Your Favorite Key?

January 7, 2019, 9:53 AM · What is your favorite Key?

Bb would have to be mine, as the symphonic Star Spangled banner sounds absolutely boisterous. It also separates the men from the boys n bluegrass and country fiddle.

Replies (32)

January 7, 2019, 10:01 AM · D
January 7, 2019, 10:39 AM · D minor/major, so many of my favorite works are in those keys.
Edited: January 7, 2019, 10:45 AM · D minor ... the saddest of all keys.

(hard to believe I'm the first one to go there)

January 7, 2019, 10:46 AM · I find the Bb minor of the Barber Adagio very satisfying. I probably wouldn't if it weren't playable on the A string, lol!
January 7, 2019, 10:50 AM · Fbb major.
January 7, 2019, 10:53 AM · Certainly, it matters what key something is written in. Think about the Mendelssohn Octet -- why did he choose E-flat instead of D? It would have been much easier to play but sound totally different.
January 7, 2019, 11:12 AM · Paul, Also the register of the instruments affects it. Songs my mother taught me (Dvorak) is either played in C minor (check C. Ferras) or B minor (as Kreisler recorded), either one is sublime but the interpretations are very different. I prefer Kreisler, his phrasing and colors he paints with are just right for me
January 7, 2019, 11:14 AM · All keys sound the same in equal temperament. The only reason to write in different keys is to accomodate the instruments.
January 7, 2019, 11:36 AM · Eb major and C minor. For me, it's a perfect combination of lower-string resonance (on viola) and minimizing 4th finger stretching. I generally find flat keys easier to play than sharp keys.
January 7, 2019, 11:36 AM · Eb major and C minor. For me, it's a perfect combination of lower-string resonance (on viola) and minimizing 4th finger stretching. I generally find flat keys easier to play than sharp keys.
January 7, 2019, 12:43 PM · https://www.wmich.edu/mus-theo/courses/keys.html

I go for the dog biting the dress!

January 7, 2019, 1:23 PM · I've played several times in string ensembles accompanying choral pieces composed by John Rutter. A striking characteristic of some of these compositions is his choice of keys in 4, 5 or even 6 flats. I've had a think about this and believe that the reason is he doesn't want open string resonances messing with the sound of the choir.

A consequence of this is that I now enjoy playing in such keys - it's satisfying and not difficult. I'd go so far as advocating practicing scales and arpeggios in these keys, including such rarities as G-flat minor - remember, no open strings, and that includes enharmonic equivalents of B-doubleflat and similar!

A problem I find with orchestral music that includes a large number of sharps is that, for me, they can occasionally be difficult to sightread and can get confused with an adjacent note - depending on the edition and the lighting. This doesn't happen with flats.

January 7, 2019, 1:56 PM · E Major. Violin music in E major can be so bold and vivid because of the e string, or melancholy, gently tugging at your heart. Bach BVW 1016 E major sonata is a great example.
Edited: January 8, 2019, 12:46 AM · I'm a G minor fan.

@Trevor,

I suspect it has more to do with writing for the choir voices than it does keeping players off their open strings. We don't think about this so much on string instruments, but for the voice there is a relatively short upper limit that can be aimed for with many choirs. As a general rule for easy-moderate choral music anything that will take your Sops above A5, Altos above D5/Below G3, Tenors above G4/Below C3, Basses above D4/Below F2 will be very limiting in who will purchase and use that arrangement.

So when writing choral music we use the key to decide our topmost note and the tessitura of the piece. This is done with all instrumental music but the voice is perhaps the most limited by it. You can get your violin sections to play a D6 in tune without too much trouble, getting your soprano section to sing a D6 is another story all together and most community choirs could not do it.

Amazing grace is an easy example as it's only one octave - I can sing this song in any key of F quite easily, the highest and lowest note will be C's - however, if I sing the same song in the key of A it's going to be uncomfortable for me - with my highest and lowest notes being an E. This will either be taxing on my lower range with a low E2 or a little too high to be comfortable with a high E4 and I'm not going to sound stellar on either extreme.

All classically trained singers are master transposers.

January 8, 2019, 10:32 AM · @Michael, thank you for that enlightening explanation. It just hadn't occurred to me, not being a singer (can't dance or act either, but that's another story!)
January 8, 2019, 11:16 AM · Since so much of violin intonation is timbre-resonance based, I much prefer C-flat major. Since there's little interaction with the open strings, no one can tell how out of tune I'm playing.
Edited: January 8, 2019, 12:21 PM · Scott, C-flat and F-flat minor are even more interesting - think of those lovely double-flats!

