Now transpose that song up by 10 octaves. It's still in the key of C, but does it "emotionally" sound the same?
The answer is no actually you probably won't hear anything except an annoying high pitch whine. Obviously, the differences are more subtle, but moving a key up by 1 semitone is physically doing the same thing as moving up by 10 octaves. You are increasing the frequency of vibration of sound waves, just on a smaller scale. Therefore, yes, different keys can absolutely have different emotional impacts. I once had to arrange and record an album for a rather unschooled artist who wrote her own songs, and they were all in C. After two or three songs in the same key, the remaining songs lose much of their potency because the ear gets bored.
By the fifth song, you just don't want to hear any more. At least I don't! It took some doing, but I convinced her to transpose a few. I was careful to select songs that would actually benefit from transposition by placing her voice in a more effective register. In music with vocals, the key is often chosen to adjust to the vocal range of the performer.
I used to play in a band with a female lead singer. Whenever we played covers of songs that were originally sung by a male performer, it was often to low for her. Pitching up the vocal melody by one octave would then often be too high, so we would transpose the song up by a few semitones until she felt she could sing it comfortably within her own vocal range. In music theory, you're probably right - for Western music it's the same scale just transposed up and down a given interval. All the maths still works so. On a Guitar, some keys are excellent to play in as they give you the advantage of open strings.
Guitarists tend to write tunes based on this—e. You could play it in other keys but it wouldn't sound the same. Vocalists have a comfortable range, for example there's a big difference between men and women in this respect, or just voice type. Some keys resonate more with us, because as humans we have a natural resonant frequency different for everyone , but there is a notion that lower frequencies affect certain areas of the body, higher frequencies others "feel it in your chest" vs. Glastonbury is full of books about how music affects the different body areas.
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I wish I could find it now but can't seem to—I found a website which played a piece of piano music, first in C and then in D as a comparison. Although otherwise identical, the D key sounded more uplifing as was the argument of the site. This is probably very subjective but in this case the comments underneath the post confirmed it.
Obligatory Spinal Tap quote: "D minor is the saddest of all keys". I used to have a quote from Frank Zappa from the early 70s in which he said something like "you have to like D minor a lot to play in our band". But seriously I often write songs in easy keys to play on the guitar or keyboard such as E minor or A minor, but when I record them, I transpose them according to the lowest and highest pitches that I can sing.
Key names are really just a way of defining standard tones for typical equal tempered instruments. Sometimes when I composed on guitar, I simply choose a key based on how easily I can play a movement in that key. I've heard of one artist trying to relate the spectrum of sound to the spectrum of light, referencing sound to colors. As "Mozart" stated, pitch alters emotion.
If you traverse into atonal, typically higher pitches sound more "tense" and the lower pitches more relaxed, you can easily experiment with this using the whole-tone scale, which is basically how most music was composed for cartoons and some popular shows star trek namely scifi. When alot of composers look at music, they only see 2 dimensions in the circle of 5ths, however when I look the circle of 5ths I see more of a spiral of 5ths where the same note of a higher or lower octave intersects with its counterpart octave along the 3rd dimension rather than completing a circle.
Pitch matters, and its often a lost concept in diatonic theory because diatonic theory really explain anything about pitch. It rather explains the arrangement of notes and how they relate in a series melody or in an instance harmony based on the intersection of the kelps and troughs of given waves, and the combine wave's frequency of modulation.
Let's come at the question a little differently. What purpose does a key signature serve? Generally speaking -- very generally and simply speaking -- as humans we expect songs to have movement, expressed via tension and resolution. Even people who are musically uninclined or self-describe as 'tone-deaf' are typically left hanging when one plays a scale from the tonic to the leading tone and then refuses to play the octave do re mi fa so la ti???
If I establish a certain tonality or key around whatever root note I choose for the day, and I play a V7 chord, most listeners will expect the song to eventually and relatively quickly come back to the I chord.
Consider a bar blues that makes use of a series of b7 chords. If we adhere to Mrs. Oldface's music theory class from high school, upon seeing a dominant-seventh chord this should be a giant flag that one is in a key that's a perfect fourth higher than the root of the chord or ah, a perfect fifth down , I guess, depending on how you're feeling. But when we're in C, for example, and we use the C7 to 'predict' the IV -- F -- only to return to the I and then move to the real V, being G -- all of a sudden we're off in nonsense land as far as Granny Oldface is concerned.
