Does tonality itself matter? Is there any difference between C and C# major other than pitch?

#1
Hello all, I am newbie here but with a question I'd like to get a satisfactory answer to.

Does tonality itself matter? Is there any difference between C and C# major other than pitch?

Firstly, I am very aware that the key of a piece of music matters very much in terms of arranging for particular instruments. I can't imagine many people compose music for guitar in Eb in standard tuning - the arranger would instruct the player to down-tune a semi-tone or just transpose the composition to E.

However, fundamentally I can't see the difference between keys.

And yet I have heard more than a few times that keys have a different feel (I'm not talking about heavily down-tuned metal guitar music).

Have a look at this clip at 2m56s:



In the context of the circle of 5ths,

"The tonalities with flats are darker. The ones with sharps are brighter, inclined to the light. When we look at historically important pieces and their tonalities in which they are written we can see that the tonalities with sharps are used to express feelings of joy and are more energetic while the tonalities with flats are more depressive."

Do people agree with me that this is a pure fantasy theory and makes no sense?

Thanks I'm sure I'll have more questions soon!
Last edited by andaluz at Aug 31, 2016,
#2
That quoted statement makes no sense on any level.

It's the relative nature of the notes being played that matters most to a listener, not the exact key. So, if you play a II, V, I in C maj and then play a II, V, I in C#, no listener would really be able to tell the difference, especially not the average listener - they'll identify it as the same song - which is why you can slap a capo on a guitar and change the key of tunes to fit a singer's voice without it having any tangible effect on the listener generally.

Now, the exact key and notes being played on a particular instrument does affect its overall tone and therefore has a certain impact on the overall sound of a song. But that element has no rhyme or reason to it, there is no "this key will lead to the light" and that key will lead to the "dark", it's simply how will the notes resonate with a particular instrument or series of instruments. This is something that is easy to explore on guitar since you can downtune it or use a capo and compare the different keys for a particular riff.
#3
Quote by andaluz

"The tonalities with flats are darker. The ones with sharps are brighter, inclined to the light. When we look at historically important pieces and their tonalities in which they are written we can see that the tonalities with sharps are used to express feelings of joy and are more energetic while the tonalities with flats are more depressive."




This piece expresses so much joy that one of the interpretations states it's about a man being buried alive

You may also want to consider that the same alterations in key refer to both a major and it's relative minor tonality.
Therefore, for example F major (which has Bb) may result joyful while D minor (which is the relative minor key) may result somewhat sad.

Beethoven - Symphony n° 6 in F major:
Mozart - Requiem in D minor:


I think that many times a composer doesn't think about the tonality in which to write, instead once he has a melody or a theme, he composes in the according tonality. However, in the developmet of the piece he would often modulate to other tonalities, therefore presenting changes in both the "pitch" and/or in "mode" (major or minor).
#4
Keys (tonalities) mattered more when equal temperament didn't exist. Key still matters a bit (pianos are offset a bit on purpose), but not nearly as much as before.

There are so many reasons that a piece sounds like [X] quality. It's not some mystical mumbo-jumbo.
#5
There was a time when it did, but not these days (tempered tuning).

I strongly suspect that a tiny number of folk will tell you one key feels darker or brighter than another. For most people,, if you play a song in one key one week, and a different key the next, they won't even realise it ... they recognise the melody etc by what's happeniing relatively. For example, if a singer gets a sore throat and can't make some of the pitches, (s)he's breaking the relationship the voice ordinarily makes with the tune, and the listener picks up on that.

That said, there has been research done on what reference pitch to use for standard tuning (440Hz versus ...), which tentatively concluded that changing the reference did change how people felt when they heard music made on instruments tuned around this reference (that's pretty strange)
#6
If the key really mattered, then transposing a song to a different key would totally change the way it sounds.

Sometimes the key you choose makes the melody sound too high pitched, but dropping it an octave lower sounds too low. That's when finding the right key matters. And sometimes you want to use a certain key because certain instruments sound best/are easy to play in that key.


The ones with sharps are brighter, inclined to the light.


If this was true, what about Gb major (6 flats) that is the same as F# major (6 sharps)? Is it really bright or really dark? This reminds me of 432 Hz tuning and crap like that. There's so much BS "music theory" like this in the internet.

Also, note names aren't absolutes and people haven't always used A = 440 Hz (that became a standard in the early 20th century IIRC). And I'm pretty sure people didn't decide the frequency of C based on "brightness".
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#7
Context is everything. Things only sound bright or dark in relation to each other.

