Talk:Key (music)

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Questions dating to 2002[edit]

should also explain what it means to say an instrument (eg Cornet) plays in the key of something. (never understood it myself) -- Tarquin

Yes, I think it should probably refer to transposing instrument, and the matter can be dealt with in detail there (transposing instrument needs some work - one of those things I've been meaning to do for a while...) --Camembert
Cool, thanks Cam. I get it now. :-) (though it sounds odd... if I play an electronic keyboard that's been transposed, I find it very off-putting.) -- Tarquin
Ah, that sounds like the curse of perfect pitch ;-) --Camembert
Ah (again) but does it worry you if you don't KNOW it's been done? :) I have the worst sense of pitch of anyone I know but if I am reading off music in the wrong key when singing I hate it - I don't think it's anything subtle, just that I know it's wrong and don't like it!! Nevilley

Now, to business. This sentence:

When a piece of music changes keys it is said to have modulated.

Is that true? I always thought that modulation meant a process had taken place - other than just the key change - some idea of preparation, even if it's just a dominant seventh in the new key. But if it's just a crash key change (I suppose the typical pop song Cheesy Key Change (TM) would be an example, but there are plenty elsewhere) with no preparation, is that still a modulation??

Just a thought. Nevilley

Good point, that. I went to xrefer.com and it came back with the Penguin Dictionary of Music: "a change being accomplished by 'continuous' musical means (i.e. not simply by starting afresh in another key)"; and the Oxford Dictionary of Music: "by evolutionary mus. means (not just by stopping and starting anew in another key". So it seems you're right - modulation has to be something more than bumping a piece up a tone to be worthy of the name. I guess we need a lot more stuff on modulation and changing key in general. I'll try to knock up a quick fix to be going on with. --Camembert

How definite is modulation and key -- to what extent is it a matter of individual interpretation? Take the Wedding March, for instance. Does it modulate in the space of some 4 bars, or are the Am and B chords just in passing? (PS I meant the Mendelssohn, the one everyone plays badly on clunky pianos when it's not chopsticks) -- Tarquin

Ugh, Wagner (unless you mean Mendelssohn, but he's even worse)... Well, I think the word "modulation" implies structural significance as well as key change, so this isn't really modulation, whatever else it might be. Whether it's really changed key is perhaps a more subjective thing, yes, although I doubt any musical analysts nowadays would say it had - they would prefer to say that the harmonies were extended or that it was passing or whatever. I mean, if you stop after those four bars and try to play a perfect cadence in your "new key", you can't do it and make it sound convincing. On the other hand, the perfect cadence at the end of the exposition of sonata form movements, where you're normally in the dominant, is completely convincing, indicating that you're pretty clearly in that new key (although there's a lingering feeling that you're not finished yet, because you're not in the same key you started in). I think that test (trying to play a convincing perfect cadence in your "new key") is a pretty good one, though I daresay others would disagree (and of course, what's "convincing" is pretty subjective in itself).
But sure, key perception is quite a subjective thing - I have no doubt that Alban Berg's Violin Concerto ends very clearly in a certain key (B flat major? I forget), although others would probably not hear it that way. Likewise, I can hear certain phrases of Anton Webern's Variations for piano being in a certain key (the more I hear it, the more I think this), but I'm sure most people hear the whole thing as a big atonal mess. How to stick all this in the article, I'm not sure, however... --Camembert



I think in the Oxford Companion there's a list of the colours & moods generally associated with each key. Would something along those lines be good here? Also, I read in Jozsef Gat's Technique of Piano Playing that the reason Romantic composers preferred the black-note keys is that on the piano, the difference in finger angle produces a mellower sound on black notes. (great book BTW, but euw! at all the diagrams of muscles and bones...) -- Tarquin

Never heard that about the black notes before - interesting. As for the colours - that might be interesting to have here, but I seem to remember that various composers came up with different colours for each key. Rimsky-Korsakov did a list, I think, and so did Scriabin, and someone else I can't remember, but I don't think they agree on very much. It'd still make interesting reading though.
Relationship between moods and keys are also interesting - F major is pastoral, D major festive, C# minor tragic, that sort of thing. I daresay there's some disagreement here as well, but probably less, because characterisations tend to be based more on pieces actually written in a certain key in the past than on pretty subjective criterea - C# minor is largely thought of in the way it is because of the Moonlight Sonata, for instance. So sure, stick 'em in if you've got a list. --Camembert

Gravity[edit]

Removed the following:

An analogy that would be easy for a non-musician to encompass is that a musical key is like the force of gravity: what goes up, must come down. The entire history of music can be summed up as composers learning to "jump" higher and higher. In keeping with this analogy, Bach and Mozart were playing hop-scotch, Beethoven invented the hot-air balloon, Berlioz was the first to pilot an airplane, Wagner was the first astronaut, Scriabin went to the moon and back, and Stravinsky, Schoenberg and Miles Davis blasted off and haven't been seen since.

Entertaining, but not particularly edifying. —Wahoofive | Talk 19:21, 8 Apr 2005 (UTC)

Opening sentence[edit]

I think the first sentence needs a lot of attention. Based on what I take it as meaning, a song in the key of C major can be based on either the C major scale or the C Mixolydian mode, as opposed to just the C major scale, because both scales have the notes C-E-G. Any rewording?? Georgia guy 19:44, 28 December 2005 (UTC)

There is some disagreement among music theorists on this point, especially with regard to the minor mode. There is a significant body of music by composers such as Vaughan Williams which uses such modal influences, but is considered major or minor. For example, RVW's Mass in G minor is in the Dorian mode throughout. A fair amount of pop and rock music in C major might well have the characteristic B-flat of mixolydian (to say nothing of blues, where the flat seventh is pretty much de rigueur). But our article also says:
A key may be major or minor; music in the Dorian, Phrygian, and so on are usually considered to be in a mode rather than a key
and that would include the mixolydian. I'd hate to have the opening paragraph get too hung up on such theoretical details, however; our target audience is non-musicians. If you can improve the article, however, go for it. —Wahoofive (talk) 18:14, 29 December 2005 (UTC)

