Keys you like or dislike

HS Tech gave me the idea. He wrote about keys and the colors they represent to him. I find it very personal because I would assign different colors to the keys. But there could be a common factor when it comes to the preference for certain keys. For example, I'm not particularly fond of flat keys. I have used them, especially in educational works, but I prefer sharp keys. I find flat keys too soft and boring. Strangely enough, as a teenager, I preferred A-flat major. I think I've become 'harder' over the years. And when I have to choose a key, I prefer E minor, even though I modulate freely.Certainly, the instrument you play influences your choice. Guitarists are more likely to opt for E major over B-flat major, even though you can easily retune a guitar.Furthermore, I have an aversion to keys with many accidentals. Then I have to think too much. Composing should be relaxing. If the music doesn't flow spontaneously, allowing my thoughts to wander while composing, I'd rather go cycling.

You need to be a member of composersforum to add comments!

Join composersforum

Email me when people reply –


  • My favorite major key is F# major, and my favorite minor key is Eb minor. 😆

    I don't find many accidentals a problem; I don't think in terms of accidentals and absolute pitches, but pitches relative to a base key. I.e. in B major for example I don't see E as E, but as the 4th degree from B. The note E in B major is inherently different from E in G major, for example.  When I'm playing the piano I don't perceive them the same. So for me, transposition is relatively simple once I learned a piece; it's just a matter of learning it relative to a home key (and remembering the relative change in each modulation), and reapplying this to a new home key.

    A big part of this comes from a childhood of being exposed to the Numbered Musical Notation and having to improvise chords to plain melodic lines when I'm accompanying singers. To accommodate different abilities of singers, I often had to transpose the music; this is pretty intuitive with the numbered notation once you've internalized the notes of the scale in each of the 24 keys (which I spent a lot of time learning as a teenager). I also happen to have "relative pitch" rather than absolute pitch, so it all came to me rather naturally.

    In many of my own works the main themes are conceived not in terms of absolute pitches but pitches relative to an abstract home key; the choice of concrete key to write it down in is more-or-less arbitrary, and based on my subjective perception of each key. F# major is the brightest, calmest major key, and Eb minor is the darkest, most pained key. Between these two extremes lie the entire spectrum of the other 22 keys, 4 of which I avoid because subjectively I prefer their other enharmonic spellings instead (that's why I wrote Eb minor rather than D# minor, for example). Since I treat F# major and Gb major as identical keys in the absolute sense of the word, mentally I have to choose a preferred label for it; so I choose the sharp for the major key and the flat for the minor key.

    Of course, when writing for orchestra I have to restrict myself to keys that are more practical to score for. 😅 And more recently, in writing for keyboard I've also exercised more restraint for practical reasons: having to write too many accidentals in the score makes it less pleasant to read and therefore less likely to be played by a human player, even though in my head the music really isn't any different and I would have no problem with it myself. C'est la vie.

    Numbered musical notation
    The numbered musical notation (simplified Chinese: 简谱; traditional Chinese: 簡譜; pinyin: jiǎnpǔ; lit. 'simplified notation', not to be confused with t…
    • That is interesting. I thought I knew all the alternative notations, but I had never heard of 'numbered musical notation'. That must indeed have some effect on the way you experience Western music.

    • Only slightly. We used both numbered notation (mostly for monophonic purposes like notating a melody) and traditional western notation (for more complex music).

      It's more the need to instantaneously transpose to a different key, plus my own relative pitch, that led to my internal "relative perception".

      Well, and probably there's also some influence from the fact that my mother tongue is tonal: most speakers of non-tonal languages don't understand how that actually works. A tonal language (in the linguistic sense) does not have absolute pitches; there is no such thing as "440 Hz means X and 550 Hz means Y". Rather, it is the pitch contour of a word in a phrase that gives it its tonal assignments. So one native speaker could have a high tone of G and a low tone of C, but another speaker could have a high tone of B and a low tone of F, and we'd still understand each other, because the shape of words have equivalent pitch contours. I.e., they have the same shape but may be arbitrarily transposed in pitch. And pitches across words in a sentence need not always be consistent; again it's the shape that determines the meaning, not the absolute pitches.

      Perhaps all of this contributed to my internal "relativistic" perception of music. (Not in the sense of physics, though that would be cool. 😁)


  • An interesting perspective but incorrect, the saddest and therefore best of all keys is D minor.

