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The Weekend Vote weekend vote: What is the best key in which to live?

September 25, 2009 at 5:44 AM

Lately, I've been living in A minor. It's a good place to be; occasionally I'm in C major (such a nice square key) but it keeps me in a good mood. It might be more boring to say that I've simply been putting in a lot of time on the Bach A minor sonata. But I'm only partially joking about "living in" A minor; with the entire sonata in my current daily regimen, my mind tends to be in A minor both when I'm practicing and when I'm not, and probably when I'm sleeping as well!

I mentioned that I was "currently in A minor" on Facebook, and my daughter's fifth-grade teacher asked a good question: "What is the best key in which to live?"

Some friends chimed in: a violist mentioned G minor, adding that he had a darker sense of things over there in the lower strings. A choral conductor suggested Eb major. What? Okay, just not my idea of the perfect neighborhood, but then, I come from the distinct perspective of a highung fiddler.

So what is the answer, here? What is the best key in which to live? And what are your thoughts about that key, and others? I'll tell you mine, but not until you vote! ;)




From Jenna Potts
Posted on September 25, 2009 at 5:52 AM

E Major!!!  It's happy. .  The E major partitia is my favorite of the solo Bach.  There's also the Mendelssohn Concerto 3rd movement, and for those who care, there's a lot of worship music played in this key.

From Pauline Lerner
Posted on September 25, 2009 at 6:00 AM

OMG!  Not D flat major.  That's one of the keys I like the least, even though Tchaik used it a lot.

From Pontus Adefjord
Posted on September 25, 2009 at 8:21 AM

 So hard to decide! But I'm feeling quite major, and I've been playing a bit of piano lately, so I picked Eb major. I think it's a great piano key, and quite nice improvisation key - it feels a bit "jazzy". :-)

Another favorite is A dorian! (I play a lot of irish tunes)


From Mathias B
Posted on September 25, 2009 at 8:33 AM

To me, E major would be too exhausting on the long-term although I love this key. I opted for d minor as my basic living condition (with a glimpse of D major in between). It's rather contemplative and peaceful, full of sonority and deep. It keeps a balance between darkness and light.

From Shailee Kennedy
Posted on September 25, 2009 at 11:31 AM

 I'm D minor at the moment, but D major seems to be most popular. I wonder why?

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on September 25, 2009 at 11:46 AM

I like G major because it's not complicated, and you don't have to remember much or fuss with weird fingerings and accidentals, but it still forms the baseline for beautiful music.  For example, the Bach suite #1 is in G major.  And it's flexible--it's an easy key for both violin and viola.  And I like living that way:  with easy, uncomplicated, flexible ground rules that allow for beauty and simplicity.

That said, right now I'm sick and feel like I'm in some complicated, annoying key like C-flat minor where I'm constantly playing wrong notes because I forget the accidentals.

From Anne Horvath
Posted on September 25, 2009 at 12:55 PM

G Minor is my favorite key, with D Minor coming in second.

And some of us would argue that A Flat Minor and G# Minor aren't really the same...

What an interesting weekend vote!

From Royce Faina
Posted on September 25, 2009 at 2:38 PM

I remember when I got into college and was introduced to Double Flat & Double Sharp keys I was very overwhelmed!

From Pauline Lerner
Posted on September 25, 2009 at 2:10 PM

I chose D major because of all the internal resonances.  It has such a warm, rich sound.  I play with a lot of people who like D major, too.  One violist I know calls it "the people's key."  I don't like C major partly because there aren't enough resonances to make it feel warm and partly because the lack of sharps and flats confuses me.  My fingers go for an F# or a B flat occasionally.

I thank Pontus for bringing up a modal key.  Dorian and Mixolydian are used in a lot of Celtic and Appalachian tunes and even in some classical music.  I like them both, especially A Mixolydian.  The occasional G natural really packs in a lot of punch.  Sometimes it's the defining factor of the whole tune, at least for me.

I've noticed that my taste in keys varies with the violin I'm playing and the kind of strings I'm using.

Most violinists / fiddlers I know prefer sharps to flats.  The major keys of G, D, A, and E sound so well suited to the violin.  It's interesting that there are a lot of fiddle tunes in F major, and they sound very appropriate for the fiddle, although I don't understand why.  B flat major does not feel anywhere near as good.  I know a very good fiddler who says that if you find a fiddle tune in B flat major, you know that it must be a really good tune or fiddlers wouldn't play it.

