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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
GUEST,PMB 10 Mar 08 - 04:57 AM
pavane 10 Mar 08 - 06:42 AM
Rockhen 10 Mar 08 - 07:12 AM
McGrath of Harlow 10 Mar 08 - 07:14 AM
Big Al Whittle 10 Mar 08 - 07:19 AM
The Fooles Troupe 10 Mar 08 - 07:50 AM
The Fooles Troupe 10 Mar 08 - 08:01 AM
Newport Boy 10 Mar 08 - 08:15 AM
Big Al Whittle 10 Mar 08 - 08:21 AM
The Fooles Troupe 10 Mar 08 - 08:41 AM
RTim 10 Mar 08 - 08:47 AM
Don Firth 10 Mar 08 - 01:31 PM
Jess A 10 Mar 08 - 01:32 PM
Trevor Thomas 10 Mar 08 - 01:45 PM
GUEST,highlandman 10 Mar 08 - 02:04 PM
GUEST,JohnB 10 Mar 08 - 05:35 PM
PoppaGator 10 Mar 08 - 05:47 PM
McGrath of Harlow 10 Mar 08 - 07:44 PM
Suegorgeous 10 Mar 08 - 07:54 PM
Rockhen 10 Mar 08 - 08:25 PM
McGrath of Harlow 10 Mar 08 - 08:30 PM
Rockhen 10 Mar 08 - 08:34 PM
Snuffy 10 Mar 08 - 08:36 PM
McGrath of Harlow 10 Mar 08 - 08:48 PM
GUEST,.gargoyle 10 Mar 08 - 09:00 PM
GUEST,.gargoyle 10 Mar 08 - 09:12 PM
Suegorgeous 10 Mar 08 - 09:18 PM
GUEST,.gargoyle 10 Mar 08 - 09:26 PM
GUEST,.gargoyle 10 Mar 08 - 09:44 PM
Mr Happy 11 Mar 08 - 06:39 AM
Jack Campin 11 Mar 08 - 07:16 AM
McGrath of Harlow 11 Mar 08 - 02:29 PM
Don Firth 11 Mar 08 - 02:31 PM
Suegorgeous 11 Mar 08 - 10:06 PM
Jack Campin 11 Mar 08 - 10:27 PM
Marje 12 Mar 08 - 01:41 PM
McGrath of Harlow 12 Mar 08 - 02:16 PM
Jim Lad 12 Mar 08 - 02:44 PM
Jack Campin 12 Mar 08 - 03:03 PM
GUEST,the button (not at work, and not at home eit 12 Mar 08 - 03:30 PM
Jack Campin 12 Mar 08 - 04:49 PM
PoppaGator 12 Mar 08 - 05:59 PM
RTim 12 Mar 08 - 07:50 PM
GUEST,Rumncoke 12 Mar 08 - 08:16 PM
RTim 12 Mar 08 - 08:35 PM
McGrath of Harlow 12 Mar 08 - 08:46 PM
Skivee 12 Mar 08 - 10:46 PM
GUEST,the button (still elsewhere, the lucky dog) 12 Mar 08 - 11:17 PM
GUEST,the button (on a roll in the early hours) 12 Mar 08 - 11:23 PM
GUEST,the button, slightly tipsy 12 Mar 08 - 11:25 PM
GUEST,the button in celebration mode 12 Mar 08 - 11:26 PM
GUEST,frshtrx 13 Mar 08 - 12:21 PM
Don Firth 13 Mar 08 - 03:58 PM
The Fooles Troupe 14 Mar 08 - 07:10 AM
GUEST,Chicken Charlie 14 Mar 08 - 11:28 AM
Don Firth 14 Mar 08 - 01:19 PM
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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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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: GUEST,PMB
Date: 10 Mar 08 - 04:57 AM

The definition of equal temperament could not be simpler: the ratio between any two adjacent semitones is exactly the twelfth root of two. That is APPROXIMATELY 1.0595. The problem is of course in the implementation. Octaves are easy enough to do by ear, but for other intervals the ear will lead to one of the various natural temperaments, which will certainly give poor results when playing away from the home key. Electronic means would be possible these days, but I've never seen a piano tuner use an electronic tuner- just tuning forks and a lot of chords, scales, arpeggios and experience.


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: pavane
Date: 10 Mar 08 - 06:42 AM

Just a note about harmonicas and similar.