Technical nature of the article[edit]

I know absolutely nothing about music theory. My brother and my wife are into music, though, so I wanted to see if I could finally understand just what key was. So when I read the opening sentence of this article... "In music theory, the key identifies the tonic triad, the chord, major or minor, which represents the final point of rest for a piece, or the focal point of a section." ...you can imagine I am no closer to understanding what exactly "key" is. Still. Is there any way to explain key to people like me who know nothing about music theory? I mean, barely understand more than what sharps and flats are, and that only because of their keys on a piano/keyboard. :) RobertM525 00:11, 11 December 2006 (UTC)

Won't somebody please do something about this problem. Even if most of the article is technical, it needs to have a substantial summary for the layperson. Music is a humanistic discipline. This isn't a physics article. One of you out there can do this. 98.246.154.230 (talk) 02:42, 27 October 2012 (UTC)
It has been six years since that complaint was posted, and the lede has changed many times since then. If there is something there still that you find incomprehensible, it would be useful to know exactly what it is. The current opening paragraph, for example, contains a number of basic explanations, including these terms: "the tonic note and chord", "subjective sense of arrival and rest", "degrees of tension", "resolution", "major and minor" (as qualifications of the key note name), "popular songs", "classical music", and "common practice period". Are any of these terms impenetrable? A few are linked to other Wikipedia articles where they are explained. Are these links not helpful, or would it be better to explain them here?—Jerome Kohl (talk) 03:43, 27 October 2012 (UTC)

Tarot Cards[edit]

Wow... This is some article. I came here hoping to find some information.

My understanding of keys is that, first, we have major keys, which is music played with the root note as well as the notes which are 2, 4, 5, 7, 9 and 11 semitones higher. So, music in C Major uses the notes C, D, E, F, G, A and B. Then there are minor keys, which use the root note as well as the notes 2, 3, 5, 7, 8 and 10 semitones higher, and the notes 1 and 11 semitones higher at times. So, music in A Minor uses the notes C, D, E, F, G, A and B, and at times Ab or A# as well. Maybe I'm ignorant, but when people think of key, I think this is what they are talking about. When they say "C Major" what they mean is a major scale with a root of C.

I haven't a clue what this article is trying to describe. It kind of appears to be hinting at what I just said at the beginning, trying its best to describe it in terms no one without a background in music can understand, but by the end of the article, it's just nonsense.

I'm talking about the "Characteristics of Keys" section, which seems to be a copy of this:

http://www.wmich.edu/mus-theo/courses/keys.html

I have this little book that came with a Tarot card deck. The funny thing about its descriptions for each card is that if you look at it objectively, the description of each card says a lot, but is still generally vague, to the point that all you get out of it is that some cards are good and some cards are bad. There really isn't any real information in the descriptions at all, but that isn't too surprising, as they're nothing but bullshit anyway. The cards are just cards.

This description of keys reads the same way.

"Feelings of the anxiety of the soul's deepest distress, of brooding despair, of blackest depresssion, of the most gloomy condition of the soul. Every fear, every hesitation of the shuddering heart, breathes out of horrible D# minor. If ghosts could speak, their speech would approximate this key."

What a load of bullshit.

First of all, it's minor chords, not minor scales, which tend to make a piece of music using them sound less happy than a piece of music which doesn't. It also doesn't seem to me to be anything which is so well defined. It isn't that each chord is either happy or sad, but that they're all different, and have tendancies, but it also depends on how you use them. Now, a minor key does have a minor chord as its root, but there's no reason you have to linger on it the entire time, and so a song in a minor key can sound happier than a song in a major key, and conversly, the major scale doesn't seem to prevent anyone from creating sad music. In short, I don't believe the effect of key on the feeling of a piece of music is worth more than a sentence or two. The feeling of the music is still largely up to everything else the composer does.

Secondly, unless you have perfect pitch, you cannot tell the difference between a scale in one key and a scale in any other key. This "Characteristics of Keys" section would have someone believe that if they transpose a song to a different key, it will alter the feeling of the song. It doesn't make any difference at all. Most people can't even tell a song is in a different key, let alone get a different feeling from it as a result.

Maybe it's a new kind of vandalism. Write overcomplicated nonsense in an article and it will remain forever because an expert in the field, someone who knows enough to realize it's just an overcomplicated description of a simple concept, likely won't ever read the article. All of the talk of "tonic triad" and "cadences" sure makes me afraid to edit the article, and if that stuff isn't required to understand what a key is, then I think we have vandalism that everyone is afraid to touch.

I'm deleting the "Characteristics of Keys" section, and if anyone cares to rewrite the rest of the article, I suggest just deleting everything you can't make sense of. I don't believe a key is anything that is so difficult to understand that it warrants a "too technical for a general audience" template. Personally, I'd just replace the article with "a key is a scale with a particular root" and leave it at that. A section on instrument keys is useful, but not the one in the article. -- The one and only Pj 08:36, 23 July 2007 (UTC)

