Music: How is the key of C different from A natural minor?

It’s impossible to answer exactly ‘why’ a composer made such decisions. But we can find plenty of clues.

  • specific important passages may sound different were they transposed, due to the nature of the instruments involved. Mahler’s fifth symphony opens with a C# minor trumpet solo, which has a tense quality that wouldn’t occur if it were in Bb. A (major and minor) are useful for bombast, because it gives they greatest resonance from the string section. Tchaikovsky’s fourth symphony and the Infernal Dance from Stravinsky’s Firebird come to mind.

An amazing number of violin concertos use D (maj/min) - Brahms, Beethoven, Stravinsky, Britten, Sibelius, Tchaikovsky, two by Mozart, both by Prokofiev - keys which give maximum opportunity for virtuoso arpeggio-type passges. Others keys with similar potential are A minor (Dvorak, Shostakovich no. 1, Glazunov)
Bruch no 1 (G min), two other Mozart ones (G and A), … you get the idea.
Happy/sad keys - completely cultural. Even within western music, it’s only a small historical timeframe that demonstrates any such associations.

Oh, I got so carried away with violin concertos, I forgot to make my other points!

  • Key relationships. It might be that the composer wants some passage in the middle of the music to be in C# minor (for reasons such as the Mahler example), and that he also has certain plans for the modulations surrounding it. This can dictate other keys elsewhere in the piece.

  • Schubert and Dvorak both had a habit of using very flat keys. I think it’s Schubert’s Great C major symphony that reaches somethign like C-flat minor.

I don’t know how true it is, but in a song we played last year, the band was bitching about having to play something in A major, (especially me… damned Eb instruments). The band director told us that the composer picked it because A major has the brightest sound of any key. :dubious:

Actually, there’s a very interesting piece on keys and musician’s associations with them on this page. Scroll down to the subhead “TT: Rainbow Connections” and start reading from there. In this piece “A major” is called “the most innocent of keys.” From another online source, I’ve also labeled as a “mellow” key. For me, “A Major” is a strong, rockin’ key, but that’s probably because a lot of rock music revolves around E, A, D, and G, and I think my key associations are based on that, not some sort of inherent characteristic of the music. Just like I think of D-flat major and G-flat major as being “mellow,” but I think that’s because I had to play some Andrew Lloyd Weber back in the day, and it seemed that all his ballads were in these keys.

Just like I find C “plain and white” because that’s where all my piano instruction started and that’s the key of a lot of my early training. If I started on guitar, I might consider E “plain and white.”

. I was not going to weigh in on this thread until I came upon that one. The essential point is good, but I’ve played this piece a number of times and I sure don’t remember any passages in E double flat major, which would translate to C flat minor. THat would be how many flats - 9? Now, since the piece is so bloody boring, it may have come up at a spot where I was dozing, but I doubt it. To give this thread another ring, there have been composers - and other artists - who have had synesthesia, a condition in which senses tend to blend. Scriabin comes to mind. These folks tried to write music that described colors and other sensations and that usually translated to particular keys.

I didn’t say key signature - but OK, I was a bit off, the best I can find actually looking at the score is A flat minor. Still a long way around the circle of fifths :wink:

And if you found the piece boring, it’s the conductor’s fault. It’s a wonderful composition.

I wondered how long until somebody mentioned synaesthesia and Scriabin. I dodged it, because I feel it tends to take a very specific condition that affects a minority, and gets used as a justification for generalistaions.


And if you found the piece boring, it’s the conductor’s fault. It’s a wonderful composition.


This was a pretty good conductor, but I was playing the bass part. Look at that baby in your score and see what it does to you. Caution: best viewed sitting down.

Fair enough. A-flat minor is pretty exciting when you’re doing all the fun stuff up top - I guess a low A-flat is a low A-flat, no matter what :wink:

re post 13.

depends on the music used to test the islander… think beethoven’s 6th, f major vs beethoven’s 5th, c minor. if you just played a scale, perhaps not so much.

some composers have a favourite key like some singers have a favourite range. yes, they can go around to other keys and notes, but certain ones you know you do will do very well and they are as comfy as your favourite slippers.

There’s a reason “Lick My Love Pump” (N. Tufnel) is in D-minor.

It’s more like that you’d consider G or C that if you played guitar. EVERYTHING’s in G.

Oftentimes the choice of a key isn’t that big of a choice. It can be as arbitrary as ‘that’s the way I wrote it.’ It’s hard to explain, but they’re not really interchangeable. Maybe you’re not the best pianist and you suck at playing in Eb.

You can’t really give much character to keys, but say you have something you wrote in B, it might sound brighter in A, or mellower in E, or perfect in C. Something that’s dull in C might be more exciting in F#, you never know.

Depends how you’re learning and what you’re playing. When I do play guitar, I play along with rock and blues tunes. E is by far the most common key for these styles. Go try playing some metal. It’ll all be in E or drop-D or possibly E-flat if the guitar is entirely tuned down a half-step. Teach a guitarist the blues, and you’ll be playing in E and A most of the time.

I run into G most often in more country-influenced or folky tunes. It’s a stretch to say “EVERYTHING’s in G” for guitar. As for C, I almost never come across that key in guitar music.

You don’t have to be a prodigy to understand this. Broadly speaking, on the piano it’s easier to play in keys that use fewer flats or sharps (black keys) in their major scale. G-major uses only one sharp, while E-major uses several more. Most pianists probably prefer to play in G-major; it’s the prodigies who don’t actually, being so facile that more difficult keys are no trouble to them.

Moreover, different major keys sound different simply because, by the nature of musical instruments, notes in different registers have different “sounds”. A piece transposed from C-major to F-flat-major doesn’t sound exactly like the original, because F and C are different notes. Even on guitar, where transposing is much easier than on piano, certain keys feel more “right” for certain songs, than others do.