Although you can get a harmonica in any key, the reeds are physically different, and it takes more breath to play in a higher key. But on the other hand, you can play faster than in lower keys. I presume the smaller reeds have less inertia?

Therefore yes, it will sound different in different keys.


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: Rockhen
Date: 10 Mar 08 - 07:12 AM

Great thread, although I haven't read all the replies properly yet as I need more time....!
To Backwoodsman re...
"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
I KNOWWWWW that's why many guitarists don't like F, lol! You should listen to my attempts to play F on my guitar...ouch, sounds baaaaad!

However, my poor little 48 bass accordion hasn't got a straight B chord unless I make it with other notes so it is a pain trying to play blues in E on it.
If I start a blues jam in F, I do try to yell to guitarists to play in E with capo 1 ...:-)
The black notes 'feel' nicer on a piano as they are all smooth and a little like kitkats (which are a chocolate snack ...in case they are native to Britain!)...   :-)


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 10 Mar 08 - 07:14 AM

Woodwinds and brass instruments are easier to play in flat keys. Strings are easier in sharp keys.

But all flat keys are also sharp keys, just with a different name. I mean B-flat is A sharp and so forth.


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 10 Mar 08 - 07:19 AM

'I KNOWWWWW that's why many guitarists don't like F, lol! You should listen to my attempts to play F on my guitar...ouch, sounds baaaaad!'

I'm sure theres a dead obvious answer to this - but why not capo one up and play E shapes?


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 10 Mar 08 - 07:50 AM

"B-flat is A sharp and so forth"

But Bb is a far more commonly occurring key than A#.... :-)   :-P


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 10 Mar 08 - 08:01 AM

"Equal temperament is NOT based on C and can't have anything to do with it."
"Pianos are never really tuned to equal temperament. Look up "stretch tuning", "

Well the piano tuner who visited us in the 1960s claimed it was 'equal', but he did it by hand, counting beats and 'stretching'... and he DID it in C.... :-)



You see the real answer to the original question partly depends on what instrument....


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: Newport Boy
Date: 10 Mar 08 - 08:15 AM

Foolestroupe - I think your piano might need tuning again by now!!

Phil


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 10 Mar 08 - 08:21 AM

he stretched your piano......!


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 10 Mar 08 - 08:41 AM

It was my mum's mum's - which we got from here - and now my brother took it 20 years ago and had it repoloished and retuned....


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: RTim
Date: 10 Mar 08 - 08:47 AM

Anybody got anymore to add particularly about singing unaccompanied - which was the real question to begin with?

Tim Radford


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: Don Firth
Date: 10 Mar 08 - 01:31 PM

"Woodwinds and brass instruments are easier to play in flat keys. Strings are easier in sharp keys.

But all flat keys are also sharp keys, just with a different name. I mean B-flat is A sharp and so forth."

That's not the point, Kevin. Let me put it this way:   since a guitar is a stringed instrument, are you happier playing in G, D, A, and E than you are in F, Bb, Eb, or Ab? (And no, no capo allowed.)

It's because of the fingering. Fingerings in sharp keys on the guitar are easier than they are in flat keys. Among other things, once you get into flat keys on the guitar, you have fewer and fewer open strings available and you're lumbered with a lot of barre chords.

The same kind of fingering considerations apply to other stringed instruments. Easier to play in keys with sharps in the key signatures. A similar situation applies to brass and woodwind instruments. The fingerings are easier in keys with flats in the key signatures. It is a characteristic of the mechanics of the particular instruments in question.

The fact that if you wanted to play a Bb or an A# you would play the same fret or press the same key on a clarinet is totally irrelevant to what I am saying.

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: Jess A
Date: 10 Mar 08 - 01:32 PM

my 10p worth in relation to the original question - I'd agree with others here that key mainly affects instrumentation and vocal ranges so it varies from one person or band to another and that is what is most important. As a member of a band singing (some of the time) in close unaccompanied harmony I'm constatntly amazed by how moving something by as little as a semitone seems to affect our mutual vocal comfort zone.

as far as collecting from traditional performers is concerned, I struggle to believe that they weren't affected by the same stuff as we are now - so would have picked the key that suited them. And I agree, collectors may not have notated in actual key sung,

Does it matter if it is changed? surely not!
Does changing the Key also change the song? no, I don't think so....