Melody and harmony don't exist in a vacuum; except inside of music theory classrooms.
"There are two styles of music. Good music and bad music." -Duke Ellington

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#8
Quote by andaluz

"The tonalities with flats are darker. The ones with sharps are brighter, inclined to the light. When we look at historically important pieces and their tonalities in which they are written we can see that the tonalities with sharps are used to express feelings of joy and are more energetic while the tonalities with flats are more depressive."

Do people agree with me that this is a pure fantasy theory and makes no sense?
Yes, it's total nonsense. Certainly in equal temperament.

I anyone believes that today, a good test would be to play them a piece in Db major, telling them the key; and then play them the same piece again, telling them, whoops you made a mistake, actually it's in C# major. Then watch their confused little faces....
#9
I used to joke around, that D minor is the saddest of all the minor keys. I think back in the days when in tonality in piano and something called equal temperament was a big issue thats when people started to think that every key has a completely different sound, and in a way it does, but really its all pitch
#10
From a physics perspective, the higher you go, the more frequencies there will be in any particular octave. So while there are no differences in cents between each equally tempered key, there are differences in frequency (even in the same range). But whether this affects anything...I don't know.
Last edited by GoldenGuitar at Sep 28, 2016,
#11
I've written things in C major, but if I slide them down to follow the A aoelian scale they just sound a few steps lower.

I've never been great on understand the different between the two, since they use the exact same notes, just the root note is different. But the difference between Cmajor and C lydian (believe in lydian you replace F with F#...or Gb, and maybe another note is moved/removed?) and there's a ton of difference from one note.
Lydian always sounded more driven and action-y to me, where ionian was more happy and chill. I think mode+key combinations together are really what makes it.

But I write in a digital audio workstation, that shows every note as sharp, it can't tell what's flat, having learned from that, I often mix up sharps and flats, it really makes no difference to me since I know when a note will sound good regardless, but theory nerds would think ill of it in conversation.
#12
I'll chime in on this with my own views, as well as quoting another person's opinion I find very valuable, but is entirely opposite to what just about everyone here seems to say, though I personally don't believe one is more true than the other. And mind you, this neutral belief of mine is not due to trying to pander to both sides, but it's because one side does not have the same experience as the other entirely, and thus is incapable of understanding it. It's not unwillingness, it's simple incapability.

As for me, my relative pitch is very good, to an annoying extent at times where I'll need to 'turn it off' if I want to listen to certain instruments, music or musicians. When it concerns my own instrument, the guitar, it does happen that I'll simply know what is being played to the fret and string, but I don't believe that I have perfect pitch and it only works for the guitar. If there is the potential for it, mine has not developed or been trained enough that I can actually employ it consciously.

So my experience concerning favoring certain keys over others is as much as most people here, down to the coloring of the instruments and how the instrument lends itself to such a key. It's why I'm not as likely to appreciate a piece in C-minor compared to the same piece in A-minor. Most classical guitars simply lend themselves better to certain keys, and will resonate better for certain keys, or resonate in favor of certain tones better, which will be more present in a certain key.

However, as I've been told by an old teacher of mine, a piano-teacher, who taught theory, solfege, music analyzing and harmony at the conservatory, for people with perfect pitch it is a different experience. Apparently there is a certain experience for them, when they listen to music, that makes an A a truly different entity from Bb. And he could hear that difference without any context whatsoever. He also explained that this is why the key of Bb sounds fundamentally better than A and C. There are apparently certain characteristics people with perfect pitch experience, and people without perfect pitch don't.

Messiaen was known to see colors for certain notes, to my brother's mother-in-law an A is yellow. So there are all sorts of peculiar experiences and connections in our brains we may not even realize don't happen for everyone. But that doesn't mean that one experience is more valid than the other. And to my knowledge these variations in experience aren't always the same among all those with that particular oddity.

Personally, I can't find a good reason, whether it is from questioning people with perfect pitch, or my own reasoning, that one side would be better off than the other. And I can actually think of several reasons why I'd prefer not to have it, as well as certain doubts concerning the function, practicality as well as limits of perfect pitch. Largely being due to how intervals work, and their relative distances over several octaves being problematic concerning which note is actually being heard. Either way, that's all I have. My own experience concerning keys having characteristics solely depends on the musician and instrument being played.

Hope it gives some insight,

Cheers
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Last edited by FretboardToAsh at Sep 29, 2016,
#13
Quote by stratkat
I've written things in C major, but if I slide them down to follow the A [Aeolian] scale they just sound a few steps lower.

I've never been great on understand the different between the two, since they use the exact same notes, just the root note is different.
Aeolian is part of a modal framework and doesn't have that nice V-I or IV-I resolution tendency. There are a few mode threads if you're curious

The question is: what chord is most final? What chord receives the most focus? If it's C, then the song is in C major. If it's Am, then the song is in A minor (not Aeolian; tonal framework -> minor).

