Favorite and least favorite musical keys
  • Grace and peace, everyone.

    I was thinking today about my favorite musical key: E flat major (as with a certain Classical composer who shall remain nameless). It reminds me for some reason of the human voice (and indeed is still a comfortable key for me to sing in).

    I also really love A flat major, though I'm not sure that I'd ever write anything in it for congregational singing. A flat major reminds me of a girl whom I knew in high school, gorgeous, brilliant, and kind, with a 4.0 average. I am given to understand that asking her out required intense soul-searching.

    The thing about C major is that although it's easy to read, the composer has nowhere to hide. Every little flaw in the composition, especially in the melody, is going to be exposed for all to hear. Sometimes I'll transpose my compositions from other keys into C major and listen to them again for just this reason.

    I am so afraid of D minor that I am reluctant to say so, lest the Commendatore's ghost show up.

    What about you?
  • TCJ
    Posts: 776
    Eb Major is my favorite.

    Db or Bb Major are close.
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,361
    For voices in the pews, stick to keys in which the bulk of the melodic lines they are expected to sing run from A to the E that is an octave and fifth above that A.

    [PS: This appears to be tremendously frustrating to some composers/directors who are tenors or sopranos and believe this indulges laziness in the pews; in response to which, pew dwellers - especially at liturgies early in the morning - roll their eyes.]
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  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,225
    E flat - considered to be the perfect Masonic key even to that composer who shall not be named. Franck, for example, never seemed to stay in one key long enough for it to matter. It seemed to me that Widor seemed to delight in multiple sharps such as F sharp with six sharps. I always found F sharp difficult to play in. Liam is correct on voice keys. They are much more limited to what singers can actually sing.
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,361
    Wind players have a bias for flat keys; string players have a bias for sharp keys; I have no sense if there's any observed bias for keyboard players, but I've known a few keyboardists with a predilection for Db major.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,225
    My experience is that flats are easier on keyboards. Could be just me but I find sharps don't fall under my fingers as easily.
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  • cmb
    Posts: 68
    Not sure about the Commendatore's ghost, but I find D minor very pleasant to improvise in.
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  • I love D Flat Major. To me it has a very rich, full sound but still has some of the brightness that goes with D major.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 9,546
    Accept for range, keys make no difference unless the tuning is not equal temperment. Now mode is a whole nother story.
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  • I also like D♭ major. Whereas C♯ major always seemed brash and tinny to me.

    I have some old edition of the WTK 1 around somewhere which presents the third prelude and fugue in both keys. It always sounds better in D♭ .
  • I also like D♭ major. Whereas C♯ major always seemed brash and tinny to me.


    There is a conspicuous lack of purple in this comment, so are you just seeing who's paying attention, or do you hear these keys very differently? Are you playing on non-equal temperament instruments?
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,225
    Maybe it is tuned in Schicklegruber temperament.
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  • I know it shouldn't make a difference, but I do hear one. I do have really good relative pitch (not quite perfect pitch), but there is a difference to me. I'm playing in equal temperament. I don't think range has a lot to do with it either, because I notice the same thing across instrumentations. Orchestra, band, organ, choir, it doesn't matter.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,225
    I don't have perfect pitch, either. However, it does seem some keys sound "brighter" than others. When I was a choir director before retirement, I was sure my choir sometimes sang in keys unknown to man.
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  • Carol
    Posts: 690
    What key are they singing in?

    "I don't know, but it sounds like H to me."
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  • Funnily enough, I've also been loving D♭, both major but particularly minor.
    There is something so wonderful about D♭ minor. I don't know why, I don't know what, but it's nice. (To play on the organ, not so much, lol.)