...that said, I used to have a theory while spending time as a student busking on solo fiddle that people in the street gave more money for tunes played in G major than for D major. No idea why - I speculated that culturally maybe people were predisposed to find G major happier. Although it could have been to do with pitch - maybe higher pitched or lower pitched worked better to cut through busy street noise. I never did invest the time to do a proper scientific experiment (I was studying maths & statistics at then time so was thinking about it in quite a geeky way) but I'd have been interested to try it, with the same tune in different keys, to see if in the long term it really did work out that some keys were better money makers. Of course, I would have had to consider other factors like geographical area etc as well otherwise I wouldn't have really been able to generalise my results outside of the towns I normally frequented. But, alas, I never did collect the data and am far too busy these days to spend the time doing the busking.


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: Trevor Thomas
Date: 10 Mar 08 - 01:45 PM

The original question is about unaccompanied singing?

Why on earth do you even need to know what the key is when you're singing unaccompanied? Just sing it how you want. Just don't start too high/too low if the song contains notes that you might struggle to reach.

You only need to think about keys if you're playing with other people.


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: GUEST,highlandman
Date: 10 Mar 08 - 02:04 PM

Great thread!
As an organist and amateur tuner/builder I get into tuning technology quite heavily. The historical aspect of it -- particularly that equal temperament was a theoretical pipe dream until the dawn of electronic tuning -- is fascinating and worth some googling.
My church's organ is kept in a historical, non-equal temperament, and believe me there is a difference between keys there!
One thing I would point out to my fellow guitarists: keep in mind that the fretted guitar is a bastard instrument, fretted on an approximately equal temperament but usually tuned string-to-string as if it were "just" intonation. That's why some people with sensitive ears futz with their guitars so much. Which is not to say that someone who doesn't tinker with the tuning on stage has a bad ear -- many guitarists learn, through experience, how to quickly "temper" the string-to-string tuning to get away from, for example, the nasty sharp open b-string effect.
Cheers
-Glenn


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: GUEST,JohnB
Date: 10 Mar 08 - 05:35 PM

We never really know/bother what specific key we are singing in.
However, we have a start note and sometimes, for some songs, it takes quite a while to determine that note. Some of this is a "Range" issue, some is not. A difference of a semi-tone sometimes makes a song sound/feel right to us (3 of us Sop Alto Tenor in choral range) I wish I knew why. What the correct start note does though, which I can explain is "I don't get really dirty looks from the Alto"
Would someone who knows these things like to address the differences of major and minor key sounds, cos that does make a difference.
JohnB


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: PoppaGator
Date: 10 Mar 08 - 05:47 PM

So ~ that fact that I've always had the most trouble tuning up my guitar's B string indicates that I have a good ear?

Nice to know that...


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 10 Mar 08 - 07:44 PM

My point was that sharp keys and flat keys are the same keys with different names.

Doesn't matter whether you call it Bflat or Asharp I still won't choose it to play in. Or rather I'd use a capo.

But nothing wrong with playing in F. It's a lovely key to play a guitar in, with my favourite relative minor.

..............

"The black notes 'feel' nicer on a piano as they are all smooth and a little like kitkats (which are a chocolate snack ...in case they are native to Britain!)" No need to explain. KitKats were invented in England. Glad to hear they apparently caught on in America.


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: Suegorgeous
Date: 10 Mar 08 - 07:54 PM

Ahhh....the simplicity of statements like Trevor's is music to me ears.... :)


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: Rockhen
Date: 10 Mar 08 - 08:25 PM

Off the thread for a second, sorry...I am IN England...maybe my ""The black notes 'feel' nicer on a piano as they are all smooth and a little like kitkats (which are a chocolate snack ...in case they are native to Britain!)wasn't clear. I merely explained what Kitkats were IN CASE they are not sold elsewhere and people thought they were catfood or something... :-)


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 10 Mar 08 - 08:30 PM

Such as Kitekat

Could get confusing...


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: Rockhen
Date: 10 Mar 08 - 08:34 PM

yum!


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: Snuffy
Date: 10 Mar 08 - 08:36 PM

Getting the start note right is the important thing, and you can be thrown out by the acoustics of the room or the background noise or 1000 other factors. Two or three semitones out is not unusual for me, and it can be five or more! But depending on the tune it may not matter: When the Saints has a range of only a fifth, so if you can sing an octave and a half you can do it in all 12 keys!