But the difference between Cmajor and C lydian (believe in lydian you replace F with F#...or Gb, and maybe another note is moved/removed?) and there's a ton of difference from one note.
Lydian always sounded more driven and action-y to me, where ionian was more happy and chill. I think mode+key combinations together are really what makes it.
Lydian: 1 2 3 #4 5 6 7. Using C as the main note, it'd be C D E F# G A B (C). There are a few reasons for the #4 to exist, some which are not strictly modal.

But I write in a digital audio workstation, that shows every note as sharp, it can't tell what's flat, having learned from that, I often mix up sharps and flats, it really makes no difference to me since I know when a note will sound good regardless, but theory nerds would think ill of it in conversation.
We're here for questions if you ever want to learn the difference
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Quote by FretboardToAsh
However, as I've been told by an old teacher of mine, a piano-teacher, who taught theory, solfege, music analyzing and harmony at the conservatory, for people with perfect pitch it is a different experience. Apparently there is a certain experience for them, when they listen to music, that makes an A a truly different entity from Bb. And he could hear that difference without any context whatsoever.
True, but feelings are highly personal and subjective.

He also explained that this is why the key of Bb sounds fundamentally better than A and C.
Strongly disagree. The context dictates how nice a song sounds. I personally have everything against F# and Gb majors, though.

There are apparently certain characteristics people with perfect pitch experience, and people without perfect pitch don't.
Yeah, I've read literature where perfect pitch is like a disability. It's harder to think in intervals than in notes, for sure.
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Quote by Jet Penguin
lots of flirting with the other key without confirming. JUST LIKE THEIR LOVE IN THE MOVIE OH DAMN.
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you're acting like you have perfect pitch or something
#14
Quote by NeoMvsEu

True, but feelings are highly personal and subjective.


I'm not entirely sure what you mean here?

Quote by NeoMvsEu

Strongly disagree. The context dictates how nice a song sounds. I personally have everything against F# and Gb majors, though.


I should perhaps have been more clear, there wasn't so much an agree or disagree argument made from me or him. I solely meant that he had (without context) a certain characteristic he heard in, for example Bb. That characteristic being one he preferred over A and C, a colleague of mine who is a trumpet player and also has perfect pitch, also preferred that particular key. So yes, it was down to personal opinion, but that personal opinion was realized without musical context, not as you say dependent on it.

I can of course imagine that the trumpet player favoring Bb is due to the instrument, and two examples is hardly a scientific study, but I did find it a curious coincidence that the piano player felt the same. And where I can imagine that one person might favor a key simply due to that associated (imagined, if you will) characteristic, I would indeed not be surprised that another person might have a favorable association with a different key, and as I understand it the notes/colors thing is also something that isn't universal, but varies per person. But just the fact that there are such preferences makes me very curious as to why.

Quote by NeoMvsEu

Yeah, I've read literature where perfect pitch is like a disability. It's harder to think in intervals than in notes, for sure.


I'm not entirely sure what you mean here, but I'd like to hear more?

A last note then, just a small anecdote of that particular teacher. During his studies he, instead of training his ears, got training to 'turn off' his perfect pitch. Because supposedly it would hamper him in both learning and teaching. I'm not sure what particular variation of the piano they used for it, but it was one that allowed the player to re-tune the string more easily, and the tests were largely comprised of playing a single note, say a C. Which would then be gradually lowered until he felt it had reached the B area. I can barely think of a more grueling thing to listen to... but I'm sure the next time I turn on the radio I'll be corrected. Good thing I don't have a radio.
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#15
Disability? If you can hear the absolute pitch then the interval is a given, assuming your ears are trained even a little. I can see it being obnoxious to people who aren't avid musicians.
Last edited by cdgraves at Oct 1, 2016,
#16
FretboardToAsh

The experience of what each key is like varies by person. After all, someone said "D minor is the saddest of all keys"

Key preference: for the trumpet player, I think playing trumpet qualifies as musical context enough; can't say anything about your teacher, though.

Personally, I like Db major and Bb minor.
--------
Perfect pitch as disability:

http://www.stefan-koelsch.de/papers/Schulze_2012_AP_HBM.pdf
https://campuspress.yale.edu/yrurp/files/2015/11/2011_Edelstein-2011-2huhnsl.pdf

The note names/identities come first, and then the intervals follow. There are ways to counteract this, but there is no way to completely undo it. It takes more time to get the interval.

Movable do was hard enough to transition to from fixed do for people without perfect pitch.
#17
I feel that besides the major/minor qualities, modulations and the differences between instruments, there are definately certain qualities amongst keys. Eb major or B major have very different colours/qualities for example. This could also be why so many famous composers wrote in which key their compositions are supposed to be played in.