    • I upped you by a semitone: Eb minor is much sadder. 🤪


    • To my neighbours all my keys sound sad smile

  • there are certain keys which have a particular function - often handed down from classical times. C major is simple and almost naive. G is a grey key -- both major and minor: somewhat atmospheric. Eb major is of course heroic. I generally dislike A minor and don't much care for D minor either.The more esoteric keys can be more atmospheric but more important is often a repeating a section in a remote key --and that's often a semitone up or down.

    • I've read some of the classical labelling or definitions of keys, and I honestly put no stock in... really any of it, beyond the difference between major/minor and so on. I assume it derives from which instruments work most idiomatically, the ranges in which they sound best and therefore the kind of music that might generally be written around these aspects, but the idea that Eb major is heroic but G major is grey makes very little sense to me. Or that C is naive... I'll write you naive C, heroic G and atmospheric Eb any time (I won't, I'm busy, but you get my point)

    • A lot of this is actually historical baggage.

      Keep in mind that a large part of this came from the days before equal temperament, when there were actual differences between keys (the intervals between notes were not equal due to the tuning, so a minor 3rd between C and Eb may be slightly different in quality from a minor third between D and F). You said you don't have the time, so this probably won't interest you, but just in case the local time shop goes on sale -- look up "Pythagorean comma" sometime, and the associated topics.

      Later, with the advent of Equal Temperament, these subtle differences between keys vanished -- literally tuned out of existence; the only thing that remains is historical tradition of how people used to interpret the subtle tonal differences between what is today completely identical intervals.

      During the transition, there also arose perceptions based on actual works. For example, Beethoven's Eroica symphony was written in Eb major, apparently continuing in a line of supposedly "heroic" works, and its popularity influenced subsequent composers to associate Eb with heroism. (Beethoven himself could have been influenced by such a perception from earlier works -- I'm not sure who started it first -- but the point stands.) Sibelius' 5th, which came much later, is also written in Eb major, and is traditionally perceived as being somehow "heroic". Sibelius himself could have been influenced by this tradition, but certainly the way musicians play it according to the same tradition would only strengthen this perception, regardless of whether there's an objective basis to it.

      So, this is all very subjective. Once upon a time there was an objective component to it (non-equal temperament tuning), but it has since become something completely subjective and based on one's perception of prior art and personal experience.  I don't find Eb major heroic, for example. I find it rather on the softer side, more pastoral than heroic. The heroic key, if such a thing could exist objectively, for me is A major. Why? Because in my childhood I happened to particularly like Beethoven's sonata in A major and another piece (don't remember exactly now, I think it was Mozart) also in A major.  Completely subjective, and dependent on individual experience, really.

    • Now you've hit the proverbial nail. None of this really matters in ET. You have to tune to Werckmeister or the dreaded mean tone temperaments to get asymmetric key characteristics. In quarter comma mean tone, few of the distant keys are going to be usable to the modern ear, and even in the home key, the most stable and consonent, modern chromatic music is going hit some horrendously wolfish intervals (and by 'modern tonal', I'm referring to music from the early Baroque forward)..

      I keep my Italian virginals in quarter comma (insert appropriate bawdy joke here). The tuning throws most of the comma into the fifths, but the major thirds are pure (This is why Renaissance writers such as Byrd, Bull, Farnaby, so on, were so , er, thirdy, I suspect), whereas ET has decent fifths, at the cost of horrendous thirds, an observation that becomes glaring the more your ear becomes acclimated to playing a QQMT instrument. You can also just retune a few thirds depending on the "modulations" you anticipate to use. So, in tuning D#/Eb, you would choose either one or the other. If I tune D# perfect to Bnat, I would have a nice Bmaj chord, but a howling Ebmaj chord, etc.I say "modulations", because QQMT is really suited to modal music, rather than tonal. The point is, In QQMT, D# and Eb are melodically equivalent, but harmonically very distinct animals. Now, if you want to do WTC and the like, werckmeister is the way to go. 

      ET is practical, but sounds like crap. Pythagorean (pure fifths) is useful for the 0.001% percent of the composing community that writes Medieval pastiche, I suppose.


This reply was deleted.

Topics by Tags

Monthly Archives