal temperament for maybe 150 years; equal temperament is a compromise tuning where all the intervals are exactly alike, but none of them are *perfectly* in tune (5ths are closer to perfect than 3rds are). If you tune the intervals to be better in one key, all the relationships will change for other keys, so each key really will have a different character. And that's the situation that baroque and early classical composers were writing in ...

They still used tempered intervals, often trying to work it out to give themselves as much flexibility to write in different keys as they could (a lot of the structure and form of clasical music is based on changing from one key to another and another and then back again) but the techniques for tuning a piano in precisely equal temperament weren't worked out for a while. That's just keyboards, of course -- voices, fiddles, etc. can tune their intervals as they like unless they're playing with other instruments that can't.

Does that help any?

JZG


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Subject: RE: Why Keys?
From: Jeri
Date: 08 May 00 - 05:03 PM

The A440 vs A444 is something I actually understood. Musical notes are like minutes on a clock. People invented the method to measure time as they invented the method to measure music. Although my clock switches to a new minute when 60 seconds pass, if I decide to set my clock 10 seconds faster than yours, it still accurately measures minutes, but the minutes will begin and end in different places. The intervals will be the same, but everything will be 10 seconds ahead.

I don't know if folks with perfect pitch can hear a difference as slight as 4 Hz, but you could drive them crazy with scales based on A(not)440.


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Subject: RE: Why Keys?
From: Gary T
Date: 08 May 00 - 06:28 PM

Doctor John, as far as this: John, you mentioned Earl Scruggs tuning his banjo sharper to give it a brighter sound but is'nt this because the strings are tighter rather than just of a higher pitch?--you can't really separate the two. The three ways to raise a given string's pitch are to make it shorter, thinner, or tighter--and if you do make it shorter, thinner, or tighter it WILL raise the pitch. When a string is installed on a banjo, there's no feasible way to make it shorter (leaving aside fretting it for the purpose of this discussion) or thinner, therefore you cannot make it higher pitched without tightening it and you cannot make it tighter without raising the pitch.

Now, if I understand you, this: If you play a guitar just above the bridge it will have a very different sound to playing it much higher (=higher up!) even though the pitch is the same.--refers to where, along the length of the instrument, you strum or pick it. And yes, it's true that there will be a noticeable difference to the sound, but that is quite a separate issue from that raised in your first sentence.

By the way, did this thread manage to answer your original question to your satisfaction?


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Subject: RE: Why Keys?
From: GUEST,Albert
Date: 08 May 00 - 06:44 PM

JZG has put his/her finger on it. Barbara needs to take account of this, though happily she is now flying her kite a little lower than she was. Keyboard music before eequal-termperament tuning would have been different in character from one key to another. I am afraid that if she picks up such differences on a present-day piano she is in Cloud Cuckoo Land.

Tempering is a significant factor only on keyboard instruments. This is because of their fixed tuning over a wide range.

Magpie, I'm afraid you've lost the plot completely. Try that excellent first link put up by Pene Azul if you want to know how we arrived at the 12-note (not eight) system, and derived from it the eight-note diatonic scale, the five-note pentatonic, and various modes and minors... This system is surprisingly well penetrated across the world including Africa and Asia, though certainly some cultures do split the semi-tone for better or worse.


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Subject: RE: Why Keys?
From: Pene Azul
Date: 08 May 00 - 07:27 PM

Having learned the distinction between well tempering and equal tempering (prompted by this thread), I began to wonder how many temperaments are known to have been in use? I found a cool page on Alternate Temperaments which contains a chart of 18 historic temperaments. So there are at least 19, and those are all 12-note systems.


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Subject: RE: Why Keys?
From: John in Brisbane
Date: 08 May 00 - 08:56 PM

Some time ago I posted a method for guitar tuning based on piano tuning principles, that is equal temperament. With this method you deliberately introduce some slight imperfections in the tuning between the harmonics of adjacent strings such that the whole instrument is in tune when played across the whole range of keys. (One could argue however that the guitar is never properly in tune in any given key using this method).

