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Having an avoid key, does anybody relate to this?

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So, there is one key on the circle of fifths that I personally avoid using for the most part outside of modulations. That key being C major. C major is the most emotionally neutral of the major keys and was viewed as "The Neutral Key" in the Classical Era, I get it. But that isn't why I avoid writing a piece in C major for the most part. No, the reason is more complicated. When I have a musical idea that I improvise on the piano and it just comes out in C major, this is how I feel about it:

I'm going to get out of key way too fast here if I introduce chromaticism. Bb is going to bring me to F major in seconds, not just the chord but the key. F# is going to do the same but for G major. Eb is going to do the same but for C minor. I'm going to end up with a boring diatonic melody if I avoid chromaticism for the purpose of keeping the theme in C major. Either way it feels wrong to have a C major tonic. C minor though, no problemo. A minor, no problemo. But C major? Yes problemo.

And so I will often either say to myself that it isn't worth using that musical idea if it is just going to pop up in C major in my improvisation or record the improvisation and transpose it to a different key like say G major.

Also, C major is like literally the most common key in all genres and eras of music. That adds even more pressure for me to avoid C major in my compositions. How many pieces have I composed in C major? One, just one piece. How many pieces did Mozart compose in C major? Easily at least a quarter of his total of 626 compositions, easily a third if you narrow it down to piano concertos and solo piano works. How many pieces did Beethoven compose in C major? Chopin? Liszt? A lot, a significant portion of the repertoire. But it isn't just Classical Music that uses C major to death. Other genres do so as well.

This using C major to death that happens across all genres of music makes me avoid C major as much as possible outside of modulations. Heck, even in modulations, I don't use C major that often. Now if you think I'm prejudiced towards C major being "The Beginner's Key" than you are wrong about that. I'm not prejudiced towards anything having to do with keys. I just don't feel comfortable composing in C major when it has been used to death by hundreds if not thousands of composers.

Does anybody relate to this, having a key that they purposefully avoid writing in for any reason?

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Picking a key is important. At least for me. If you feel some kind

of version to C maj then stay away from it. There's probably

'more to the story' than you currently understand.

I find certain things are working and at other times they aren't.

Not sure why but better off going with the grain sometimes.

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Atm I let whatever key comes naturally and not really be bothered by it though I should I guess change that. C major is definitely 1 of the most natural keys so it makes it easier for me. Certain keys are hard for me like f sharp minor, for some reason whenever I come up with something in this key I tend to shift towards F sharp dorian or c sharp minor.

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On 4/4/2020 at 4:08 AM, caters said:

I'm going to get out of key way too fast here if I introduce chromaticism. Bb is going to bring me to F major in seconds, not just the chord but the key. F# is going to do the same but for G major. Eb is going to do the same but for C minor. I'm going to end up with a boring diatonic melody if I avoid chromaticism for the purpose of keeping the theme in C major. Either way it feels wrong to have a C major tonic. C minor though, no problemo. A minor, no problemo. But C major? Yes problemo.

This is literally the same for every key. If you don't use accidentals you'll end up with a boring diatonic melody (actually you won't if you can write well).

On 4/4/2020 at 4:08 AM, caters said:

This using C major to death that happens across all genres of music makes me avoid C major as much as possible outside of modulations. Heck, even in modulations, I don't use C major that often. Now if you think I'm prejudiced towards C major being "The Beginner's Key" than you are wrong about that. I'm not prejudiced towards anything having to do with keys. I just don't feel comfortable composing in C major when it has been used to death by hundreds if not thousands of composers.

Right, actually think about this for a moment. I'm going to go through a step by step guide to writing a piece based on this advice.

Step 1: Choose a key that hasn't been used by hundreds if not thousands of composers.

Step 2: Oh wait... There isn't one

Step 3: Scrap it all and write for untuned percussion.

 

Seriously though, you can't make that argument while continuing to write for common instruments. Name an instrument that you have written for that hasn't already been used thousands of times. A time signature? A form?

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6 hours ago, aMusicComposer said:

This is literally the same for every key. If you don't use accidentals you'll end up with a boring diatonic melody (actually you won't if you can write well).