    One of the psalms I did earlier this year is somewhere in-between major and minor:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dJoyiEJxU4c

    And one in major:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uoPJd2jw4Aw

    I also had fun in E♭ minor a while back:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iR6jbdMmhEo
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  • C-flat? (I actually love B, and hate it, too).
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  • CharlesSA
    Posts: 143
    B major and C# minor are my 2 favorite keys (speaking primarily as a pianist). Don't really have a least favorite, except that generally, even as someone who does quite well with sight-reading and learning music, it is harder for me to wrap my mind around some of the 7 flat and 7 sharp keys (especially minor ones) when learning.
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  • I tend to be most happy with D, E, A -and once in a while,F#, and B. -. I have never liked flat; keys all that much - except for Schubert's impromptu in G-flat. I think that Schubert and Brahms were the greatest musical poets of the XIXth century.
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,687
    There is something so wonderful about D♭ minor. I don't know why, I don't know what, but it's nice.
    So, the relative minor of F♭ major? ... with 8 flats in the key signature?? Come on, it's just C# minor, the relative minor of E major which has 4 sharps in the key signature. How many double flats must one negotiate in F♭ major/D♭ minor?

    For that matter, in equal temperament, C# major IS D♭ major, and C♭ major IS B major, any psychology (or psychobabble) notwithstanding.

    And forget writing in such keys as D♭ minor or F♭ major for the harp without making enharmonic alterations. Note, a harp sounds better (richer, fuller) in G♭ major than in its enharmonic equivalent F# major. Why? ... because when tuned in G♭ the strings are longer than when tuned in F#.

  • To me the perceived character of a key is created by the tonal characteristics of whatever instrument is playing at the time.

    So a violin tuned GDAE playing a piece in D major will feel drastically different than the same piece shifted down to D flat, and will also feel very different if it were in D flat but the strings were all detuned a half step. And the Hardanger fiddle is just going to sound better in some keys because of sympathetic resonance.

    But I'm not dying on that hill. I know the feeling of hearing some particular key seem to be just right - even on an even-tempered evenly voiced piano.
  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 2,366
    So, the relative minor of F♭ major? ... with 8 flats in the key signature??
    Come on, Chuck: everybody knows that d-flat minor takes a Dorian key signature, don't they?

    Last night while waiting for some poblano chiles to char I read through Arkel's monologue in Act IV of Pelléas, with that huge D-sharp major climax.

    The one that makes me sputter though is the C-flat section in the Jenufa prelude, turning to the parallel minor with double flats and only quite a bit later dropping to the submediant G major.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 9,546
    You are all tripping over molecules on this one.
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  • When I had a summer job as an organ technician, I used to love sitting down at the newly tuned instrument to try and find the key that had harmonic resonance in the room. In well-voiced instruments that were rightly positioned in the room, you could tell when a harmonic was set up. The air would shake and the room would resound, as if all at once the walls began to breath and give voice with the organ.

    I spent a few weeks in the bowels of the Bosch organ at Our Lady of Walsingham in Houston. I distinctly remember that that room loved D Major. A cadence on D would echo for twice as long as any other. Great memories!
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  • ...in G-flat major than its enharmonic equivalent F# major.
    I definitely feel that Schubert's G-flat impromptu would be a totally different piece if it were played in F# major - and would sound down right vavuous if played in G, which the original publishers insisted on.
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  • So, the relative minor of F♭ major? ... with 8 flats in the key signature?? Come on, it's just C# minor, the relative minor of E major which has 4 sharps in the key signature. How many double flats must one negotiate in F♭ major/D♭ minor?


    No.

    I made no mention of F♭. And singers naturally sing in just intonations. And whether or not anyone likes it, musicians the world over agree (on the whole) that one perceives keys differently.
  • bhcordovabhcordova
    Posts: 980
    What key are they singing in?

    "I don't know, but it sounds like H to me."


    And H is what Germans call Bb
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  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,225
    That wasn't the "H" I had in mind.
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  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 9,546
    Maybe they "be flat?"
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  • MarkS
    Posts: 266
    And H is what Germans call Bb


    'H' is actually what Germans and some Central Europeans call our B natural, and 'B' refers to B-flat.
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  • Liam
    Posts: 4,361
    Correct.
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