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Do you believe that different keys have different emotions? Why or why not?

Yes or no?  

26 members have voted

  1. 1. Do you think there are differences between keys?

    • Yes
    • No

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7 hours ago, AngelCityOutlaw said:

There is no reason why any key should have a different "mood" than any other given that "Key" is an entirely relative concept and the things that we derive a sense of "mood" from in music come from rhythm/phrasing, scales/mode (pitch essentially) and harmony and progression.

At this stage of our understanding it's more about perceptions. Fact is, we really don't know. There's no evidence because no one's tried to find any. As a hater of psychology I'd look to the neuroscience of hearing/memory/experience but that's far down the list of priorities. Besides, it's probably a matter of key plus musical context. It may affect the act of performing (as I declared of mine up there a couple of posts). It's possible I suppose that the errors in equal temperament can cause slight shifts. After all, most people can tell the difference between a piece in a minor or major key. Perhaps they could be aware of smaller discrepancies - equal temperament doesn't follow the natural order of harmonics after all. (It's possible people have already studied this.)

Though I play standard numbers in keys I don't write in them so I don't know except I tend to aim for certain tonal centres (if the evolving composition suggests one) associated with a particular "mood" (as I feel it). That's my end of it. Whether the listener will experience that mood I can never know. There's no vocabulary to describe the qualities of experience so it's no use asking anyone.

So I suppose we have to allow people to believe what they will. The perception may affect how and what they compose and/or their performance.  


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And Perfect Pitch + Lots of Classical Music exposure is probably why I have every single key associated with a different feeling, like how these keys sound so different to me:

  • C Major: Boring, Mozartian, Super-restrictive(It feels like whenever I'm in C major and chromaticism pops up, I suddenly have to modulate, I don't get that reaction with other keys), Beginner, Overused
  • D Major: Majestic, Regal(Even at a fast tempo, I still hear the majesty of D major underneath the fast notes)
  • C Minor: The Full Emotional Spectrum(fast and high, Fear, slow and high, Peace, slow and in the bass, Funerial, fast and loud or even just loud, Angry, etc.)
  • D Minor: Melancholy that can easily be turned around by simply upping the tempo
  • E Major: Ecstatic, like nothing can ruin the joy
  • E Minor: Sad and Worried at the same time, like you're lost in a deep forest
  • etc.

and how some keys like Bb major, F minor, and G major feel very stable, as the emotion rarely changes drastically within the key(like even the heroic to peaceful change of Bb major isn't that drastic, and G major virtually always sounds warm and joyful, same with F minor and funerial melancholy) whereas other keys like C minor and B major feel unstable. In the case of C minor, it has to do with the fact that as you creschendo to forte or fortissimo, it gets out of control of itself(Beethoven uses this to his advantage in his C minor works). In the case of B major, it has to do with tempo, as faster tempo makes B major more unstable, whereas at a slow tempo, it's one of what I call the "Nocturnal Keys"

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  • 2 months later...

This is an interesting topic!

A couple of years ago I wrote down some keys and their qualities.

I tried playing around with phrases on piano and I had to go back to them for a second opinion. I simply used wrote words like sharp, mild, timid, warm, cold for different major and minor keys. I also checked what church modes works well, in what key, for instance I thought the phrygian mode came across best in C, F and G while Dorian worked best in F and Bb, also B but a little milder.

I think there could be some sonic qualities in different keys. You guys were talking about instrument range, some things were easier to play and also preferences from earlier listening or playing experiences. But what about science, is there some frequences that resonate in a certain way that makes them more clear/sharp/dull?

I thought about Bach’s WTC and his choice of melodies in different keys. Does anyone know if Bach had any thoughts on different keys and their sonic qualities?

I also reckon some keys have a better and clearer timbre in vocal music, like choirs, Eb and Db.

Take a look at this YouTube clip where she takes an example from Schubert’s Impromptu, comparing two keys.

Just to make things more complicated, she also mentioned in a comment that pianist may sound different because they play more or less expressively because of the tactile feel of the instrument on that key.

Edited by Olov
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On 5/16/2021 at 1:54 AM, Olov said:

I thought about Bach’s WTC and his choice of melodies in different keys. Does anyone know if Bach had any thoughts on different keys and their sonic qualities?

Bach had no access to our modern 12 equal temperament system, he was using something like Werkmeister III, or some other kind of temperament which would actually make each key literally sound different since it's not equal. This was the same for most of the baroque period (if not all of it,) which explains why keys were so heavily tied to particular characters (the famous "affects.")


Nowadays besides instrument quirks and personal preference, there's little point in pointing out specific things about keys in a modern 12tet system where, by definition, there is no difference between the keys. In fact, singers transpose entire pieces all the time, it's one of the most typical things to have pieces in many different keys for different voice ranges. Nobody cares, really. I mean, the few people that have absolute hearing may care, I guess, but most? Nope. Can't even tell, probably.

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  • 2 years later...
On 7/27/2019 at 3:07 PM, Luis Hernández said:

My answer is no.

Taking one or another key depends on the instruments to use, and the range or tesitura of the piece (the botom notes in the piano for example).

To my taste, emotions come up because of contrast between tension and rest. Tonal music and functionality is just one way of making that contrast, but there are many other. That's how emotions are peinted in atonality or impressionism, etc... Most times, I find purely tonal music boring.


That depends on whether you're thinking literally or creatively.

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