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If I write a major scale in the key of A, is there any difference if I write that major scale but change the key to F or G or B or F♯? In other words, are there any differences between different keys or do they feel the same?

  • If are vocals involved, certainly. Otherwise we seem to be divided. – Tim Feb 7 '18 at 18:00
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    Related: music.stackexchange.com/questions/15221/… – Richard Feb 7 '18 at 18:00
  • Here is a clip where Jacob Collier mentions that, on side of the circle of fifths are notes that feel brighter, and on the other side are notes that feel darker. – jdjazz Feb 8 '18 at 3:45
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    define feeling. – Neil Meyer Feb 8 '18 at 9:26
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A lot of factors go into this answer, but I think instrumentation and tuning system are the most important.

Instrumentation

As just one example: if you're writing a piece for a brass quintet, something in B will sound a bit different (often described as "brighter") than something written in B♭. This is due to the mechanics of the instruments and the fact that playing in B requires more tubing throughout the instrument.

As for "feeling": from a listener's standpoint, there's no point in giving a name to that feeling, since everyone's feeling will be different. But it absolutely feels different for the performer. This is especially true, as Tim commented, for vocalists: since they have such a limited range, some transpositions will simply be impossible to sing.

Lastly, even if people don't have absolute pitch, they can spot these differences. When a theme in Wagner is played in D♭, that very same theme in E major sounds different even if you don't have absolute pitch.

Tuning System

If you're writing for piano, you may think that all keys will sound the same, just transposed. But this is only true on an instrument tuned to 12-tone equal temperament; on an instrument with meantone temperament, the transpositions will sound very different, since the distance between each note varies as the key changes.

  • thanks alot richard. well i kinda know that it will be different in instruments as you said.and as for the vocalist, because everyone couldnt sing in every keys. but what i meant is the feeling and usage of different keys. for example if i write a dance music in Aminor, would it increase the feeling of the dance rather than writing the same music in Fminor? imean do the different keys have different feeling and usage? – dana Feb 7 '18 at 21:20
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    As a brass player, I can't agree with the brass quintet example. Instrument makers go to considerable trouble to make sure the 'open' notes don't sound any different to fingered ones. And anyway, why would a more complicated air columm sound 'brighter'? – Laurence Payne Feb 8 '18 at 0:08
  • As someone who played trombone (not very well) decades ago, I'll note that the rhythm is likely to change just a little if a tune is transposed so that slide changes and mouth changes happen at different points in time. – Steve Feb 9 '18 at 6:17
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    As a brass player, I completely agree that a piece will sound different depending on the key in which it is played. Every brass instrument has a fundamental dependent on its length, and every note played on it is directly related to that. Yes, the manufacturers' do their best to equalize things, and yes we players 'lip' the notes into tune, but a simple 1-3-5 arpeggio in the natual key of the instrument (for example) will not sound quite the same as 1-3-5 in any other key. – mickeyf Feb 11 '18 at 2:31
  • @mickeyf Glad to see another brass player agreeing with me! – Richard Feb 11 '18 at 3:01
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You ask about an A Major scale; do you mean you want to have the same notes (A B C# D E F# G# A) but change the key signature? Then it will sound exactly the same; you just have to use the proper accidentals.

In any case, any collection of pitches could be found in a piece of any key. A piece "in C" can contain all 12 notes. Even if you only have diatonic notes, C - D - E can be 1 - 2 - 3 in C, 3 - 4 - 5 in A Minor, 4 - 5 - 6 in G, etc, so what key is it in? It's arbitrary.

So there is no difference in the feeling of different keys in isolation, but if there is a modulation, the new key will be heard in relation to the old key. For example, many popular songs move the key up a whole step somewhere in the middle in order to give the song a lift of sorts.

As far as vocalists go, it is the range of the song rather than the key that matters, but of course transposing the key will change the range. If a song's range is g' - g'', the key (pitch collection within that range) shouldn't matter. But once the song is written, changing its key would of course shift the entire range.

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    thanks nero. no i mean takeing the whole music(melodies, bass, leads,piano ...) down by some semitone. so its obvious the notes will change but they still have the same intervals as before(just changing the key signature to make it easier for vocalist). but when i do that , sometimes i think that the feeling of music is changing too. maybe thats only a mind game – dana Feb 8 '18 at 12:54
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Well, I'm inclined to agree with what @Richard and @NeroXIV have answered but I'd like to add also something to these.

At first, as far as tuning is concerned, the sound is very different when one used equal temperament than that of, let's say, just intonation - for more information about these systems and some nice sound clips you can read this and, mainly, this. In some tuning systems some intervals are way too dissonant to be heard in a regular composition, so they are often avoided.

Apart from the voices, almost every instrument produces sound of different quality and colour in different pitches, so altering the initial key of a piece may lead to several differences on its "feeling". Another important aspect that has to do with instruments is the special technique of each instrument. For instance, if one tried to play Biber's 16 Rosary Sonatas all on a violin without scordattura, this would probably lead to either failure or tendinitis, since, many positions in the 14 middle sonatas of this collection are impossible to be played in a regularly tuned violin by an average person. Moreover, tuning a violin in GDAD, for instance, would lead to be able to play an open high D which has a slightly different sound from a D played in any other position.

Also, many traditional folk songs are played in certain keys for technical reasons. For instance, as a greek I know that many folk songs when played with bouzouki or baglamas are always played in D or A so as to take advantage of this instrument's open strings that are used so as to enhance the rhythm, especially in folk dances. So, transposing such a piece in another key that these strings aren't in any of its fundamental chords, then much of the "dancy" feeling of the piece is lost.

Lastly, a personal viewpoint. I tend to consider many scales have not only different "feeling" but also they bring to my mind different colours - and the same applies to several feelings. So, for instance, when listening to B flat I always have something warm and yellow-oragne in my mind even if I don't have a perfect pitch. So, for such people, it might be a little strange listening to a song in B flat, suddenly in A, because, to my mind, for instance, A is more white. And, especially semitone transpositions and not the "usual" male-to-female ones - a whole fifth or so - may sound quite strange to me.

Hope this added something! :)

  • thanks mapkoc, that helped alot.if iam right you say that its mostley because of our ears familier to some musics in particular key singnature and also because certain instrument have different colors in different keys.right? again thank you all for your answers. – dana Feb 9 '18 at 1:51
  • Yes. But also it is that several technical details, instument-specific, make some keys more "appropriate" for them than others. – Βασίλης Μάρκος Feb 9 '18 at 2:42
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If I understand the question correctly, you're asking if the key of a piece at least plays a role in determining its mood. There are many websites that list the characteristics of different keys. For example one such says of D Major:

D Major The key of triumph, of Hallejuahs, of war-cries, of victory-rejoicing. Thus, the inviting symphonies, the marches, holiday songs and heaven-rejoicing choruses are set in this key

There is, however, some debate about if and to what extent key impacts on or determines mood. When you talk about mood, in a sense you are describing an emotional response and so plunging yourself into the ridiculously complex world of psychoacoustics.

There are other factors such as instrumentation but I think these have been covered in previous answers.

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