Of course casual music listeners might not even notice a difference... perhaps subconsciously?..

who knows?

(i don't)
#18
NeoMvsEu

That is an interesting read, thank you.

As a side-note, I vaguely remember reading something (years back mind you) claiming that many people actually have perfect pitch (about 70%), they just don't know how to use it. It'd explain a small bit perhaps of why I personally regularly experience bouts of 'knowing' notes without any reference point or context at all, and I know several colleagues that have this as well. Considering the fact that my work requires me to often have the same music played in different keys, I can imagine why it wouldn't stick in the end, and I can hardly say is a bother to me in my work. But I've never much had the chance to delve into this myself either, I'd like to hear your ideas about this?

2manystringz

As for casual music listeners, something I encounter regularly in my work is that people seem to just about hit the nail on the head when it comes to tonal range. One of the choirs I accompany for example, always starts singing at exactly the right note, and these people are amateur musicians, I've the impression none of them actually practice more than once a week. So there may very likely be some ability for memorization people subconsciously do. As I've stated above, it happens regularly to myself as well as several colleagues but I've yet to find a way to control it on a conscious level. The most obvious answer would be muscle memory, given that it concerns singing here, but it also extends to guitar alone in other cases.
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Last edited by FretboardToAsh at Oct 2, 2016,
#19
Quote by 2manystringz
I feel that besides the major/minor qualities, modulations and the differences between instruments, there are definately certain qualities amongst keys. Eb major or B major have very different colours/qualities for example. This could also be why so many famous composers wrote in which key their compositions are supposed to be played in.

Of course casual music listeners might not even notice a difference... perhaps subconsciously?..

who knows?

(i don't)

Why famous composers wrote pieces in certain keys was because back then keys really did matter. They didn't use equal temperament back then (well, it depends on which composer we are talking about). But it also has to do with instrumentation.

I don't think it's wrong to play a composition in another key if you are arranging the composition to some other instruments.

I don't think Eb major and B major have different colors (though, of course playing a song a tritone lower/higher will obviously change the color a bit because you will be using lower/higher notes - I would compare it to playing the same thing in a different octave. But I wouldn't say they have different "colors" in a way that you could say that "key X sounds like Y"). Then again, when you are used to how the guitar sounds like, you can learn to hear if a song is in E major, A major, D major, whatever. It most likely uses certain chord shapes that have a certain sound, so there's that. But then again, if you don't use those common chord shapes, I think it becomes harder to hear any differences between different keys.

As FretboardToAsh said, if singers can start a song in the right key without any reference pitch, it could be about muscle memory. I couldn't count on it, though. Sometimes I remember the key correctly, sometimes I'm off. And even if the key is approximately correct, it may be a half step off or a bit out of tune or something.

Just tried it with a song off top of my head, and yes, I was a half step off.
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#20
FretboardToAsh



Not sure about the accuracy of the study you read (a link to the study would be nice if you could find it )

Last time I looked at the "Got Perfect Pitch?" group on FB (a very long time ago), they (a few people commented often. Nicole DiPaolo comes to mind, and possibly Ethan Hein - you can definitely find the latter on Quora) had quoted research (possibly original?) on AP as an inherited, not trained, trait. If it's a dominant trait, that 70% could be possible, but otherwise I'm kind of skeptical.

Re: accuracy - there's something to say about muscle (and tonal) memory when it comes to reproducing notes accurately, at least for a while. (that's what MM mentioned)
#22
depends on how shit your singer is

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#23
Perfect pitch is definitely a disability. Ask Neo about taking bending a note up like 20 cents.
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#24
Quote by Tony Done
According to something I read in Wikipedia, while perfect pitch is rare, many people can recognise if a popular song is being played at a different pitch to the standard version. So in that limited sense there is a difference between keys, even with equal temperament.
This is true, but the difference doesn't affect the mood quality of the song. A recognisably different key is just higher or lower, that's all.

The more accustomed we are to hearing a song in one key (such as a famous recording), the more likely it is that we'll think it sounds "wrong" or "odd" to hear it in another key - even if we don't know what the difference is. But that's all. There may well be mood differences if we hear the two versions close to one another. Eg, if the standard is in G, and we hear another version in A soon after, we'll probably hear the latter as "brighter", or more "energetic". That's just a normal relative pitch phenomenon, to hear rising pitches as increases in tension or energy, and falling pitches as "settling", "relaxing" or "darkening".
#25
Quote by FretboardToAsh
NeoMvsEu

That is an interesting read, thank you.

