I'm sure I could figure this out by trial and error, but maybe someone already has a handle on this....


It seems there must be certain key signatures that work best for different styles/moods/textures. For instance, if I want something dramatic, I would want to choose a key that puts the French horns or other brass in their best registers for "punching" the strings. Or if I want something quiet or mysterious, I would want a key that puts both strings and woodwinds in a comfortable range, so they don't get shrill or harsh when they climb.

See what I mean? Does anyone have a chart or just rules of thumb for this sort of thing? If not, maybe we can get some experimentation going and make a discussion of it....

-Norman

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  • Studying underneath a musicologist in the greater Boston area, I've been encouraged to grow in knowledge within this life I lead, as such: I've investigated various synthetic relationships and organic relationships with regards to answering the question what key or keys are best to utilize for a certain affect/effect. I've concluded that assigning an affect/effect to a given pitch, interval, chord, scale/mode, or a combination thereof is useless.

    Illustrating the above point, I once wrote a computer program that:

    1. calculated the visible light frequencies for human beings from their corresponding wavelengths.
    2. calculated the audible frequencies within a temperament given an origin pitch.
    3. calculated corresponding frequencies audible:visible.

    Using the data from the aforementioned program:

    1. I first superimposed a color wheel onto a pitch wheel based upon the data collected.
    2. I then superimposed the above created wheel with a basic emotion wheel.

    As a theorist and composer, I found the above sojourn to be stimulating on an intellectual level, yet lacking in objectivity and universality. I, however, as a theorist and composer, didn't find the above sojourn to be stimulating on an emotional level. Since the sojourn didn't resolve the problem --- "narrowing choices within music via an objective universal color-pitch-emotion wheel", then I found edification impossible.

    I, at present, believe that the experience of color and pitch and emotion is too individual for an objective universal model to be constructed. I, at present, believe that the best approach is:

    1. Understanding the overtone series in relationship to instrument construction on a basic level.
    2. Understanding what is and what isn't complex and difficult for each instrument.
    3. Understanding what is and what isn't idiomatic for each instrument.
    4. Understanding that if the work is for people --- not to compose for computer.

    e.g. If during a symphonic composition I desire to have a darker sound and I desire for the strings to be included in this section, then I'd select a key signature that didn't utilize open strings, which are the key signature of 5, 6, 7 's or 5, 6, 7 's. I'd desire to write the composition in flats, as flats have a psychological effect on performers which results in a darker emotional presentation. I'd desire for the key signature to be 6 ♭'s, as this places standard orchestral instruments in the following manner:

    • C Instruments: 6 ♭'s
    • B Instruments: 4 ♭'s 
    • A Instruments: 3 ♯'s
    • F Instruments: 5 ♭'s
    • E Instruments: 3 ♭'s

    In this case I wouldn't write for instruments in "A", such as the clarinet in "A" --- too bright for desired darkness both in instrumental color and key color. I also wouldn't write for instruments in "E♭", such as the clarinet in "E♭" --- too bright for desired darkness in instrumental color and not key color. In a standard orchestra, I'd be using an English Horn, Horns in F, and Strings (for a dark melancholy sound).

  • Thanks. Not being a string player myself, I appreciate your taking the time to detail what others have hinted at in regard to open strings and the use of flats or sharps for various applications and effects. I suppose the rest is just a matter of experimentation.....



    Gordon Francis Blaney Jr. said:

    Studying underneath a musicologist in the greater Boston area, I've been encouraged to grow in knowledge within this life I lead, as such: I've investigated various synthetic relationships and organic relationships with regards to answering the question what key or keys are best to utilize for a certain affect/effect. I've concluded that assigning an affect/effect to a given pitch, interval, chord, scale/mode, or a combination thereof is useless.

    Illustrating the above point, I once wrote a computer program that:

    1. calculated the visible light frequencies for human beings from their corresponding wavelengths.
    2. calculated the audible frequencies within a temperament given an origin pitch.
    3. calculated corresponding frequencies audible:visible.

    Using the data from the aforementioned program:

    1. I first superimposed a color wheel onto a pitch wheel based upon the data collected.
    2. I then superimposed the above created wheel with a basic emotion wheel.

    As a theorist and composer, I found the above sojourn to be stimulating on an intellectual level, yet lacking in objectivity and universality. I, however, as a theorist and composer, didn't find the above sojourn to be stimulating on an emotional level. Since the sojourn didn't resolve the problem --- "narrowing choices within music via an objective universal color-pitch-emotion wheel", then I found edification impossible.

    I, at present, believe that the experience of color and pitch and emotion is too individual for an objective universal model to be constructed. I, at present, believe that the best approach is:

    1. Understanding the overtone series in relationship to instrument construction on a basic level.
    2. Understanding what is and what isn't complex and difficult for each instrument.
    3. Understanding what is and what isn't idiomatic for each instrument.
    4. Understanding that if the work is for people --- not to compose for computer.

    e.g. If during a symphonic composition I desire to have a darker sound and I desire for the strings to be included in this section, then I'd select a key signature that didn't utilize open strings, which are the key signature of 5, 6, 7 's or 5, 6, 7 's. I'd desire to write the composition in flats, as flats have a psychological effect on performers which results in a darker emotional presentation. I'd desire for the key signature to be 6 ♭'s, as this places standard orchestral instruments in the following manner:

    • C Instruments: 6 ♭'s
    • B Instruments: 4 ♭'s 
    • A Instruments: 3 ♯'s
    • F Instruments: 5 ♭'s
    • E Instruments: 3 ♭'s

    In this case I wouldn't write for instruments in "A", such as the clarinet in "A" --- too bright for desired darkness both in instrumental color and key color. I also wouldn't write for instruments in "E♭", such as the clarinet in "E♭" --- too bright for desired darkness in instrumental color and not key color. In a standard orchestra, I'd be using an English Horn, Horns in F, and Strings (for a dark melancholy sound).