Usually I can tell within the first bar or so if it's right or not, and can often "drift" the key down (or up) to the key I want. Unless some bastard decides to jump in with an accompaniment in the key I'm trying to escape from and locks me in!

One place where I sometimes have trouble is when I have learned a song from a single recorded source: I sometimes find that, despite attempts to transpose to "my" key, I have learned the tune in absolute, rather than relative pitch, and will reproduce the key of the source singer rather than my own. For instance, Mrs Costello's version of The Cruel Mother has a range of only a 6th, but I often start it in her key (an octave or two down) and end up singing it right down in my boots, struggling to reach the low notes.

It has also been mentioned above that your voice can change from day to day (or even hour to hour). My "comfortable" range is about an octave and a half from A to the D above the next A. But that A is not 440, it is the lowest note that I can comfortably hit at this moment without sounding growly. So a song that I think of as singing in D may actually be done in C or F tonight and still sound right because that's where my voice is right now.


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 10 Mar 08 - 08:48 PM

"...your voice can change from day to day..." Can be worth check where your voice on the night is by singing the song unaccompanied into a guitar tuner in the car, and seeing what key you are singing it in. Then adjust your accompaniment to fit. (Thank God for capos.)


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: GUEST,.gargoyle
Date: 10 Mar 08 - 09:00 PM

Does changing the Key also change the song?

It might not change the TUNE - but it can certainly affect TONE and COLOR and therefore EMOTION.

"Longfellow Seranade" (Neil Diamond) has a brillance in the Key of E (four sharps)

Sure - it could also go into the key of C.

However - there is a COLOR to E that is different than C.

It was probably the novelty of Celtic Tonation (alien/mystic/different to most American ears)that attributed to the hugely popular success of the "Irish Export" Riverdance and Lord of the Dance

The more accomplished the historian, perhaps the more the nuances of exact pitch (slides, slurs, accidentals) were noticed and recorded in notation.

Why do some guitar players use a capo? The emotion is right in another key and they lack the ability to transpose or time to retune.

Notice all the recent "Dylan documentary" ...notice also .... when going "spontanious acoustic" what harp (harmonica) he requests. His sound was distinctly different to the American ear. Frequently in the key of E. Notice also, he has performs the song in only one key, if the wrong pitch of harmonica is tossed on stage, he throws it out and tries another till the pitch to match his practice is found. He could of changed his guitar to match the harmonica (too much work). We all have our own unique comfort zones with tones.

Sincerely,
Gargoyle


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: GUEST,.gargoyle
Date: 10 Mar 08 - 09:12 PM

Ahhh...

Why DID NOT Dylan have in his kit a correctly keyed harmonica?

Musicians (folk in particular) are freqently like Magicians.

So much lies in the lie of "spontaneous illusion;" it is part of the performance.

Sincerely,
Gargoyle

Unlike Keith Moon (who might not be relied upon to finish a live set) Dylan anticipated/excepted to have the strength to perform "curtain calls" that is why the acoustic was always available in the wings.


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: Suegorgeous
Date: 10 Mar 08 - 09:18 PM

Rockhen - ROFL!!!


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: GUEST,.gargoyle
Date: 10 Mar 08 - 09:26 PM

McGrath-

Flats and Sharps are NOT the same.

The Well Tempered Harpsicord/Clavichord is an example of the "Great Compromise" that came with keyboard instruments....an approximation....with only one note being "true."

A violinist - (and conductor and music theorist) understands the difference. It is a fascinating history involving the great "Three Bees".

Sincerely,
Gargoyle


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: GUEST,.gargoyle
Date: 10 Mar 08 - 09:44 PM

RTim

Your thread question is not as simple as you recently restated it.

IF you are going to do....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.

KEY is VITAL!!!!

......Unless this a YouTube re-mix....then anything ... who cares... "the masses are asses."

Hystograms can be used in photography, music, art, medical spectography - catscans - FBI/NSA internet profiles - etc.

For a musical analogy: 1.You take a "finger-print" of the vocal
2.You take the instrumental (any)
3.Using the vocalist you "morph" the instrumental to fit

For free usage - checkout "Garage Band"...it is simple and neat and best of all free. Expect about a 20 hour "learning curve."

Sincerely,
Gargoyle

Mr. Joe Offer they are offering VERY attractive RE-signing bonuses....you may want to grab a lucrative two year before a change in the administration.