As a side-note, I vaguely remember reading something (years back mind you) claiming that many people actually have perfect pitch (about 70%), they just don't know how to use it.
This is not true, at least for absolute pitch as usually defined. Of course, you do need some musical training to be able to name the pitches you are hearing, so it's possible some non-musicians have AP and don't know it. But from what I've read, research finds only a tiny minority in western societies with AP (there are ways of testing for it even among non-musicians). In speakers of tonal languages - in which pitch difference affects meaning, suh as Chinese - AP is much more common, but still not universal.
That suggests two things: (1) AP is (mostly if not entirely) learned not genetic; (2) it's an accidental by-product of the language instinct: the drive all infants have to make sense of sounds, to spot patterns and identify meaning.

Quote by FretboardToAsh

It'd explain a small bit perhaps of why I personally regularly experience bouts of 'knowing' notes without any reference point or context at all, and I know several colleagues that have this as well. Considering the fact that my work requires me to often have the same music played in different keys, I can imagine why it wouldn't stick in the end, and I can hardly say is a bother to me in my work. But I've never much had the chance to delve into this myself either, I'd like to hear your ideas about this?
2manystringz

As for casual music listeners, something I encounter regularly in my work is that people seem to just about hit the nail on the head when it comes to tonal range. One of the choirs I accompany for example, always starts singing at exactly the right note, and these people are amateur musicians, I've the impression none of them actually practice more than once a week. So there may very likely be some ability for memorization people subconsciously do. As I've stated above, it happens regularly to myself as well as several colleagues but I've yet to find a way to control it on a conscious level. The most obvious answer would be muscle memory, given that it concerns singing here, but it also extends to guitar alone in other cases.
This is "pitch memory", which is common among people without AP, if they're used to hearing a song (or singing it) in one key for long enough.
Daniel Levitin has done experiments on this: http://daniellevitin.com/levitinlab/articles/1994-Levitin-Perception-Psychophysics.pdf

That in turn suggests that AP is just the extreme end of a spectrum of hearing skill - a kind of 20/20 hearing, while for most of us it's a lot fuzzier than that (we can do pitch memory to some extent, in the right circumstances).
IOW, the further suggestion is that we are ALL born with the potential to develop AP, but only a minority encounter the right conditions (in infancy) for it to occur. Infants learning to speak tonal languages focus more on pitch difference, but AP itself is not essential for understanding those languages, only a refined relative pitch. Hence the fact that a lot of (but not all) tonal languages speakers end up with AP, by accident.
If it's learned in infancy, that would also explain how those who have it often feel they were born with it - because they don't remember learning it (and more than we remember learning our mother tongue). And of course it looks to others as if it's inborn, because it only reveals itself later in childhood.

The opposite end of the spectrum would (I guess) be tone-deafness - where you can't eve tell relative pitch differences. This is extremely rare, and usually congenital or the result of brain injury. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amusia.

My own personal experience is that I certainly don't have AP, but I can tune a newly-strung guitar to within a half-step of concert with no reference other than my memory of how the 6th string E sounds. That's because of how long I've been playing guitar!
Last edited by jongtr at Oct 4, 2016,
#26
there's definitely a difference between keys I frequently change the key of the song to a full step or something, because it sounds better to me.
#28
Quote by João1993
there's definitely a difference between keys I frequently change the key of the song to a full step or something, because it sounds better to me.

Again, that has mostly to do with the instrument(s)/the range of notes you are using. Low notes sound a certain way on a certain instrument. For example I know how a down-tuned guitar sounds like. It just sounds different from a guitar in standard tuning (assuming that you use open strings).

The original argument was that the key of F# major would somehow sound "brighter" than the key of Ab major which is BS. And I bet you can't hear any character differences between different keys (so that you could say that key X sounds like Y). Playing a song in a different key is a bit like playing a song in a different octave. Of course using lower notes sounds different. But which key will sound "low" depends on the song (because different songs use different ranges). A good example is "Happy Birthday" vs "Do Re Mi" (The Sound of Music) - both have the same range, one octave, but "Happy Birthday" starts from the fifth scale degree and goes up to the fifth scale degree an octave above whereas "Do Re Mi" starts from the tonic and goes up to the octave. Playing them in the same key would make "Happy Birthday" sound much lower than "Do Re Mi", but playing "Happy Birthday" in F major and "Do Re Mi" in C major will result in exactly the same range (from C to C an octave above).

My point is, it's more about high vs low notes (and how an instrument sounds like in different registers) than about the key itself.
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#29
Quote by MaggaraMarine
Again, that has mostly to do with the instrument(s)/the range of notes you are using. Low notes sound a certain way on a certain instrument. For example I know how a down-tuned guitar sounds like. It just sounds different from a guitar in standard tuning (assuming that you use open strings).