Since that time I've had the chance to reflect somewhat more on why it appeals to me. Because of a little jazz training in the last decade I now know my fretboard a lot better and for that reason seldom use a capo these days, even for those bastard keys. With tempered tuning I can move from tune to tune with various modulations without retuning. And my guitar sounds in tune right up and down the fretboard - once I used to wince at the dischords when playing in higher positions and blame the fret locations. In truth there was nothing wrong with my sort of Lowden instrument - only my lack of understanding of its needs.

Hope that this helps someone sometime. Regards, John


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Subject: RE: Why Keys?
From: GUEST,Roger the skiffler
Date: 09 May 00 - 08:30 AM

Don Andres, thanks for your reply to my naive question. I may have understood more than I thought!
RtS (who sings in keys unknown to man and often changes key midsong- blessed with completely imperfect pitch)


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Subject: RE: Why Keys?
From: Easy Rider
Date: 09 May 00 - 10:26 AM

I would love to know exactly how John in Brisbane tunes his guitar, so I can try it for myself.

I had the impression that the piano, since the time of J. S. Bach, is tuned in "well tempered tuning" and that the guitar is tuned in "equal tempered tuning", which puts them out of sorts with each other. Is that true? Why not tune/build the guitar for well tempered tuning? Isn't that what the Buzz Feiten tuning system is all about?

Rick Fielding had the right idea, in his posting, above. I know that, on the guitar, the same song, played in different keys, without a capo, will have a remarkably different character and feel. I have two versions of "Mr. Tambourine Man", on a Fred Sokolow fingerstyle instructional video, one played in A and the other in D, and they really do sound different. I also have a Stefan Grossman video (GW901), in which he demonstrates the different sound of different keys, by playing songs, in different keys, one after another. If you listen closely, you can hear the different characters of the keys, C, G, D, A, E and F. One key sounds open and light while another sounds dark and another sounds tight (especially F). It's hard to find the right words to describe the differences; you have to hear it.

I think that, on the guitar, it has to do with the different chord shapes you use, to play the same relative chords (I, IV, V, Etc.), in different keys. A "C" chord, in the key of C, has a different shape and sound from a "D" chord, in the key of D. Maybe it has to do with chord inversions and open strings, but different chord shapes have different "voices". Many musicians use this feature, when they play duets together. They will each play the same chords, but in different shapes, achieving a mix of two different "voices" and a heightened interest from the tension thus created.


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Subject: RE: Why Keys?
From: Jon Freeman
Date: 09 May 00 - 10:39 AM

Easy Rider, From, the information I have seen in this thread and in the links provided from it, the piano WAS tuned in well temperament but this is no longer the case (JZG has mentioned that the change took equal temperament took place around 150 years ago) although I can see no reason why a piano could not be tuned that way.

The situation with a guitar (or any fretted instrument) must be a little different as you have the spacing of the frets to consider together with the number of strings running across these frets. My guess is that you would probably need staggered frets to make some tunings possible.

Jon


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Subject: RE: Why Keys?
From: Barbara Shaw
Date: 09 May 00 - 12:43 PM

I've also found that the same song played in different keys WITH a capo, therefore same position of chords, will sound and feel different. Just moving the capo up one fret has made certain songs come alive for me, especially going from the key of E capo'd up one fret to F.

I also agree with Easy Rider about different voicings on the guitar. When my husband and I do guitar duets, we (obviously) play in the same key, but different positions, usually one with a capo and one without.


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Subject: RE: Why Keys?
From: GUEST,Penny S.
Date: 09 May 00 - 12:47 PM

There was a C4 TV series by Howard Goodall recently, which explained the modern tuning of instruments. He started with Pythagoras, who derived his tuning from the nodes of a vibrating string - half giving the octave, third giving the fifth above that (I think - you will notice a certain vagueness - I've got to watch it again). Pythagoras, like Newton, had other interests than the scientific, and seven notes (it is, not eight) fitted the grand theory of the universe, as did Newton's colour divisions. Starting, however, from different points on the scales gave different tunings. G derived as the fifth above the C above middle C would not be the same as G derived from the octave above the G above middle C. I think. This gave all the different feels to the keys, and made playing with different instruments together impracticable. So the tuning was fiddled with, tempered, to form a compromise which allowed orchestral playing, and lost the differences of the different keys. He also gave the origin of middle C, which I have forgotten, and that A was originally lower than 440. Also that some halls now tune higher than 440, and that some singers avoid some of them, because the higher tuning forces them to sing above the break (?) in their voice too much.