If we expand the discussion to include alternate tunings, we would be in a different realm.

From Jonathan Frohnen
Posted on September 25, 2009 at 3:29 PM

a minor!

From Rosalind Porter
Posted on September 25, 2009 at 6:37 PM

Has to be Eb major for me!  Such a gorgeous warm, mellow and chocolate-y kind of key.  You've also got the open G and D strings which sound so luscious and resonant on the violin.   One of my favourite sonorities is an open G - first finger Eb chord - very yummy sound!    I can imagine a house full of warm colours, open fireplaces, big kitchen with dark wood and marble fittings.

Next up would be G minor for more sombre moods.   I can appreciate why a lot of people are going for D major and E major, but for me they are too bright and shiny, especially E major which I feel has a sort of brittle glass-like quality.  I'd need sunglasses to play them all the time, though they are nice for us violinists to use.  Eb major though, I can never get tired of...

Oh and I definitely prefer flat keys to sharp keys. 

From Ruth Kuefler
Posted on September 25, 2009 at 6:45 PM

I think my favorite key on violin is G major. To me there's just a special resonance and warmth to that key because the tonic is the same as the violin's lowest string, so I think it encourages more sympathetic vibrations. I remember learning the G Major Brahms Sonata and thinking that you couldn't have a more golden sounding key for the instrument. In the same way, my favorite key so far on viola is C major. I'm working on the C Major Bach Suite and the resonance is amazing. :)

From Elinor Estepa
Posted on September 25, 2009 at 7:07 PM

I voted for C, G, F major, and A minor.

Ther are something quite basic, natural and magical with those 4 for me.

From Emily Grossman
Posted on September 25, 2009 at 7:25 PM

E major gets me closest to heaven, D major appeals to the druid in me, and G major is the earth beneath my feet.  I chose E major because it's the best pick-me-up.  But honestly, it doesn't come naturally.  Maybe I should've picked D Major.

From Laurie Niles
Posted on September 25, 2009 at 8:32 PM

Elinor, wait a second here, you can only vote once!

Emily, you can always modulate.

From Elinor Estepa
Posted on September 25, 2009 at 8:44 PM

Oh, actually I just voted for C major, sorry, but I love the other 3 and have to mentioned them, why? I sweated blood when I was learning all of it, and still does everytime I  bump into it.

From Bart Meijer
Posted on September 25, 2009 at 11:24 PM

I'm one of the D major crowd :)

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on September 26, 2009 at 1:52 AM

It depends of my moods but it's cool when it's easy!!!


From Johnny Fang
Posted on September 26, 2009 at 1:56 AM

I agree with Rosalind.  Eb major has this cozy warmness to it.  Mozart used it for his "intimate" pieces, such as the Kegelstatt Trio.  So mellow sounding.

From Dottie Case
Posted on September 26, 2009 at 3:27 AM

 Hmmm....I'm the only one voting for e minor?  Actually, I chose that because I love minor keys, but If I could've, I would've voted for a combination of G major/ e minor.  

From Emily Grossman
Posted on September 26, 2009 at 3:59 AM

Sounds good, Laurie.  I will dwell for now in the Key of D, and when I die, I'll just modulate to E.  :)

From Lynn Washington
Posted on September 26, 2009 at 4:17 AM

Like the violist mentioned in the original blog, I go for a lower minor, although I go for C minor, because the C string on my viola has such a deep, dark sound that just resonates perfectly with the C minor feel.  If i can't have C minor, then I'll go for G minor.

From Bart Meijer
Posted on September 26, 2009 at 6:55 AM

We're not well-tempered, that's for sure. If we were, the percentages would be equal. Now does that make us bad-tempered?

From Royce Faina
Posted on September 26, 2009 at 1:36 PM

D Major for me.  But Db Major & B Major, and their minors, realy make me sweat.  They fall in the middle of the road.  The keys that progress after them have so many sharps or flats it's easy for me to remember what is not and those keys before them it's easy for me to remember what is sharp or flat.  But Db Major/Bb minor & B Major/G#minor can be a real Bee-with an-Itch for me especially shifting up or down beyond 3rd possision!