I don't agree. First sentence in the deleted portion states "Here is a list of the characteristics of each key from Christian Schubart's Ideen zu einer Aesthetik der Tonkunst (1806)", which sounds like a well defined thing to me (even if today it might be only one oif the many ways of looking at the key). That's not vandalism! Cobru 10:52, 25 July 2007 (UTC)
If someone wants to include it on a page about Christian Schubart's Ideen zu einer Aesthetik der Tonkunst, then I don't see a problem with that. The problem I have is that it is nonsense and so it doesn't have a place in a factual article about musical keys. A lot of nonsense has been written about all sorts of subjects, especially if you look back 200 years ago to find it, but that doesn't mean it has a place in an article on the subject. Including the information in this article implies that it is useful factual information, but it isn't.
As for vandalism, I was referring to the beginning of the article. I don't know enough to say for sure that it is, but it reads to me like an overcomplicated description written to include as many advanced music terms as the author knows. In particular, I believe the "final point of rest for a piece" it refers to is a consequence of the key the music is played in rather than the key being a consequence of that "final point of rest." A piece of music has a key long before the end of the piece is reached. If what the article said was true, then you would be unable to determine the key of a piece of music without hearing the final chord, which isn't true. That "final point of rest for a piece" is determined by the key in use, and so you can pretty much guess what the "final point of rest" is going to be before you've actually heard it, which means that the key isn't determined by it, but that it is determined by the key. -- The one and only Pj 10:40, 26 July 2007 (UTC)
Of course, it's probably not vandalism. All I meant to say was that it seems like vandalism, a type more resistant to removal because it appears to actually say something which leads everyone who might edit the page to feel like they shouldn't because it currently says something that is beyond their understanding. I don't feel like whoever wrote that knew what they were talking about, and for me to go and write whatever I thought I knew onto any random Wikipedia page certainly would be vandalism. In fact, that why I haven't edited this page yet, because I'm no expert and I don't know for sure that what it says is nonsense. If a few months pass and no one cares to claim that this article does make sense, I'll probably rewrite the article as I see fit.
...but there's probably no point in waiting, really. I don't believe the article makes any sense and at least one other person has found it to be completely useless in its current form, so it would appear to need a rewrite even if what it currently says isn't nonsense. Does anyone think this article is useful in its current form? -- The one and only Pj 10:59, 26 July 2007 (UTC)

Difficult! :-S[edit]

I wanted to know what this "key"-concept is that i hear all musicians talk about. After reading this article i still have no idea. Will someone please write a version of this "for dummies". These are things that ought to be included: how key are related to tones and frequencies in Hz, how keys are related to chords, it would be nice to have some 'sound illustrations'-small mp3 files of some chords in some keys. There must be thousands of wikipedians that know these things, please make this article a litte more understandable. U could still keep all the music theory stuff, but maybe further down on the page so I can read it when I actually know the main concept. :-) —Preceding unsigned comment added by 83.188.198.241 (talk) 21:44, 4 December 2007 (UTC)

I think part of the problem is that musical keys are not very easy to explain. Plus the term is used differently by different people. But I do agree that the opening is not exactly easy to understand, even for musicians! I don't trust my own understanding enough to feel like I could write a simple opening that others would not find wrong somehow, but perhaps I'll give it a shot -- something along the lines of a key being, in a very general sense, essentially equivalent to a Tonic (music). In other words, music in the key of C implies a scale that begins on the note C (the first note of the scale being called the "tonic"). Of course there are all kinds of exceptions and complications, but perhaps some statement like this could start the article off, with the complications being explained as it goes on? As for the relation of keys to frequencies in hertz -- there isn't a strong relationship. The Pitch (music) article explains how notes like C, A, F-sharp, etc, have not always been tied to the same frequency of sound (and still aren't universally). If one assumes the modern standard of 440 hz for A, then one could explain keys in terms of hertz, but I'm afraid it would be counter-productive. On the other hand, some text explaining why that is so might help. Similarly, sound files of chords in different keys would be of little use, since all keys sound the same, just higher or lower in pitch (by an amount in hertz not universally agreed upon!). In short, while it seems like the concept of "key" should be relatively simple, it is actually not so simple. It rather requires one to already understand such things as scales, major and minor, tonality in general, etc. And even then I am assuming 12-tone equal temperament, among other things! Further, the term "key" is used for quite different purposes, such as when talking about the key of an instrument (such as a Bb clarinet). Still, I'll see if I can write an intro. Musical theory people, please forgive me if I screw it up (and improve it you can!). Pfly (talk) 22:04, 6 December 2007 (UTC)
Ok, I made my attempt. I realize it goes against many more technical definition of "key". I tried to balance a basic description of the common usage of the term with repeated comments about how the reality of musical key is more complicated. Hopefully I didn't do too much of a hack job of it and perhaps for people with little or no music theory background might get something from it. It seems a relatively tricky subject. While I can't claim to be an expert on music theory, I've been learning about it for many years, and yet while I understand things like the differences between French, German, and Italian augmented sixth chords, a seemingly basic concept like "key" is very hard to explain in a simple, succinct way. Please improve if you can (or even remove if it is not worth keeping!) Pfly (talk) 23:26, 6 December 2007 (UTC)
Thanks for the changes but I'm as confused as 83.188.198.241 was by the article. I love classical music and have been a regular concert-goer for some 30 years, but my eyes glaze over when I hear people speak of keys. Alas, despite the recent changes, the article still seems unintelligible. To explain "Key" with sentences like "in key of C means that C is music's harmonic center or tonic" is to explain the unknown "key" by the equally unknown concepts of "harmonic center" and "tonic." The closest thing I've found so far that provides a start on a meaningful discussion appears above on the talk page under the unlikely heading of Tarot Cards:
"My understanding of keys is that, first, we have major keys, which is music played with the root note as well as the notes which are 2, 4, 5, 7, 9 and 11 semitones higher. So, music in C Major uses the notes C, D, E, F, G, A and B. Then there are minor keys, which use the root note as well as the notes 2, 3, 5, 7, 8 and 10 semitones higher, and the notes 1 and 11 semitones higher at times. So, music in A Minor uses the notes C, D, E, F, G, A and B, and at times Ab or A# as well. Maybe I'm ignorant, but when people think of key, I think this is what they are talking about. When they say "C Major" what they mean is a major scale with a root of C."
I don't know if this description is correct, but at least it's reasonably clear. Perhaps a way to go would be to extend this concept to all keys, tabulating the notes of an octave (including sharps and flats), against the various keys, and mark which notes would be played in music written in specific keys. SteveMcCluskey (talk) 17:19, 25 February 2008 (UTC)
It's a fairly difficult concept to explain. I'd guess that if you asked college-senior music majors to define "key", most of them would be pretty much unable to. Unfortunately it's one of these areas where the more you know about it, the less certain it seems. The quote above is the equivalent of asking the gravity article to say "gravity is when things fall down." Some pieces change keys as they go along, or borrow notes from other keys, or have passages where the key is uncertain. Defining a key as a scale, as the quote above does, is too nursery-school to be useful. —Wahoofive (talk) 00:17, 26 February 2008 (UTC)