Penny


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Subject: RE: Why Keys?
From: GUEST,Penny S.
Date: 09 May 00 - 12:49 PM

Forgot to add, another of the programs revealed that the inventions of the stave for music, and do-re-mi, were both the work of one man, an Italian monk. I found that stunning.

Penny


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Subject: RE: Why Keys?
From: Amos
Date: 09 May 00 - 01:32 PM

Well, of course they sound different in open G, say than they would in capo-3 "E". The notes of any given chord are all different. The heavier strings may be playing notes that the higher strings play in the other tuning, and the notes themselves (regardless of which string)are in different sequence and different number of appearances in the chord. Even though no dissonants are included, these difference will weight the music differently.

Also, the balance between higher strings and lower strings will be dramatically shifted because the player will tend to use different runs, different notes in the bass, and so on, if they are doing any kind of picking while strumming.

Now onto another mystery that boggles me still. I always thought that A was A, presumably built on 440 cps. But if Barky picks up her sax and I tell her to play in A, it comes out some other key as gauged to the piano. What is up with that? I can understand different instruments naturally fitting to different keys by their physical design, but calling a key by a different name seems really strange. Is it because of the number of "sharps" and "flats" relative to the natural fingering of a given instrument, rather than to half-steps above a known tonic note? I have heard jazz musicians saying they were playing in three flats rather than naming a key.

But in all my jugband or folk or bluegrass experience, the name of the key was sufficient for the banjo player, the mandolinist, and the guitar and bass players. Even the jug and washboard players! And once he got his arms around playing cross-harp, even the blues harp guy. Anyone have a simple, clear explanation for this strange discrepancy? Of course, if I am actually going mad, just tell me so -- I'd rather know and live with it.

MTed -- come home! All is forgotten!

A


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Subject: RE: Why Keys?
From: Pene Azul
Date: 09 May 00 - 01:50 PM

Here is a nice little article on the history of the 440 hz basis of pitch.

Jon, the modern piano is tuned in equal temperament as opposed to well temperament. In equal temperament the ratios of frequencies are the same for the same interval in any given key. In well temperament this equality is compromised in favor of better harmonic purity. Actually, it may be more appropriate to say that equal temperament compromises harmonic purity for equality.

PA


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Subject: RE: Why Keys?
From: Jon Freeman
Date: 09 May 00 - 01:55 PM

Amos, I'm not to sure but are we getting on to another subject here? I think the saxaphone is a transposing instrument and what we would read as C in music is in fact something like Bb or Eb to them. I guess it is just a matter of where the natural scale lies sort of equivilant of the white notes on the piano). I only play instruments that transpose by an octave. As an example, for a given iece of music, my finguering would be the same on tenor banjo and mandolin for any tune but the banjo would sound an octave lower than the mandolin and it in fact (at least in GDAE tuning) does play an octave lower than written.

Jon


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Subject: RE: Why Keys?
From: Pene Azul
Date: 09 May 00 - 02:06 PM

I believe music is transposed for sax and clarinet so the fingering is the same regardless of the instrument played. In other words the written notes correspond to the fingering positions.

PA


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Subject: RE: Why Keys?
From: Jon Freeman
Date: 09 May 00 - 02:25 PM

Pene, I think I did say WAS tuned in well temperament and in spite of me leaving the word "took" instead of changing it to "to" when I slightly edited my post I did indivate that it is and proabably has been for some 150 years, using equal temperament.

Jon


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Subject: RE: Why Keys?
From: Jon Freeman
Date: 09 May 00 - 02:27 PM

sorry Pene, I fogot to add that you are coming up with some very interseting links - thanks!!! I'm learning a little - all be it slowly.

Jon


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