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: Mr Happy
Date: 11 Mar 08 - 06:39 AM

it's my opinion that its very unlikely that the early song collectors notated their gleanings in the key the singer used.

I base this opinion on experiences of hearing unaccompanied singers peforming in no recognisable 'true key'.

This being particularly noticeable if instrumentalists [in concert pitch] attempt accompaniment


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 11 Mar 08 - 07:16 AM

Have you actually LOOKED at what the "early song collectors" did? It's not that difficult to find published collections of field transcriptions, there is no need to guess.

Unless you are looking at sources from more than 100 years ago, the usual procedure was to notate the song in a standard key (like finalis on G) and also say what the singer's key was.


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 11 Mar 08 - 02:29 PM

If they sound the same to me, they are the same to me. Especially when they are played on the same fret.

On a fretted instrument it obviously makes a great difference what fingerings are used, so playing in G without a capo is difference from playing in G with a capo on the third fret, using E chord shapes. But whether there is any real difference in the "TONE and COLOR and therefore EMOTION" when it's just a matter of capoing up and playing the same fingering, but in a different key - I'd question whether that is actually true.

It may possibly be for people with perfect pitch, but not for the rest of us anyway.


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: Don Firth
Date: 11 Mar 08 - 02:31 PM

Often the early song collectors who actually wrote down the tunes (many of them didn't, interested only in "ancient poetry") assumed that the singers were unschooled musicians and if they heard what they thought was a "wrong note," they'd write down what they thought the note should have been. Cecil Sharp was one of the first collectors to write down the notes he actually heard.

Examining the tunes later, he made the discovery that the old ecclesiastical modes from centuries past were still alive and well and living among traditional singers. The singers were not singing "wrong notes," they were singing the notes they intended.

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: Suegorgeous
Date: 11 Mar 08 - 10:06 PM

Wow, Don, you've just given me a really cool idea of how to sound like I know what I'm doing really when I sing a wrong note! (not that I ever do, of course) :)


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 11 Mar 08 - 10:27 PM

McGrath - there is an absolutely obvious difference between playing with a capo and without: Without, there will be open strings,which have a very different sound. I am not a guitarist, can't tell the difference in tone between guitars varying a hundredfold in price, but that one sticks out a mile.


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: Marje
Date: 12 Mar 08 - 01:41 PM

Just to pick up on a few points:
Using a "start note" rather than identifying a key comes to the same thing for a simple melody. if you always start on a particular note, you're always singing in the same key. The difficulties stare when you're singing in harmony with others, as you may have two or more different start notes. Once you know they key and get a chord or arpeggio of that key, everyone can find their start note.

If Dylan insisted on having a harmonica in the correct key rather than tune the guitar to the harmonica, this would be because he needed to have the right key for his voice, which would otherwise have been out of its optimum range (I know he always sounded as if this was the case anyway ..)

It's got nothing to do with "Celtic tonation", which I think is a meaningless term - Riverdance etc were played/ recorded largely in the same tempered tuning as is used for most other Western music, and indeed in a more highly processed and synthetic form than much traditional music. It's fast and metronomic and loud and tuneful - there's nothing remotely mystical about it.

Marje


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 12 Mar 08 - 02:16 PM

I think you misunderstood what I was saying, Jack. If you capo up and play the same chord shapes, you have the same open strings, just a bit higher, and you are of course playing in a different key.
.........................
"if you always start on a particular note, you're always singing in the same key. " But of course that note doesn't tell you what the key is, and knowing the key doesn't tell you what the start note is. It's the end note that you use to determine the key (most of the time). The start note can be just about anything, depending on the tune.


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: Jim Lad
Date: 12 Mar 08 - 02:44 PM

I usually try about 4 or 5 different keys for each song but it's not my comfort level that I'm interested in. Too high can sound strained and too low will bore the listener.
When I'm not sure, I record it and listen.
As for the instrument... I have coal miner's fingers and never was trained in an instrument. I can pretty well play in any key but during a 3 or 4 hour gig will stick to playing in G, C. Dm & Am and capo up. I am better able to hear/feel the changes and thus able to concentrate more on my job.
There is absolutely no doubt though that the instruments sound far richer when unshackled.
As for the song... if singing is a way of enhancing the words then the more you can do to beautify the sound, the better. So I would say that choosing the right key for you and singing it as well as you can is the most important thing of all.
If the instrument of your choice is not well suited, there are always other instruments and other opportunities.