Keys and tonality[edit]

So that's a key. What is a tonality then? Is it the same as key? There's no statement that show what a tonality is. —Preceding unsigned comment added by 81.203.36.71 (talk) 17:23, 26 January 2008 (UTC)

on the individual key pages...[edit]

what are criteria for "well-known", as against "notable", music in this or that key? (And I rely on editors who know something about music outside my expertise to apply those criteria thereto, I can only copyedit in most cases.) Schissel | Sound the Note! 09:36, 24 June 2008 (UTC)

These articles are poorly written so as to be riddled with ambiguity. An example from many: "Although many musicians confuse key with scale, a scale is an ordered set of notes typically used in a key". I don't understand this sentence at all: a scale is any ordered collection of notes? Then it should read something like "... an ordered collection of notes is always called a scale. Each particular scale, in abstract from all it stands in relation to and its own properties except the identity and order of its own notes, tends to be in the same key". Of course I don't know if that's right, I don't understand the article at all, but you see the ambiguity in the page now? What even is meant by 'ordered': are all sets of notes ordered, an ordered set of notes is a set of notes with intervals of identical size...? Shame that the music theory articles are less contentious but otherwise quite like wikipedia's philosophy articles: mixing authority ambiguity and accountability, so that I'll just spend hours staring at the page, lost. If you understand the topic then SPEND THE TIME WRITING IT. Or not I mean no-one's paying you ;;-) —Preceding unsigned comment added by 86.134.54.54 (talk) 21:08, 9 July 2008 (UTC)

A Good Analogy[edit]

The best analogy I have ever heard for a key is a line dance. In a line dance everyone dances the same steps, but starts in a different place (due to the physical impossibility of starting in the same place). If you dance in the center of the room or you dance at the end of the line, you dance the same way, the only difference is where in the room you are starting (and finishing). Similarly, in music whether someone plays a song in C major or F major, it sounds the same except it will be overall higher or lower in pitch.

In line dancing, there are some places in the room where you can't start (because you will end up dancing into a wall). In the same way, a song might be moved into another key to accomodate a singer's vocal range so they don't hit the edge of their range. Of course the analogy only goes so far, but hopefully that helps everyone who is confused about why keys are used anyway. Unfortunately, I don't think an analogy is very encyclopedic Disputulo (talk) 20:28, 20 October 2008 (UTC)

'Sharp' and 'Flat' Keys[edit]

I am not a music expert (though I have played a bit on guitar and keyboards), and I came to this page hoping for clarification of the key system. I found some of it useful, but I was floored by the sudden introduction, without explanation or definition, of the terms 'sharp' and 'flat' keys. (See the sentence beginning 'in general string instruments'). Can anyone explain why G, D, A and E are described as 'sharp' keys? As I understand it, in a system of equal temperament there is no difference between (for example) A sharp and B flat. Is there some reason why notes or keys are designated as one or the other?86.157.94.0 (talk) 11:53, 21 July 2009 (UTC)

Having thought about this a bit more, I think I can answer my own question. In representing the notes of a scale on the traditional staff/stave, it is most convenient for reading them if each note of the scale goes up by a single step, and two different notes never fall on the same line or space. For the keys of C major and A minor, which contain only the so-called 'natural' notes, the notes of the scale can be placed on the lines and spaces of the traditional staff/stave without modification. But for all other keys, some of the notes are not 'natural', so this needs to be indicated in some way. In a system of equal temperament(with the octave divided into 12 equal semitones) it is a matter of convention whether, for example, the note a semitone above C natural is called C sharp or D flat, but depending on which key we are in it will be much more convenient to choose one or the other. For example, if the key is A major, the scale will be A natural, B natural, C sharp or D flat, D natural, and so on. But we will want to put the note for D natural on the usual line of the staff for that note, so if we designated the note before it in the scale as D flat, we would have two notes on the same line, and no note at all on the space below it. In this case it is obviously more convenient to designate the note as C sharp. If on the other hand the key is C minor, the scale would be C natural, D natural, D sharp or E flat, etc. In this case, it would clearly be more convenient to designate the third note of the scale as E flat and not D sharp.

I dare say this is blindingly obvious to anyone who is already familiar with musical notation, but the article is presumably aimed also at people who are not.86.159.143.195 (talk) 19:33, 23 July 2009 (UTC)

I just removed the following:
In general string instruments tend to be tuned in sharp keys (such as G, D, A, and E); and wind instruments tend to be tuned to flat keys (such as F, B-flat, and E-flat).
Orchestral string instruments can hardly be said to be "tuned in a key," and the keys of transposing winds and brasses are discussed elsewhere in the article. __ Just plain Bill (talk) 18:13, 17 April 2010 (UTC)

Keys between languages[edit]

I think it would be useful to have a section devoted to key nomenclature between languages. I was thinking about something like this. Thoughts? JBarta (talk) 22:01, 24 February 2010 (UTC)

Sure, that would be good. Just speaking for myself, my curiosity on the matter is neatly satisfied by looking at the interwiki links. This is not to say that organizing the information like that wouldn't be useful for other people. James470 (talk) 02:45, 26 February 2010 (UTC)

Here's something to work with. JBarta (talk) 22:04, 26 February 2010 (UTC)

