Keys and charaters


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By Glenn Stovall • January 6, 2009
According to classical composer Christian Schubart, each key has different moods and characteristics. Here is a translated excerpt from his 1806 publication deen zu einer Aesthetik der Tonkunst exaplaining his thoughts on the issue:

C Major
Completely Pure. Its character is: innocence, simplicity, naïvety, children’s talk.
C Minor
Declaration of love and at the same time the lament of unhappy love. All languishing, longing, sighing of the love-sick soul lies in this key.
Db Major
A leering key, degenerating into grief and rapture. It cannot laugh, but it can smile; it cannot howl, but it can at least grimace its crying.–Consequently only unusual characters and feelings can be brought out in this key.
C# Minor
Penitential lamentation, intimate conversation with God, the friend and help-meet of life; sighs of disappointed friendship and love lie in its radius.
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.
D Minor
Melancholy womanliness, the spleen and humours brood.
Eb Major
The key of love, of devotion, of intimate conversation with God.
D# Minor
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.
E Major
Noisy shouts of joy, laughing pleasure and not yet complete, full delight lies in E Major.
E minor
Naïve, womanly innocent declaration of love, lament without grumbling; sighs accompanied by few tears; this key speaks of the imminent hope of resolving in the pure happiness of C major.
F Major
Complaisance & Calm.
F Minor
Deep depression, funereal lament, groans of misery and longing for the grave.
F# Major
Triumph over difficulty, free sigh of relief utered when hurdles are surmounted; echo of a soul which has fiercely struggled and finally conquered lies in all uses of this key.
F# Minor
A gloomy key: it tugs at passion as a dog biting a dress. Resentment and discontent are its language.
G Major
Everything rustic, idyllic and lyrical, every calm and satisfied passion, every tender gratitude for true friendship and faithful love,–in a word every gentle and peaceful emotion of the heart is correctly expressed by this key.
G Minor
Discontent, uneasiness, worry about a failed scheme; bad-tempered gnashing of teeth; in a word: resentment and dislike.
Ab Major
Key of the grave. Death, grave, putrefaction, judgment, eternity lie in its radius.
Ab Minor
Grumbler, heart squeezed until it suffocates; wailing lament, difficult struggle; in a word, the color of this key is everything struggling with difficulty.
A Major
This key includes declarations of innocent love, satisfaction with one’s state of affairs; hope of seeing one’s beloved again when parting; youthful cheerfulness and trust in God.
A minor
Pious womanliness and tenderness of character.
Bb Major
Cheerful love, clear conscience, hope aspiration for a better world.
Bb minor
A quaint creature, often dressed in the garment of night. It is somewhat surly and very seldom takes on a pleasant countenance. Mocking God and the world; discontented with itself and with everything; preparation for suicide sounds in this key.
B Major
Strongly coloured, announcing wild passions, composed from the most glaring coulors. Anger, rage, jealousy, fury, despair and every burden of the heart lies in its sphere.
B Minor
This is as it were the key of patience, of calm awaiting ones’s fate and of submission to divine dispensation.

very interesting... as i progress down my musical journey more and more, the more i am fascinated by the theory and emotion surrounding - getting slightly obsessive considering i can only play drums (badly)

Dugg Funnie

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Yea it's pretty crazy stuff once you really get to know how scales "feel". Also it's sort of a way some people develop perfect pitch, by practicing listening to a tone and giving it the first color that comes to mind, and giving your self a sort of manually induced synesthesia.


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It's interesting, but I don't think 99.9% of people would pick up on it by itself.
If you asked 100 people to describe the hallelujah chorus (D major), they's say it sounds joyful.
If you then transposed it into F# major and asked them again an hour later, they'd still say that it sounds joyful.

What really matters is the CHANGE in key, so if you start in C, then start playing in Db, it sounds a bit creepy.
The same thing happens if you start playing in B, then change to C halfway through- it's not the key itself, it's the fact that it's one semitone up from the previous key.

Anyway, if you love your scales and stuff so much, go and learn the modes (ionian, dorian, phrygian, lydian, mixalydian, aeolian and locrian)