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 12 Mar 08 - 03:03 PM

McGrath - there is an obvious difference between the tone of a string ringing its full length from the nut and one that's stopped some way up the neck with a capo. You don't need to be a guitarist to hear it. A capo is effectively a mute.

Don Firth - got an **actual example** of an early song collector making the mode-correcting mistake you describe? I can't think of one and I think you're fantasizing. (People trying to notate with microtonal accuracy, as you need for the music of India or the Islamic world, is a different matter).


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: GUEST,the button (not at work, and not at home eit
Date: 12 Mar 08 - 03:30 PM

Jack -- one of the things that Hammond did was notate a melody in D major, and then mark all the Cs as flatted. I can't give a songtitle, because I'm not in the same house as my copy of Marrowbones.

While that's accurate in one way (he notated that the singer consistently flatted the C), it suggests that he was trying to transcribe a tune in D major -- but that didn't fit cos the Cs were consistently flatted. But, to his trained ear, it was clear that the tune wasn't in E minor (i.e. the minor key with a sharp F but a flat C), but somewhere inbetween D major and E minor.

Of course, this isn't Hammond's problem -- he's up against the limits of the musical notation he was using.


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 12 Mar 08 - 04:49 PM

You find something like that in Scottish transcriptions for exactly one tune: Tullochgorum. It's mixolydian but was consistently printed for 200 years in a major key signature with the flattened sevenths added as accidentals. Whereas for every *other* mixolydian tune in the repertoire, every publisher notated it the simple way. I have never found an explanation; would anybody really be tempted to sing it in major if they weren't warned?

I'd forgotten about Simon Fraser, but his changes to traditional tunes went far beyond changing the mode - fantastically Italianate ornamentation and extending the melodies to impossible ranges. His lifetime project seemed to be trying to prove that the Scottish Highlanders could take on anybody in Europe at the game of gratuitous musical complication.He never said he was recording the way specific people played or sang, though, except for his father. And for all we know his father *did* do the tunes that way.


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: PoppaGator
Date: 12 Mar 08 - 05:59 PM

Per Jack Campin:
"McGrath - there is an obvious difference between the tone of a string ringing its full length from the nut and one that's stopped some way up the neck with a capo. You don't need to be a guitarist to hear it. A capo is effectively a mute."

I'd argue that the truth lays somewhere in-between, but I'm leaning more towards McGrath's opinion. It's true that a capo may partially mute or muffle the fully ringing tone of a completely open string, but not nearly to the extent that a finger does. If nothing else, an un-fingered string ~ whether open all the way to the nut or just to the capoed fret ~ continues to sound between and through chord changes. A string held down by a fingertip is deadened the moment the finger ceases to fully depress it. Depending upon the player's stylistic intentions, and also his/her level of skill, the time that fingered strings remain firmly held and fully heard may be very short indeed.

I am a guitar player, of some 45+ years standing, and while I can't claim always to hear the difference between an instrument with or without a capo, nor ever to hear the key in which a piece is being played, I can very often hear the chord shapes being used for a given piece.

That is, I can often recognize the set of key-of-C guitar chords, even though I cannot be sure of the absolute pitch. The instrument may or may not be in correct tune, and may or may not be capoed at the first or second fret*, but I can recognize the C/F/G chords by their voicings/inversions, by the bass runs available to the player, and, yes, by the combination of fingered and open strings in each chord.

*If the capo is WAY up the neck, yes, of course, I can recognize that the overall pitch of the instrument is so high that a capo muct be involved.


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: RTim
Date: 12 Mar 08 - 07:50 PM

So - The Button (whereever and whomever you are) - can you remember which song and singer Hammond collected from?
I will look at my Marrowbones tonight and see and if I can find what you speak of.

By the way - thanks everyone for the response thus far on this thread - Great!

Tim Radford
(Who spent a large part of today checking which keys his source singer sang in and which keys I am going to record the same song in!)


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: GUEST,Rumncoke
Date: 12 Mar 08 - 08:16 PM

I have tried to understand the theory of music and how to read dots, but I can't quite get it. I know that there are notes of a certain pitch and length and yet it never really translates into a tune.

I know that when I sing 'Sea Fever' I transpose it into a minor key, because I used to have a yacht - and now I don't, even though I live beside the sea.

The key, or perhaps it is the mode, makes all the difference. I don't know how or why, there is simply a right sound for the singer and song together.