    Choosing the right key signature
    I'm sure I could figure this out by trial and error, but maybe someone already has a handle on this.... It seems there must be certain key signatures…
  • I appreciate this particular post as being a seed for me to nurture for intellectual growth in music.

    I'd ask for an elaboration upon the concept of masterpieces from before the standardization of concert pitch being utilized as a basis for arguing against a theoretical model for lightness and darkness with regards to flats and sharps in a key signature. I'd also inquire if the concept of modal lightness and darkness is accepted or disregarded by you.  I'd also ask for an opinion upon how historical opinions on the relationship between colors as well as emotions are relevant before the standardization of concert pitch.

    I look forward to an informative response. I'll be posting a followup to the original post I posted, in order to provide a more in depth answer to the question being posed to us all. I'll make the following amendment to the original post: "understanding the performance practice of each orchestral instrument is vital to orchestral writing".

    Fredrick zinos said:

    Unless the score specifically calls for it*, string players generally avoid playing on open strings except for the lowest of the strings where that is unavoidable, respectively G for violins, C for violas and celli and either E or C for basses. The reason is that one can not produce vibrato on an open string. Even in the case of the lowest string, frequently players will finger the note an octave above the open string to produce a quasi vibrato. For example, the G a 4th below middle C is an open string on the violin and there are no options for this note, thus it is played as such. However the performer may finger (but not bow) the G a 5th above middle C to "warm" the tone. This has been standard performance practice for at least the last 100 years (See Leopold Auer :How I Teach Violin Playing).

    The theory that one should or must use keys with 5-6 sharps or flats to achieve "darkness"  is not supported by historical practice, the 2 g minor symphones of Mozart come to mind as do the 5th and 9th symphonies of Beethoven 

    There are apparently times and places where an exotic key serves a purpose on the overall structure of a composition, Puccini's use of 5# is Un Bel Dei seems just right, but when the area is taken out of context it sounds every bit as good in C or in A and 99.99% of the audience will never know the difference.

    The other thing that needs to be mentioned is the role of the conductor in achieving the hoped for texture. Whether it is one of feather-stitching lightiness or of gravitas is largely up to the way the conductor handles the material and communicates his concept to the musicians.   

    *there is specific notation for open strings.

    Choosing the right key signature
    I'm sure I could figure this out by trial and error, but maybe someone already has a handle on this.... It seems there must be certain key signatures…
  • Fred,

    I appreciate the candid courteous response. I, however, am not in denial concerning or unaware of the historical facts presented in the response to the questions I posed: I also am not in denial concerning the influence said has.

    You're quite a knowledgeable and a competent musician, as is evidenced in the posts on this forum. You're also quite intelligent as a person, as none become as knowledgeable and as competent as you without being willing and able to learn, adapt, and evolve. Wisdom, however, comes not from knowing or not knowing nor competence or incompetent: wisdom comes from experiencing life and being willing and able to express that experience in a words and deeds. I asked fascinating questions that could have been answered in a wise manner with depth and breath of personal experience, yet you've elected not to answer: you've stated your opinion is irrelevant.

    Whose opinions relevant? Whose opinions aren't? Who has no opinion? We're alive, and until we're dead; we think, we feel, we communicate, and we act. Since we're alive, and therefore can impart wisdom in a personal and meaningful manner, then we should. Who asks a living man to ask a dead man for their wisdom? I, whilst fascinated in probing the wisdom of those who came before us, believe we all have wisdom to offer.

    You're quite formidable in the forums. I wish that you'd be less of a computer and more of human via posting your individual thoughts and feelings concerning the topics rather than referencing a great deal of sources. Despite our recent differences, I believe that you have much to offer all of us from your own unique experiences, which includes your vast knowledge, yet I believe your knowledge is not an end but a beginning to what you can offer to a conversation.

    Respectfully,

    Gordon

  • Fred,

    You've got my empathy and my sympathy as well as my pity. I, however, look forward to your continued informative posts on this forum.

    Respectfully,

    Gordon

  • Thanks for the further elaboration on open strings and why they are often avoided. (It's sort of an obvious thing as you describe it, but when you aren't a string player, you don't even know what obvious is....)



    Fredrick zinos said:

    Unless the score specifically calls for it*, string players generally avoid playing on open strings except for the lowest of the strings where that is unavoidable, respectively G for violins, C for violas and celli and either E or C for basses. The reason is that one can not produce vibrato on an open string. Even in the case of the lowest string, frequently players will finger the note an octave above the open string to produce a quasi vibrato. For example, the G a 4th below middle C is an open string on the violin and there are no options for this note, thus it is played as such. However the performer may finger (but not bow) the G a 5th above middle C to "warm" the tone. This has been standard performance practice for at least the last 100 years (See Leopold Auer :How I Teach Violin Playing).

    The theory that one should or must use keys with 5-6 sharps or flats to achieve "darkness"  is not supported by historical practice, the 2 g minor symphones of Mozart come to mind as do the 5th and 9th symphonies of Beethoven 

     

    There are apparently times and places where an exotic key serves a purpose on the overall structure of a composition, Puccini's use of 5# is Un Bel Dei seems just right, but when the area is taken out of context it sounds every bit as good in C or in A and 99.99% of the audience will never know the difference.

     

    The other thing that needs to be mentioned is the role of the conductor in achieving the hoped for texture. Whether it is one of feather-stitching lightiness or of gravitas is largely up to the way the conductor handles the material and communicates his concept to the musicians.  

     

    *there is specific notation for open strings.

This reply was deleted.