The original argument was that the key of F# major would somehow sound "brighter" than the key of Ab major which is BS. And I bet you can't hear any character differences between different keys (so that you could say that key X sounds like Y). Playing a song in a different key is a bit like playing a song in a different octave. Of course using lower notes sounds different. But which key will sound "low" depends on the song (because different songs use different ranges). A good example is "Happy Birthday" vs "Do Re Mi" (The Sound of Music) - both have the same range, one octave, but "Happy Birthday" starts from the fifth scale degree and goes up to the fifth scale degree an octave above whereas "Do Re Mi" starts from the tonic and goes up to the octave. Playing them in the same key would make "Happy Birthday" sound much lower than "Do Re Mi", but playing "Happy Birthday" in F major and "Do Re Mi" in C major will result in exactly the same range (from C to C an octave above).

My point is, it's more about high vs low notes (and how an instrument sounds like in different registers) than about the key itself.


I do believe that different keys have a different qualities to them and that playing a song in a different key might make it sound darker or brighter.
there's stuff that I've written that sound like nothing special when on standard but sound better if I tune down half a step.
But I haven't really looked into it
#30
João1993

Everything has formants, or frequencies that resonate more strongly than others. Assuming that the shape of X is the same (e.g. keeping the mouth open in the same way through a range of notes), the pitch will interact with these formants in different ways.

(see: resonant frequencies, formants, pitch (defined as the fundamental frequency F (sub 0)), sound interference)

Beyond that, there are many many things that can affect perception; most of these are subjective biases.
#31
Quote by NeoMvsEu
João1993

Everything has formants, or frequencies that resonate more strongly than others. Assuming that the shape of X is the same (e.g. keeping the mouth open in the same way through a range of notes), the pitch will interact with these formants in different ways.

(see: resonant frequencies, formants, pitch (defined as the fundamental frequency F (sub 0)), sound interference)

Beyond that, there are many many things that can affect perception; most of these are subjective biases.


yes I also notice that if I start playing a song in a different key to be able to sing or w/e it it sounds wrong at first but then I get used to it.
but some other stuff I don't get used to
#32
Quote by João1993
I do believe that different keys have a different qualities to them and that playing a song in a different key might make it sound darker or brighter.
there's stuff that I've written that sound like nothing special when on standard but sound better if I tune down half a step.
But I haven't really looked into it
Right! There are actually a few different issues here.

1. Inherent qualitative differences between different keys - ie between different major keys, or different minor keys - ignoring instrumental effects. These are what we are saying do not exist, given equal temperament. No one major key is "brighter" or "darker" than another, no one minor key is "brighter" or "darker" than another. However... that's in the abstract sense, if we can imagine music not connected to an actual instrument or voice. In practice, this pure abstraction is dirtied up with all kinds of practical issues...

2. Effects of register. I think this is what you're (mainly) referring to, and something we all perceive, at least in broad terms. So a piece of music composed largely of "low" frequencies (eg below middle C on average) will have a different quality to a piece composed largely of "high" frequencies (above middle C on average). This because the human ear doesn't perceive all frequency ranges equally, and we are most sensitive to the octaves either side of middle C. It's linked loosely to our vocal ranges, so men will be more alert to the lower side, women to the upper side. (Of course we perceive musical pitches well beyond our vocal ranges, but they get less distinct the further from the middle region they are.) So we do have an absolute sense of "low" and "high" in very broad terms - and they do have particular "mood" effects. A lion's roar is different from a mouse's squeak!
This factor is the main reason why certain rock musicians like to tune down, and play in lower registers.
However, this is quite different from "key". You can have a low register tune in D major, and a high register one in C major. I.e., any one key is both higher and lower than other keys, it's just about choosing your octave.

3. Instrumental factors (including voice). Here is where musicians do feel that different keys have different moods - because of how they feel on the instrument, and how they sound. On guitar, keys with open strings feel different from keys with no open strings. I certainly think E major has a very different mood and character from F major. Likewise A major and Bb major. But of course that all changes if the guitar is tuned down, or if I play with a capo.

Also, with acoustic guitar, there is some difference between keys based on different resonances of the soundbox. In fact, with any stringed instrument, the physical characteristics of the strings themselves - material, tension, length - will certainly change with register, and perhaps even with quite small changes in register. When I tune my acoustic down a half-step, there is a noticeable difference in the whole character of the instrument, and that's not just in relative pitch comparison with EADGBE. But it's still a very subtle effect, and doesn't have a specific mood associated with it. I certainly wouldn't do it to fit the theme of a song, but for practical reasons, such as making string bending easier, or for a specific song where I wanted open string shapes, but the key in EADGBE was too high for my voice. Of course, even for a tune in the same key, using an open tuning will have different effect. Playing in D major in EADGBE is a different matter from playing in D major in open D tuning. Obviously it's nothing to do with the key itself.