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: RTim
Date: 12 Mar 08 - 08:35 PM

I have checked thru my Marrowbones - ie. new 2007 version with the Gardiner songs and notes edited by fellow Mudcatter - Malcolm Douglas (thank you Malcolm)

I Can find NO Hammond songs in D Major with flattened - ie. natural CÕs.
However:-

Limbo H1275 - from James Blooming via Gardiner but tune collected by Mr. Gamblin and then revised later by Mr. J.C. Guyer and Mr. G Leake. Defined as Mixolydian/Ionian with inflection of 7th. - However some CÕs are natural, some remain sharp.
Also;
The Rambling Sailor H216 from George Digweed again in Gardiner but tune collected again by Gamblin. Again only some CÕs are naturals. (As an aside, I used to work with old Digweed's grandson!)
Also:
The Wonderful Sucking Pig H699 from Alfred Stride of Dibden once more in Gardiner but tune collected by Mr JC Guyer - as Ionian with inflextion on 7th. The natural CÕs only occur in the chorus. (again as an aside - The Stride family of Dibden used to run a second-hand shop in the village here I was born)

I have heard it said that Gardiner had to find someone to replace Gamblin because his notations were "suspect."

I have to add that all this means very little to me as a non musician (just a singer!!) but I am learning and it is very interesting - at least I think so!

Tim Radford


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 12 Mar 08 - 08:46 PM

" there is an obvious difference between the tone of a string ringing its full length from the nut and one that's stopped some way up the neck with a capo. You don't need to be a guitarist to hear it. A capo is effectively a mute."

It depends on the capo. I'd dispute whether that is actually generally true.


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: Skivee
Date: 12 Mar 08 - 10:46 PM

There's an old gag:
The singer joins the band at practice and asks the band leader what key they would be doing a particular song in.
He says: I thought we would start out in D do the second and third verses in Eb, then do the bridge in D, then throughout the last verse slide up from D to E natural".
She says," It may be kinda tough to get"
He says," Well, how did you do it last night?"


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: GUEST,the button (still elsewhere, the lucky dog)
Date: 12 Mar 08 - 11:17 PM

Hi Tim -- next time I'm at home, I'll have a good look through my Marrowbones to see the song I'm thinking of. I could have sworn it was a song annotated in D maj with the Cs consistently flatted, but I'll check it out in case it was a song annotated in G with the Fs consistently flatted or somesuch.

There's been a bit of discussion around that new edition of Marrowbones & the transcriptions -- for instance Martin Carthy's review in the EFDSS magazine, (IIRC), questioned a key signature on the basis that the tune in question was pentatonic rather than being in the key stated.

Thing is, (to my mind at least) it's just the collector coming up against the limitations of the musical notation available (as I said earlier) -- the best s/he can do is hear the tune and write it down to the best of their abilitities given the conventions they're working in.

For instance, one of the versions of "Down by the old riverside" on the Musical Traditions CDs of the Brazil family -- I think the second one. The one by the female singer, anyway (once again, I'm not in the same house as my CDs, let alone my songbooks). There's a note she sings that to musically-trained ears might sound wrong wrong wrong. But she does it consistently, and after a few hearings you accept it as part of the melody. And proper lovely it is too.


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: GUEST,the button (on a roll in the early hours)
Date: 12 Mar 08 - 11:23 PM

While I think about it, how would you annotate Walter Pardon's habit of sliding down from a long note at the end of a line? Would you transcribe it faithfully, or would you put it down to one man's eccentricity and trainscribe it as one long note?

(Anyone who hasn't heard Walter's version of The Trees They Do Grow High should get on Amazon now, and buy a copy of A World Without Horses, but the way).


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: GUEST,the button, slightly tipsy
Date: 12 Mar 08 - 11:25 PM

Apologies for the spelling in that last post, by the way.


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: GUEST,the button in celebration mode
Date: 12 Mar 08 - 11:26 PM

Oh, by the way -- 100.


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: GUEST,frshtrx
Date: 13 Mar 08 - 12:21 PM

How much difference?
The question implies, decidedly, there is some difference...let's safely say between 0 and 100% difference.
But, difference of what?
...ease of playing with other musicians?
...difference of enjoyment to the listener?
...difference of perception between the original composers's creation and the current performers' rendition?
I'm sure there are others unaccounted for...