The names of keys in English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish[1]
English French German Italian Spanish
major majeur Dur maggiore mayor
minor mineur Moll minore menor
sharp dièse -is diesis sostenido
flat bémol -es bemolle bemol
A flat la bémol as la bemolle la bemol
A la A la la
A sharp la dièse ais la diesis la sostenido
B flat si bémol B si bemolle si bemol
B si H si si
C flat do bémol ces do bemolle do bemol
C ut/do C do do
C sharp do dièse cis do diesis do sostenido
D flat ré bémol des re bemolle re bemol
D D re re
D sharp ré dièse dis re diesis re sostenido
E flat mi bémol es mi bemolle mi bemol
E mi E mi mi
F fa F fa fa
F sharp fa dièse fis fa diesis fa sostenido
G flat sol bémol ges sol bemolle sol bemol
G sol G sol sol
G sharp sol dièse gis sol diesis sol sostenido
If all you are going to do is copy a table from a website, why not simply provide an External link in the usual manner (this would avoid any possible copyvio problems)? On the other hand, is this article really the place to include a massive table listing all these terms as found in, say, Japanese, Arabic, Norwegian, and Kiswahili?—Jerome Kohl (talk) 22:14, 26 February 2010 (UTC)
I don't think there is a copyright problem. There's no original or creative material involved.
A link is not the same as a wikified table ready for inclusion or editing.
Unless there is a better place, I think this article is the perfect place.
"Massive" table including "say, Japanese, Arabic, Norwegian, and Kiswahili"? Now let's not get carried away. I shoveled my driveway today. Maybe I shouldn't have done it because I might have ended up shoveling the whole street?
This translingual nomenclature is fairly common in Western classical music. I see it all the time. I think these limited translations would be useful in the article itself rather than as an external link. JBarta (talk) 22:38, 26 February 2010 (UTC)
It is true that much of this nomenclature is widespread. Is Spanish really as important as, say, Russian? It would also help if there were not mistakes in the source. In Italian, for example, it is not normal to refer to "fa" as "f".—Jerome Kohl (talk) 04:44, 27 February 2010 (UTC)
Mistakes can be corrected... that's no biggie. And it's not about one language being more important than another. It's about what is commonly found and commonly used. And now that I think about it, would it really be so bad if several other languages were added down the line? Probably not. JBarta (talk) 22:22, 27 February 2010 (UTC)
If this had been my idea, I would give up on it at this point. I have a little table on my computer with English, Italian, German and Japanese, because those are the ones that come up in my CD collection. Spanish comes up occasionally on Naxos, but always as a translation after English, German, French, Italian. James470 (talk) 01:36, 2 March 2010 (UTC)

References[edit]

Merge: Key coloration[edit]

Any thoughts? Hyacinth (talk) 15:01, 2 June 2010 (UTC)

I had no idea that such an article-let even existed. It does not seem to me to be justified as a separate article, so I wholeheartedly concur: by all means merge it here.—Jerome Kohl (talk) 16:07, 2 June 2010 (UTC)
Merge. If that section ever grows (which I doubt) to a suitable size, it can be split back out. __ Just plain Bill (talk) 16:11, 2 June 2010 (UTC)
An entire book could be written on that topic. But for Wikipedia it would probably be better to just have a paragraph or two merged into this article. James470 (talk) 20:35, 2 June 2010 (UTC)

The key coloration information might be better at musical tuning or musical temperament, with key coloration as a redirect. Hyacinth (talk) 05:06, 16 November 2010 (UTC)

No basic definition[edit]

As a moderately intelligent person (but with no musical education) who would like to understand what a "key" is, I found this article utterly baffling. It makes no attempt to list the various ways in which the term is used, or explain what a piece being "in" a key actually means in practice. If the concept of a "key" can be taught to primary school children, surely there is a simple definition? I note that previous comments on this article, up to 5 years ago, make similar points, yet it remains incomprehensible. Richard Carpenter (talk) 15:49, 7 October 2011 (UTC) — Preceding unsigned comment added by Richard Carpenter (talkcontribs) 15:44, 7 October 2011 (UTC)

I am not one of the editors who have been primarily responsible for this article, but I think a little guidance may be needed for the benefit of those of us who have "known" for so long what a key is, that we are no longer able to explain it to a beginner. I see two short sentences that seem perfectly clear to me, but obviously must not be to you. Perhaps you can articulate what is not clear about:
  • broadly speaking the phrase in key of C means that C is music's harmonic center or tonic.
  • The key identifies the tonic triad, the chord, major or minor, which represents the final point of rest for a piece, or the focal point of a section.
If on the other hand you are looking for a single definition, the lede paragraph makes it clear (I think) that there are in fact several different meanings for the word.—Jerome Kohl (talk) 17:51, 7 October 2011 (UTC)

Thanks for the response, apologies for not getting back to you earlier. The opening sentence does indeed state that there are several meanings of the word, and I have no problem with that, but frustratingly it doesn't attempt to list them. I think my basic problem as a complete beginner is that the sentences you quote define what I thought a basic concept ('key') by introducing apparently more complex concepts and using less basic terminology, words like 'harmonic', 'tonic' and 'triad'. To me a 'tonic' is something that cheers me up, and a 'triad' is the Chinese Mafia! And I have absolutely no idea what 'harmonic centre' means as a technical term. Regarding the second sentence, what does 'final point of rest' mean? Is it the last note of the piece? Obviously you can't be expected to make this article 'idiot-proof' (and it does make me feel an idiot) but surely the basic concept of a key can be more simply explained?Richard Carpenter (talk) 08:51, 19 April 2012 (UTC)