But all those are guitar-specific effects, obviously. A saxophone player will have very different associations for the same keys, and piano player will be different again. So even if you feel very strongly about the mood of a particular key, it may be that only other guitarists will agree (and probably even they will have different subjective associations) - so it's a waste of time thinking about it. To anyone else - ie your audience - it's meaningless. Of course they will pick up on resonance effects, such as the use of open tunings; but - as I say - that's quite independent of different keys.

BTW, there are also intriguing psychological prejudices, often among quite experienced musicians. Tell someone a piece is in F# major, they might feel differently than if you tell them it's in Gb major. But obviously (again assuming equal temperament) the piece sounds exactly the same. "Sharp" and "flat" have emotional connotations in themselves ("bright", "dark" etc), and can influence your thinking in irrational ways.
Last edited by jongtr at Oct 5, 2016,
#33
Quote by jongtr
Right! There are actually a few different issues here.

1. Inherent qualitative differences between different keys - ie between different major keys, or different minor keys - ignoring instrumental effects. These are what we are saying do not exist, given equal temperament. No one major key is "brighter" or "darker" than another, no one minor key is "brighter" or "darker" than another. However... that's in the abstract sense, if we can imagine music not connected to an actual instrument or voice. In practice, this pure abstraction is dirtied up with all kinds of practical issues...

2. Effects of register. I think this is what you're (mainly) referring to, and something we all perceive, at least in broad terms. So a piece of music composed largely of "low" frequencies (eg below middle C on average) will have a different quality to a piece composed largely of "high" frequencies (above middle C on average). This because the human ear doesn't perceive all frequency ranges equally, and we are most sensitive to the octaves either side of middle C. It's linked loosely to our vocal ranges, so men will be more alert to the lower side, women to the upper side. (Of course we perceive musical pitches well beyond our vocal ranges, but they get less distinct the further from the middle region they are.) So we do have an absolute sense of "low" and "high" in very broad terms - and they do have particular "mood" effects. A lion's roar is different from a mouse's squeak!
This factor is the main reason why certain rock musicians like to tune down, and play in lower registers.
However, this is quite different from "key". You can have a low register tune in D major, and a high register one in C major. I.e., any one key is both higher and lower than other keys, it's just about choosing your octave.

3. Instrumental factors (including voice). Here is where musicians do feel that different keys have different moods - because of how they feel on the instrument, and how they sound. On guitar, keys with open strings feel different from keys with no open strings. I certainly think E major has a very different mood and character from F major. Likewise A major and Bb major. But of course that all changes if the guitar is tuned down, or if I play with a capo.

Also, with acoustic guitar, there is some difference between keys based on different resonances of the soundbox. In fact, with any stringed instrument, the physical characteristics of the strings themselves - material, tension, length - will certainly change with register, and perhaps even with quite small changes in register. When I tune my acoustic down a half-step, there is a noticeable difference in the whole character of the instrument, and that's not just in relative pitch comparison with EADGBE. But it's still a very subtle effect, and doesn't have a specific mood associated with it. I certainly wouldn't do it to fit the theme of a song, but for practical reasons, such as making string bending easier, or for a specific song where I wanted open string shapes, but the key in EADGBE was too high for my voice. Of course, even for a tune in the same key, using an open tuning will have different effect. Playing in D major in EADGBE is a different matter from playing in D major in open D tuning. Obviously it's nothing to do with the key itself.

But all those are guitar-specific effects, obviously. A saxophone player will have very different associations for the same keys, and piano player will be different again. So even if you feel very strongly about the mood of a particular key, it may be that only other guitarists will agree (and probably even they will have different subjective associations) - so it's a waste of time thinking about it. To anyone else - ie your audience - it's meaningless. Of course they will pick up on resonance effects, such as the use of open tunings; but - as I say - that's quite independent of different keys.