From Christopher Ciampoli
Posted on September 26, 2009 at 7:47 PM

Well, it's not the best key to play a violin in, but it's the best key to live in for me. D-flat can be majestic and rapturous (Tchaikovsky PC 1), or it can be extremely mellow and peaceful (Claire de Lune, "Raindrop" Prelude).  We also have the 18th variation from Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. It's parallel minor and related keys are quite exotic and emotional (C# minor, Bb minor, AbM, GbM, etc.). So in many ways it's a delightful key to be in, and it has the option for great versatility. Its bVI is A Major and its Neapolitan is D Major, which is quite interesting...

From Tess Z
Posted on September 27, 2009 at 2:50 AM

D must be for those of us with old souls.  D Major is akin to 'going home'.  It's restful, relaxing;  your brain breathes a sigh of relief.  Yet, there is just the right amount of excitement to make you feel alive.

From Elana Lehrer
Posted on September 27, 2009 at 6:08 PM

 My first thought was D Major because it sits comfortably in the hand and has much warmth.  But ultimately I chose d minor.  There are soo many expressive pieces in that key, including many pieces from my culture.  It's all about the angst. ;)  Please no E major!  It's a beautiful place to visit (especially on the piano), but not to live.  Sorry to all E major fans.

From Hossein Emami
Posted on September 27, 2009 at 9:00 PM

Hi Everyone,


With all due respect to everyone's taste here, and thanks a bunch in advance for accepting such an amateur violin student as me among you professionals, I'd like to ask if any of you has ever listened to Persian (or Iranian) violin?! I'm an Iranian lover of the violin who can listen to nothing else but Iranian violin instrumental music -- believe me, I cannot listen to singers or music that contains any other sound but the violin. I don't still know much about the scales and keys, but I recognize many Iranian Dastgah's (= systems or keys or scales) when I listen to them. While I do love all of them -- if played on the violin -- I especially like living in Mahoor (gives me a sense of easy-going life), Segah (can't describe it!), Chahargah (wonderful! could at the same time give you a sense of pride, glory, happiness, horror, and could make your eyes wet!), and Homayoon (sad!!). I should, however, admit that I'm able to live most of my time in the kind of violin music that male my tears roll down! Of course, not tears that make you sad, but tears that make you more powerful, that shake your whole body -- I wonder how to describe them.

Sorry for the lengthy talk here. But I hope I've been successful in introducing the vast world of Iranian violin music. Please, any of you who have not yet experienced the joy of this music, just let me know which kind of Iranian violin music you'd like to listen to and I will definitely be most glad to provide any tracks -- I've got lots of them!

From Dessie Arnold
Posted on September 27, 2009 at 11:32 PM

It was a tossup for me between G major and D minor.  Ultimately, G major won out - both the Brahms G major sonata and the Barber violin concerto first movement and the feelings they convey are where I want to live.  But I do love the Bach Chaconne, and other D minor works...

From Royce Faina
Posted on September 28, 2009 at 12:24 AM

@ Hossein- I listen to a radio station on line that is out of Iran.  I would love to hear some Iranian/Persian violin music!  If you can post any links please do so!  Also, does Iranian music use keys as is being discussed here in this thread?

From Pauline Lerner
Posted on September 28, 2009 at 2:52 AM

Hossein, I just wrote a long comment which got lost in cyberspace.  I wrote about an Iranian student who wanted to learn both European and Iranian classical music from me.  She introduced me to Iranian music played by the violin and 1 or 2 other instruments.  I absolutely love the music.  It really gives the violin the opportunity to sing.  She gave me a copy of a small book of Iranian violin music, which I love to play.  I would definitely be interested in learning more about Iranian music from you.

From Oliver Bedford
Posted on September 29, 2009 at 12:36 AM

Well, for us rank amateurs, D major not only sounds nice, it's also the easiest!

From Gabriel Kastelle
Posted on September 29, 2009 at 3:03 PM

Reading question and before seeing options, I was hoping for an expanded notion of "key" which would allow me to say Dorian !!  Dorian is best to live in, any center--  maybe D dorian best....   Lacking that, I went for the most friendly, amabile key, almost dead center 'tween "chocolate" E flat and bright solid sparkling D majors:   F major.  :-)    Everyone can get along there.  After all, we're talking about LIVING, and the world is not made only of violinists.... (!!).  And, well-tempered, I think F 'major' really has handiest access to a big range of moods with economy of means...  Thanks for the Persian comments, also stepping beyond our dang narrow "key" idea.  I hope we'll see some edifying discussion threads sparked from that....  :-)

From Gabriel Kastelle
Posted on September 29, 2009 at 3:12 PM

;-)  Laurie:  you and Alicia Keys !

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