Now we are getting somewhere. I was a little startled to learn that this article somehow links the word "triad" to Triad (underground society), so I checked. While it did not in fact do this, I have to agree that the link to the "Tonality" article was less than helpful—in fact, all but circular. I have changed this link to Triad (music), which I hope is more useful. On the other hand, I cannot see how the link to Tonic (music) could be improved, and I am at a loss to understand how you could think it might refer to herbal or possibly alcoholic potions. "Harmonic centre" means what it says: the chord or harmony around which a piece of music is oriented. How might this be clarified? The sentence with "final point of rest" in it also seems perfectly unambiguous to me. It currently reads "the tonic triad, the chord, major or minor, which represents the final point of rest for a piece, or the focal point of a section". So, an object called "tonic triad", which is either a major chord or a minor chord. This chord may be the end-goal of an entire composition, or merely a local point of focus. Perhaps this sentence could be cleaned up a bit for punctuation, but I am at a loss to see what is otherwise unclear about it.
It is on the other hand true that nothing in this article explains how one note or chord amongst several acquires this quality of being central, and this is in fact the point where the theory of tonality tends to go off the rails. The usual ploy is to repeatedly assert that it does so, in an effort to browbeat the student into believing that if it is not plain, then it is his/her own fault. More thoughtful writers are still forced to fall back on presenting common musical patterns that are alleged to produce the effect (the force of the tritone in a diatonic scale, descending melodic contour analogous to speech patterns, rhythmic shapes, etc.), but of course this does not actually demonstrate any cause-and-effect relationship, since it sets out from the assumption that tonal centricity is present in the first place. Ultimately, it comes down to a belief structure that is shared by a large number of musicians. It might be nothing more than a mass hallucination, but just try telling that to any subscribing believer.—Jerome Kohl (talk) 17:45, 19 April 2012 (UTC)
I'm afraid Jerome is right. I'd speculate that your average senior music major in college couldn't really articulate what "key" means in music, and there's certainly no quick-and-easy way to explain it to a layman which doesn't simplify it to the point of undermining a more detailed article. By comparison, the article on gravity doesn't start by saying "gravity is what makes things fall down." —Wahoofive (talk) 05:18, 20 April 2012 (UTC)
The "Gravity" article is an interesting comparison. Although it does not actually start by saying it is what makes things fall down, in fact it does so in the second sentence, and the first sentence (like this article on key) only describes what it does, not how it does so. This is of course a common enough problem in science and engineering, but it is worse in the arts, where we usually do not have the opportunity of rigorously investigating such ephemeral things as tonality, Affekt, or harmoniousness.—Jerome Kohl (talk) 18:16, 20 April 2012 (UTC)

Apologies, my comparisons were intended to be humorous, and related more to what is in my head than to Wikipedia entries. BTW, 'tonic' in the UK is a soft drink for mixing with spirits, usually gin or vodka. But my basic point is this - the ideal definition explains something the reader doesn't understand in terms that he or she does understand. If I have to find a definition of the explanatory terms in the definition, it is thereby less than ideal (for me anyway). If I look up 'tonic' I find more terms i don't understand and have to look up. Where does it end? Personally I think that "Gravity is when things fall down" is a pretty good starting point for a definition!

So, if I understand you, the 'final point of rest' is the last note or chord of the piece (or section). That seems logical, but how is it that an educated listener can apparently identify the key at the beginning of a piece or section? Does it also start with the tonic ?

It seems from your comments that there is no firm definition of centrality in this context. By "centre around" do you mean that all the notes in the piece are within a certain range (up and down in pitch) from the designated note or chord?

If a theoretical explanation is difficult (and I fully appreciate that it could be), maybe some practical examples would help - e.g. "a piece in C major normally includes notes / chords selected from the following....."?

Thank you for your patient responses to my questions. I am beginning to think that the concept of key is pretty irrelevant to a non-musically educated listener, and I would be better off not worrying about it!Richard Carpenter (talk) 19:30, 22 April 2012 (UTC)

In some corners of the US, "tonic" may refer to any sort of fizzy drink, leading to occasional confusion. Sitting in a music-theory context as we are, we may dispense with further worries on that score. What is apropos to the present context is the notion that "writing about music is like dancing about architecture." There are some things better explained by listening to a well-chosen example or two, than by hundreds of words. Even so, Prof. Kohl is eminently qualified to choose apt words here...
As far as 'final point of rest' goes, that may be explained better in the cadence article, which is linked from this one. Some pieces come home to roost more obviously than others. Some others may have an ambiguous centre or none at all, and it isn't unknown for a piece to be outright deceptive about it. Long story short, there are simple explanations which can't cover every case, and there are more elaborate ones. I suspect it's a lot like taxonomy, with plenty of well-known species, some rare ones, and a few yet to be discovered. Your confusion is no disgrace; wear it proudly! __ Just plain Bill (talk) 20:48, 22 April 2012 (UTC)
Bill is right, and I'd add a couple more points. (1) The methods of establishing key, and the importance thereof, changed drastically over the period of music history. Music in the 1600s and before may not really be in a key; music in the late 1800s is increasingly vague and intentionally ambiguous about it. (2) Even for simple music, there's no reason to assume the first chord of a piece is in its key: even Happy Birthday To You doesn't start on the tonic chord.
What we could say is that the tonic chord (a phrase almost synonymous with "key") is the chord which gives the greatest sense of arrival and rest, and other chords provide a relatively greater amount of tension. —Wahoofive (talk) 16:02, 23 April 2012 (UTC)
Absolutely true, according to conventional accounts, but this still does not address the question of how we can demonstrate the existence of the mysterious forces that produce this "sense of arrival and rest" and the "greater amount of tension" in other chords. In other words, if some innocent comes along and tells us there is no pitch centre, how can we prove that we are not wearing the Emperor's New Clothes?—Jerome Kohl (talk) 17:02, 23 April 2012 (UTC)
I don't think we have to. We're just talking about the basic definition of the term at this point. You can define what an alien abduction is without worrying that some people think it's a crock. — Preceding unsigned comment added by Wahoofive (talkcontribs) 09:55, 24 April 2012
There is no question about "having to"—we cannot do this, because there is no good explanation available. (I hope I am not inventing "lazy dogmas of impossibility" here—or, better, I hope someone will come along and prove that I am wrong about this.) Some readers coming to this article may not understand this, and so it should be explained. At the same time, Richard Carpenter has eloquently expressed frustration with some of the terminology used, and we need to take a hard look at the sentences in question to see how they can be improved.—Jerome Kohl (talk) 16:12, 24 April 2012 (UTC)