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In other words, if sticking to the idea that one key should rule them all, the only time the music theory sticklers of the world will 'let you get away with that' is when you're moving from the V to the I. So, did the song modulate to F for 4 bars? Is that a useful approach to playing, arranging, or improvising over the bar blues example?
Now tritones invite a lot of tangential discussions about other ideas like chord substitution and that the tension of the B-F interval will resolve to C as easily as it does to F and I don't want to just range all over the place. But if we're wondering why one key is no better or worse than all keys, consider for a second that key signatures are as easily discarded as they are adhered to, without inducing cacophony in the process. This doesn't explain why every song isn't in C, since this could all just be happening in C and we could just be telling people to shove off whenever we play a Bb in a song relative to C major.
So it isn't terribly hard to imagine, even if it is just somewhat hyperbole at this point, that in an imaginary world of 12 tones but only 1 key, that a player somewhere might realize the potency of that tritone resolution and say to themselves, "Hunh. I can use a I7 to signal a move to the IV chord, I wonder I wonder where else I can go The primary reason is, as has been mentioned many times, composers want to modulate into other keys. A piece can get awfully boring if it is all in C Major. For example, it is very common for a piece in C Major to modulate into G Major the dominant , F Major the subdominant , or A minor the relative minor , since these keys are all closely related to the original.
However, there are other reasons. A couple hundred years ago, certain keys were thought to have various significance sometimes conflicting. For example, C Major was "pure" or the "key of life". And I have to confess that as a composer, I tend to associate different emotions with different keys, although I'm sure this is largely just my imagination.
I think of E Major as being very sprightly and joyous, even silly at times; E minor as being mischievous; C Major as being innocent and celebratory; Bb minor as being very dark, menacing or brooding; and so forth. Thirdly, there are certain keys that are more often used for certain types of music.
This is probably due to the instruments that typically play that type of music. A lot of popular music is written in E, A, D, B or occasionally G because those are the easiest keys for guitarists to play in with standard E tuning without a capo. A lot of cello music is written in C, G, or D because it is easier to play chords with open strings in them, and the strings on a cello are pitched at C, G, D and A. Many marches and other types of military music are in Eb and Bb Major, because they use lots of brass instruments.
Trumpets and tubas typically have an open pitch of Bb with no valves pressed, so it is a little easier to play in that key. Actually, trumpets in C are also very common these days. However, you'll find that marches and trumpet music from years ago were often written in D Major. That's because the trumpet in D was very common, and it had no valves at that point, so it could only play the D harmonic sequence. On any real instrument made of real physical stuff like wood and metal and strings, yes it absolutely does. Any real physical instrument will have a whole bunch of subtle and not-so-subtle resonances at more-or-less fixed pitches that depend very little on its tuning, and these will interact with the harmonics of the notes being played in ways that make each note's timbre perceptibly pitch-dependent.
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This is why a good electronic piano based on carefully simulated vibrational physics sounds like a piano, while a shitty one based on pitch-bent samples from a real piano sounds kind of weird and warped and awful. Similar effects occur for similar reasons when you take into account the resonances in the listener's own body and ears and auditory brain, too.
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Amateur singers seem to like to sing in keys around G. They are rarely in C.
I think that professional or trained singers have developed enough range that they mostly don't care, but the kind of people you find in church of a Sunday morning may not be able to sing high or low notes. I play for some Morris dancing events. Some of the tunes are in D, and have words which the dancers sing before they dance. When I play the tunes in D to get them started, they can't sing, because they are too high. Nobody knows but me, because I'm Johnny Cash. Also, the dancers are generally too drunk to notice that the key has changed, and the audience is too astounded that people that drunk can stand without falling over.
That's all I know. There are also certianl connentations to different keys - and different composers like to writing in different ones.
Brahms, for example, loved keys with a lot of sharps or flats C sharp, or G flat. Some composers have used this to great effect, Sibelius' 7th symphony - in C major - is an ironic choice, seeming simplicity disguises a great wealth of complexity. The point about ranges of instruments is well made - and especially important when writing songs, as the range of different voices can make different keys particularily easy or hard to sing. Writing in the extreme ranges of instruments and voices can be thrilling and tense, and picking the correct key can help this along.
A little tangential, maybe, but an idea, to try to answer the question. Try singing a well-known first line from a song. Record it, and check its key against known pitch. Note it sic. Repeat daily, with no reference to other musical sounds. Note each key. Bet it's not the same each time! Try again, after hearing another tune. Bet you sing in the same key as the last tune! Most people, even singers, will not pitch a song they can sing in the same key each time, unless- a. Pianos and other instruments are not "perfectly" tuned.