BTW, there are also intriguing psychological prejudices, often among quite experienced musicians. Tell someone a piece is in F# major, they might feel differently than if you tell them it's in Gb major. But obviously (again assuming equal temperament) the piece sounds exactly the same. "Sharp" and "flat" have emotional connotations in themselves ("bright", "dark" etc), and can influence your thinking in irrational ways.


it's interesting what you said on point 2
makes me wonder if the reason we can't hit certain notes with our voice is because we can't perceive their pitch correclty
#34
Quote by João1993
it's interesting what you said on point 2
makes me wonder if the reason we can't hit certain notes with our voice is because we can't perceive their pitch correclty
Singing in tune requires two skills: being able to control the pitch of your voice accurately; being able to hear it correctly. It would be impossible to have the former without the latter, but many people have the latter but not former - they know they are out of tune when they try to sing, but can't fix it.
I speak as someone who had neither skill - zero - at least until my mid teens when I actually tried pitching my voice (copying my guitar). Now I've trained both skills to a rudimentary degree, so at least I know when I'm out of tune when trying to sing. I can hit notes within my range easily enough (copying an instrument or a singer) - it just takes me up anything to a second to tune them correctly, which of course is far too long to make a convincing singer. Skilled singers can do it almost immediately. Only those with absolute pitch would be able to sing a given note without accompaniment to refer to; but good relative pitch enables a singer to sing in tune with themselves, so they could sing well completely unaccompanied (and stay in key). And a certain amount of "muscle memory" will enable them to get close to an intended (remembered) key.
Singing is a trainable skill, IOW, and (as with all musical skills, if not skills of any kind) those who start younger end up better. (As well as accurate pitching, of course, there is vocal quality - timbre and power - which generally needs additional training.)

BTW, the guitar is an interesting instrument relative to vocals, because its range exactly encompasses all the classical vocal registers. Low E is bottom of bass register, and the C on fret 20 of the top E is top of soprano. (Contrabass goes down to Bb, and coloratura sopranos can get up beyond top C, but guitar represents the gamut of the standard ranges.)
Last edited by jongtr at Oct 6, 2016,
#35
Quote by jongtr
Singing in tune requires two skills: being able to control the pitch of your voice accurately; being able to hear it correctly. It would be impossible to have the former without the latter, but many people have the latter but not former - they know they are out of tune when they try to sing, but can't fix it.
I speak as someone who had neither skill - zero - at least until my mid teens when I actually tried pitching my voice (copying my guitar). Now I've trained both skills to a rudimentary degree, so at least I know when I'm out of tune when trying to sing. I can hit notes within my range easily enough (copying an instrument or a singer) - it just takes me up anything to a second to tune them correctly, which of course is far too long to make a convincing singer. Skilled singers can do it almost immediately. Only those with absolute pitch would be able to sing a given note without accompaniment to refer to; but good relative pitch enables a singer to sing in tune with themselves, so they could sing well completely unaccompanied (and stay in key). And a certain amount of "muscle memory" will enable them to get close to an intended (remembered) key.
Singing is a trainable skill, IOW, and (as with all musical skills, if not skills of any kind) those who start younger end up better. (As well as accurate pitching, of course, there is vocal quality - timbre and power - which generally needs additional training.)

BTW, the guitar is an interesting instrument relative to vocals, because its range exactly encompasses all the classical vocal registers. Low E is bottom of bass register, and the C on fret 20 of the top E is top of soprano. (Contrabass goes down to Bb, and coloratura sopranos can get up beyond top C, but guitar represents the gamut of the standard ranges.)


I've been trying to sing for a year or so, I do like my voice when it comes to the way it sounds, but I have a lot to improve technique wise in terms of projection and singing in tune
I know this isn't the place for this but I've just recorded this and I'm looking for opinions on it
the lack of ability to hear pitch makes those people who go on the idol shows and think they are singing perfect when they are not right?
Last edited by João1993 at Oct 6, 2016,
#36
Quote by João1993

the lack of ability to hear pitch makes those people who go on the idol shows and think they are singing perfect when they are not right?
You got it! The whole thing is then self-perpetuating, because so many people watching think "hey, even I could do better than that!" - and then they apply in turn; and it turns out they can't! There's a whole world of self-delusion out there (people who like singing, but can't hear that they're out of tune).
Quote by João1993

Sounds good to me! (Very quiet, mind...)
Last edited by jongtr at Oct 6, 2016,
#37
Quote by jongtr
You got it! The whole thing is then self-perpetuating, because so many people watching think "hey, even I could do better than that!" - and then they apply in turn; and it turns out they can't! There's a whole world of self-delusion out there (people who like singing, but can't hear that they're out of tune).
Sounds good to me! (Very quiet, mind...)


thanks! that actually quite sad I've read an article somewhere where they talked about this, it's almost like a condition that they have and they go over there all serious this is my dream, and in general people are not good at judging their skills, like the bad student who stops studying because he feels like he mastered the subject, and the good student who is so terrified of the exam and thinks he will do poorly then they get an A, the good students were quite annoying to me because of this
rappers suffer from it a lot too that's why they're so funny
Last edited by João1993 at Oct 6, 2016,