Draft intro[edit]

To start with, we should ditch the opening sentence about how contradictory the meanings are. Here's a draft of a new introduction. —Wahoofive (talk) 23:00, 25 April 2012 (UTC)

I see one problem immediately: the word "key" does not usually refer to the tonic chord, though certainly the tonic is implicated. If it did refer solely to that chord, there would be no difference between a piece in G major, G Lydian, and G Mixolydian, for example. A case for this could be argued, of course (and this is the basis for the two-fold division into "major" and "minor" in tonal music), but the modal scales are also sometimes referred to as separate "keys" or "tonalities" (Dorian key, Aeolian tonality, etc.). Also, as the current lede makes plain, we can speak of the "key of G" without having to specify whether it is major or minor. I am inclined to agree that the opening sentence makes too much of "contradiction", but I don't think this is quite the way to solve that problem.—Jerome Kohl (talk) 23:47, 25 April 2012 (UTC)

(edit conflict)

Thanks for making a start. I'd like to see it done without the assumption that every piece has an associated chordal harmony. Making the tonic triad the defining referent implies that association, at the expense of generality and (IMO) accuracy. How about:
In music theory, the key of a piece implies its tonal center and surrounding tonality. The key may be major, minor, or related to some other scale. Unless the mode is specified, it is often assumed to be major; for example, "this piece is in C" refers to the key of C major. Popular songs are usually in a key...
Comment? __ Just plain Bill (talk) 23:55, 25 April 2012 (UTC)
I'm open to seeing some documentation on this, but in common usage people don't normally use the word "key" to describe pieces in church modes or that are not harmonic (sometimes the harmony is only implied, however). If I hear a piece is in G, as far as I'm concerned that's a reference to the G major chord. I've never heard keys used in reference to music other than major or minor. —Wahoofive (talk) 02:23, 26 April 2012 (UTC)
Even if there are occasional usages of those other sorts, I think we'd better serve our readers by providing the principal meaning with respect to the major/minor harmony and put other meanings as an also-ran, like the "transposing instrument" reference. —Wahoofive (talk) 02:27, 26 April 2012 (UTC)
I have heard plenty of traditional fiddle tunes in keys other than major or minor. Not all that esoteric, they are easy enough to find in sessions, concert halls, and on youTube. See, for example, these two versions of "The Road to Lisdoonvarna", one in E dorian, and the other in D mixolydian:
      http://www.ibiblio.org/fiddlers/ROA_ROB.htm#ROAD_TO_LISDOONVARNA_[1]
      (sorry, don't know how to escape the square brackets)
I believe there are solo melodic music traditions which have little or nothing to do with harmony, with pieces based around intervals, yet still having a tonal center or key note. Trying to apply a harmony to such melodies will cause raised eyebrows among the purists. Even in circles where it is accepted, individual accompanists may have very different, yet equally workable, ideas of the particular harmonies any given tune might imply. __ Just plain Bill (talk) 03:37, 26 April 2012 (UTC)
With reference to "I'm open to seeing some documentation on … [using] the word "key" to describe pieces in church modes", although I am skeptical about this sort of "research", Google searches find 5,950 hits for "Phrygian key", 2,380 hits for "Locrian key", and somewhat lower numbers for "Dorian key", "Lydian key", "Mixolydian key" (1,840, 1,700, and 1,680, respectively). Mind you, the greatest proportion are do-it-yourself guitar sites (and I would not recommend that Wikipedia should encourage careless usage), but it cannot be said that the word "key" is exclusively tied to "major and minor".—Jerome Kohl (talk) 05:07, 26 April 2012 (UTC)
Not sure if www.thesession.org meets WP:RS criteria, but it has been a credible resource for trad heads since the previous century. Here is their entry for Morrison's Jig, a tune in two sharps, which they call the key of E dorian. That one is an interesting "circular" tune, consisting of two strains, neither one resolving to E. In many settings, musicians will customarily play an unwritten tonic chord after the last time through the tune ending a medley or set, not only providing musical resolution in the case of such a circular tune, but cuing the dancers to honor their partners with a bow or curtsey. __ Just plain Bill (talk) 15:18, 26 April 2012 (UTC)
Thanks for an interesting example. At the risk of being thought pedantic, that source does not actually say that Morrison's Jig is "in the key of E Dorian". Rather, is says it has a key signature of E Dorian. This is the equivalent of saying that the first movement of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony has the key signature of E-flat major (or, indeed, F Dorian).—Jerome Kohl (talk) 16:35, 26 April 2012 (UTC)
Not pedantic at all; that is indeed what it says. I'm not sure your "equivalence" is entirely apropos, though, since it would seem silly to claim Beethoven's three flats there mean E major. With Morrison's, anyone with ears can hear it being in E, and any cognizant musician trying to reproduce the melody on a keyboard will see it is dorian. __ Just plain Bill (talk) 15:52, 24 May 2012 (UTC)

I didn't mean to say that "key" was never ever used with such meanings, but it's a rare and specialized usage. The impetus for this discussion was a layman coming in and looking for a layman's definition in the intro. I think it would be wise to have our intro define the term as it is used 99% of the time, and save those other usages for an aside, along with "piano key" and "slack-key guitar". "Phyrgian key" may bring up a few thousand hits, but how many does "major key" bring up? Your use of the phrase "tonal center" is a reminder that usually other terms are used for music which is not major or minor harmony. —Wahoofive (talk) 18:33, 26 April 2012 (UTC)