Right, actually think about this for a moment. I'm going to go through a step by step guide to writing a piece based on this advice.

Step 1: Choose a key that hasn't been used by hundreds if not thousands of composers.

Step 2: Oh wait... There isn't one

Step 3: Scrap it all and write for untuned percussion.

 

Seriously though, you can't make that argument while continuing to write for common instruments. Name an instrument that you have written for that hasn't already been used thousands of times. A time signature? A form?

 

But I hear characters to keys, even in equal temperament. And with C major, I hear happiness, but nothing else, not even a little nuance of added character to it. Like overdone K 545 kind of happiness, which sounds boring. The same melody transposed to Bb major? Now that has some real character to it. But because of the lack of added character in C major, the slightest hint of chromaticism makes me want to modulate, which would mean say an F major phrase before C major is even established, and thus an uncertainty about it actually being in C major. But if I go the other way, completely diatonic, I end up back at that boring K 545 type of soundscape. Either way, C major feels wrong to me in a way that say F major or even F# major doesn't. This is a comparison between C major and F major and my reaction to certain chromatic notes in both keys as a composer:

  • Eb note in C major -> I'll modulate to C minor, would rather compose in C minor anyways
  • F# note in C major -> Okay, let's modulate to G
  • Eb note in F major -> No biggie, thats the dominant of Bb major, the subdominant, It can stay
  • F# note in F major -> Well, we are moving to the ii now, no big deal

As you can tell, chromaticism and modulation for me anyway are related to the point that I have a certain chromaticism threshold above which I might as well either modulate or go atonal(the second of which I'm very uncomfortable doing because of the unresolved dissonance that will inevitably result). For most keys, this threshold is quite high, to the point that I can insert a whole chromatic scale and still feel like I haven't moved anywhere in terms of key. But for C major, this threshold is very low.

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27 minutes ago, caters said:

But I hear characters to keys, even in equal temperament.

I do too. However, this doesn't really cause me to be biased towards different keys (although, now that I think of it, there is a distinct lack of my pieces in C major...). 

 

28 minutes ago, caters said:
  • Eb note in C major -> I'll modulate to C minor, would rather compose in C minor anyways
  • F# note in C major -> Okay, let's modulate to G
  • Eb note in F major -> No biggie, thats the dominant of Bb major, the subdominant, It can stay
  • F# note in F major -> Well, we are moving to the ii now, no big deal

I think the problem lies in this. Rethink these, and understand that in equal temperament, all keys are the same. You can branch out chromatically from C major, as with any other key.

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I read somewhere in Mozart's day, the tuning was lower or higher than today's standard by about a semi-tone, which means that for audience's either today's B or Db sounded the most neutral to them. I think what's really going on here is that C is more of an 'average' tonality in terms of "sharpality". 😏 Which means, it's all relative. Ramble over.

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For me, I stick with keys with few sharps or flats. When I compose for band I stick with at most 3 sharps and 5 flats, flats are easier for us to read. When I compose for Baroque ensembles, I tend to use what ever I feel, Baroque musicians are more trained, and can deal with the difficulty. Even then I generally stick with E minor, A minor, C minor, D minor, G minor. I almost never compose in Major keys, I feel that they are boring. They lack harmonic opportunities. Circle of 5ths don't work well in major, the (i - v - VI7 - iv - V(stepping downward bass line)) is a great progression. The only 'good' major key progression that is "interesting" is the canon progression, which is over used....

So thats how I feel, I'm a minor key junkie who likes to make it easy on me to play.

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I don't use keys anymore, keys are like borders in the map, I now live in the space.

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On 4/9/2020 at 5:24 AM, SYS65 said:

I don't use keys anymore, keys are like borders in the map, I now live in the space.

 

Like, woah.

 

Yeah, man. I start without a key signature... then end up in C double flat or some stupid sh!t, then have to work backwards to make the score readable. Totally worth it tho.

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Posted (edited)

I've started to avoid certain keys(C major, D major, G major, A major, F major) just because too much of a percentage of my music is in those keys and then I can get comfortable adjusting to other key signatures. Inspired by this thread.

Edited by Jackleaf

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