Above responses eloquently hammer into each area, in non-defined response.

I say, if you want the listener to best be virtually transported to recall nostalgic circumstances reflective of their original exposure to a song - my personal belief is that it needs to be in the same key for most true "musicophiles", based on the following:
Recommended reading for everyone on the board "Musicophilia" by Oliver Sacks. (this is not spam, I have nothing to do with the publisher, Mr. Sacks, etc...)
The insight this book gave me into music, after already being recognized by my peers as a "musician", not merely a guitarist, made me feel as though I knew very little about music at all.
The Key of Clear Green: Sythesia and Music, chapter 14, brings forth an understanding on the topic rooted in the physical and nuerological effects of particular keys which I found fascinating.
...
when my band's vocalist says...I can't do this song, it's not in my key, there are 2 choices...don't play it, or change the key. Initially I try a change. At that point if it strikes me as inconsistent with the zeigeist of the song, if it makes my skin crawl or hairs stand on my arms, it gets canned. Sometimes it doesn't. Nothing worse than a Chipmunks version of a blues tune. If you play with your soul; listen with your whole body, not just your ears.


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: Don Firth
Date: 13 Mar 08 - 03:58 PM

Don Firth - got an **actual example** of an early song collector making the mode-correcting mistake you describe? I can't think of one and I think you're fantasizing. (People trying to notate with microtonal accuracy, as you need for the music of India or the Islamic world, is a different matter).

Well, Jack, if I'm fantasizing, then so is Prof.David C. Fowler, a teacher I had at the University of Washington, author of A Literary History of the Popular Ballad and other books. And Cecil J. Sharp himself, who mentioned this several times in his writings. This is also mentioned in books by MacEdward Leach and Evelyn Kendrick Wells. I think those are fairly solid authorities.

As to examples, Dr. Fowler gave a couple in class, but that was some 50 years ago, and I don't recall the specifics. I do recall, however, that one was a particular version of "The Broken Token" ("Pretty Little Miss" or "John Riley"). One collector notated the song from a particular singer in a straight natural minor (A B C D E F G), and mentioned that the singer, "being untrained, of course, had an indifferent sense of musical pitch." Sharp collected the same song a short time later from the same singer, and in Sharp's notation, the scale was A B C D E F# G. The raised sixth (F# rather than F natural) is the defining characteristic of the Dorian mode.

Sharp found a number of such examples of folk songs being sung in modes and compared them with notations made by previous collectors in which the "wrong note" (or notes) had been "corrected," putting the song into a more conventional scale. Sharp stated that he was certain that these "wrong notes" were not wrong at all. He knew enough about modes to be able to recognize them when he encountered them.

Other than straight major and minor (which, incidentally are the Ionian and Aeolian modes, respectively), the two modes one encounters the most in Anglo-American folk music are the Dorian (like the natural minor or Aeolian mode, but with a raised sixth) and the Mixolydian (like the modern major scale—Ionian mode—but with a flatted seventh). If the song seems to want to end on the dominant chord, it's probably Mixolydian mode. One also encounters pentatonic scales.

And just to be abundantly clear, I'm talking about Anglo-American folk music, not the music of India or the Islamic world.

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 14 Mar 08 - 07:10 AM

"It depends on the capo. I'd dispute whether that is actually generally true."

Incidentally a 'mute' on a violin does not muffle the sound like the alleged capo - it modifies it, but it is still clear, not muddy.


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: GUEST,Chicken Charlie
Date: 14 Mar 08 - 11:28 AM

Don--

I just cut & pasted your last post--what you said about modes and "corrections" was very helpful to me in my present state of "learning(??)."

I don't agree that the Dorian mode is all that common, though. The only person I can think of who ever used it was Oscar Wilde.

(Seriously, now I really am going to have to find the passage where Plato discusses the effects/value/morality of the different modes.)

FreshTricks--

Wonder of wonders, my local library actually has the Sacks book. It sounds fascinating & I'm off to get it as soon as they get around to opening. Thanks for that, too.

Chicken Charlie


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Subject: RE: How much difference does the Key make?
From: Don Firth
Date: 14 Mar 08 - 01:19 PM

Yeah, Charlie, there's a pretty good article on modes in Wikipedia (CLICKY). Probably more than you really want to know on the subject.

As to Oscar Wilde's use of the Dorian mode, I think he was just trying to put the best face on things. . . .

Don Firth


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