I've now modified my draft to incorporate a reference to these less common usages, and included a link to the phrase tonal center, although that's not a separate article. I'd also like to eliminate the graphic of scale degrees, which doesn't really contribute anything to the understanding of "key". Comments? —Wahoofive (talk) 02:18, 30 April 2012 (UTC)
Since neither of us have provided a reason we currently seem at a standstill. Why doesn't it contribute to the understanding of key and how is it more likely to confuse than enlighten? Hyacinth (talk) 22:18, 19 May 2012 (UTC)
I've replaced both images with an example key signature image. What do you think of that? Hyacinth (talk) 06:09, 22 May 2012 (UTC)
The key signature illustration is an improvement in that it's a more closely related subject, but key signature isn't really the same thing as key, even though many people with minimal training don't realize that. —Wahoofive (talk) 06:36, 24 May 2012 (UTC)
The caption doesn't say they are the same thing, nor does it imply it. Would it need say that they are not? Hyacinth (talk) 23:20, 24 May 2012 (UTC)

Is there a source for defining key in terms of chords? Many laymen, if that's the intended audience here, can find the key of a single-line melody without need for any particular implied harmony. __ Just plain Bill (talk) 15:52, 24 May 2012 (UTC)

I assume you are referring to the introduction. I've edited it to refer to the tonic note as well as chord. Hyacinth (talk) 23:23, 24 May 2012 (UTC)
Yes, that helps, some. Thanks! __ Just plain Bill (talk) 11:56, 25 May 2012 (UTC)

Technical[edit]

Why and where is this article too technical? How should it be cleaned up? Hyacinth (talk) 07:25, 26 May 2012 (UTC)

Since this was a drive by tagging I propose we remove this fairly quickly unless a reason is given. Hyacinth (talk) 20:56, 27 May 2012 (UTC)

I agree. The subject is by nature technical, and since the tag emphatically states that the technical material should be retained (only made more accessible to the non-expert reader) the burden is on the tagger to point out specific examples of impenetrable explanation.—Jerome Kohl (talk) 21:13, 27 May 2012 (UTC)
Agree. This is the English Wikipedia, not the ELI5 version. Unless specifics appear, and soon, the tag should go; midweek seems about right... __ Just plain Bill (talk) 14:33, 28 May 2012 (UTC)

Requested move: "Musical scale" → "Scale (music)"[edit]

I have initiated a formal RM action to move Musical scale to Scale (music). Contributions and comments would be very welcome; decisions of this kind could affect the choice of title for many music theory articles.

NoeticaTea? 00:11, 21 June 2012 (UTC)

Musical parameters in infobox[edit]

I'm not sure of the best place to ask this, but I've started a discussion over at Template_talk:Infobox_song, which essentially asks whether tempo and key should have their own parameters. — Preceding unsigned comment added by 86.175.220.114 (talk) 17:28, 9 March 2013 (UTC)

"Key" as meaning "key signature"[edit]

I have found that very many people use "key" to mean the same as "key signature". I suppose this happens because in the most common mode (Ionian), the key and the key signature have the same name, so that many people believe they are the same thing. It seems that that is harmful or even ruinous to many a musical discussion. I think the article should state that this supposed incorrect usage is actually very common.CountMacula (talk) 05:34, 28 October 2013 (UTC)

The third paragraph of the lede begins "The key signature is not a reliable guide to the key...". Do you think that's insufficient? —Wahoofive (talk) 16:31, 28 October 2013 (UTC)
That paragraph does not address the equivocation of the term, the fact that the term is very commonly used in more than one meaning, the fact that it is very commonly used to mean key signature.CountMacula (talk) 16:29, 6 November 2013 (UTC)
I'm a little unclear in my mind about just how "people use 'key' to mean the same as 'key signature'". I cannot imagine, for example, anyone saying "Beethoven's Seventh Symphony is in the key of three sharps" or, on the other hand, "the key of F minor is identical to A major". Could you give some examples of phrases in which the word "key" alone is used to stand in for "key signature"? —Jerome Kohl (talk) 20:04, 6 November 2013 (UTC)

Key coloration[edit]

I think this section needs amendment.

Pythagorean tuning is a bad example for a tuning with key coloring, meantone tunings would be equally bad examples. When we look at the interval structure of those keys, we notice that all keys used in the historical periods related to those tunings had exactly same interval structure in each of the keys. The drawback to this uniformity is the presence of wolf tones, which prevent one from modulating around the whole circle of fifths. Thus, the fact that renaissance keyboards had twelve keys to an octave does not imply that the chain of fifths was viewed as a circle. The two ways to accommodate for these wolf tones were simply retuning the instrument, or far less commonly, instruments with split black keys, one producing the flat note, another the respective sharp note.

The 18th century solution to this, was using microtonal variations of the same interval in a way that eliminated wolf tones. The side effect of this microtonal variation was that each key sounded a bit different. That is my understanding of what key coloration usually means. Equal temperament is a later invention that allows modulation around the whole circle of fifths without any key coloration.

My position is that even though wolf tones are here cited as examples of key coloration, they are applicable to that purpose only from the viewpoint of modern music, in a somewhat rebellious spirit. They are however not examples of key coloration in the theoretically more conservative sense of the word.

Tritonist (talk) 15:55, 27 February 2014 (UTC)

This is an interesting opinion. Do you have a reliable source to support it? My personal experience is almost entirely the opposite, but also concerns things like resonance patterns in physical instruments like the violin or the piano, where even in theoretically undifferentiated tunings like 12-equal temperament there are different "sounds" to different keys (a string orchestra playing in D major, for example, sounds entirely different from the same body of instruments playing in C major). But this is not directly relevant to the subject of this article.—Jerome Kohl (talk) 16:49, 27 February 2014 (UTC)