Dvorak has some fun with enharmonics in the 2nd vln part of his 9th symphony (which we're rehearsing this evening). In the first movement, in measures 4 and 3 before rehearsal number 8 (Kalmus edition) he gives us this descending sequence (starting on the A-string if one is wise): g-flat f-flat e-flat d-flat c-flat. The first note in the next measure is a surprise enharmonic b-nat. The fun was in the section's sight-reading at the first rehearsal!

January 8, 2019, 12:46 PM · Please pardon my theoretical ignorance..... new to the fiddle but long time fretted instrument player.

What is the reason for noting keys as "C flat and F flat minor" as opposed to "Bm and Em"?

January 8, 2019, 12:50 PM · A major, followed by E major.
January 8, 2019, 1:11 PM · This is an interesting perspective to hear from career violinists.

Michael has a similar approach to me since we both are thinking in terms of vocal range when selecting some keys depending on the material.Not sure if you have ever been exposed to shaped notes. That's another system. Probably considered obsolete now, yet I had a vocalist hand me music in shaped notes last week.I didn't know what they were. Had to look it up.

My personal favorite keys are D and A. This is mainly due to my stringed instrument tuning. Seems to fit my vocal range pretty well too.It's amazing to me how many songs are written in multiple keys, some even have different words. Can't be assured in asking someone to pull music to play along if it's the same music.This is my world. Probably not yours.

Edited: January 8, 2019, 2:41 PM · "What is the reason for noting keys as "C flat and F flat minor" as opposed to "Bm and Em"?"

The reasons have to do with consistency and context. Yes, C flat minor sounds the same as B minor. But it depends on the context of the music. I use this analogy with students:

To, too, and two all sound the same, right? But when written, you have to stick to the correct spelling. You can't say "I played a duet for too violins."

So the key you pick isn't that much different: just be consistent. For the same reasons you wouldn't suddenly use A# in place of B-flat if you were clearly in the key of F.

More specifically for key: Let's say you write a piece in D. It would be perfectly typical and expected to modulate (change key) to something related, and the closest related key is the relative minor: B minor.
Wouldn't it make more sense, in coming from D, which has 2 sharps, to change to B minor, which also has 2 sharps? That's why they're "related," after all. Sure, you could change to C flat minor. But it wouldn't be consistent or make the musician's life any easier if they had to read it.

Same with C flat minor. Pretty unusual, because you'd have double flats, but anyway, it might be more logical to change to C flat minor if you started off in...wait for it...
E double flat. Rare, but that's besides the point.

Context and consistency.

Edited: January 8, 2019, 3:40 PM · D flat major, but unfortunately not much is written for violin in the key, understandably so! Many piano pieces are written in D flat major. It has the most amount of flats (which many people would equate to warmth), second only to G flat major (not including C flat major). G flat major however has so many flats that it almost reaches the other end of the key spectrum into F# major, and from my observations I can say that waaay more piano pieces are in D flat major than G flat major. Even the physical sensation of placing the fingers into the positions of Tchaikovsky concerto no. 1 opening is so satisfying.

Anyway, for violin I would say E flat major. Many great pieces for violin are written in this key. 4 out of the 24 Paganini caprices are in E flat. 2 great Mozart sonatas, 2 Mendelssohn and Beethoven string quartets, and Paul mentioned also the Mendelssohn octet. Why this key? The reason I believe, is because the mediant is the open G. Chord I6 (tonic major in 1st inversion) is a very powerful, noble sounding chord, especially in the following progressions: I6-V-I, I-vi-I6, and the absolutely incredible I-IV6-I6. G minor in the context of E flat major is also very rich, and the open G lends itself perfectly to it. Furthermore, the relative minor (C minor) will also be able to use the open G for dominant functions.

January 8, 2019, 3:56 PM · This discussion is so different from how it would go in the bluegrass world. Here's a rundown on favourite keys according to grassers:

G - a good all-around key. A banjo's strings are tuned to a G chord, and it's easy to play in on just about any instrument.

A - the fiddler's favourite key. Many chords (particularly the I, IV, V of your typical 3-chord song) provide an open string to drone on in addition to the melody you're playing.

D - a close runner-up to A for fiddlers, for the same reasons. Easy to play in for everybody.

E - the guitarist's key, for country, pop/rock, and blues as well as bluegrass. (A guitar in standard tuning has two open E strings.)

B - I call this one the vocalist's key. For some reason, a lot of singers love to sing in B. The rest of us hate it - except for guitarists, who just pull out their capos. When I see a guitarist putting his capo on the 4th fret, I know we're in for trouble.

Love it or hate it, though, you gotta suck it up and play. I'm in a band that even does a couple of pieces in C# minor. Copy that!

January 8, 2019, 4:05 PM · Thank you Scott Cole!
January 15, 2019, 12:51 PM · D major/minor is my favorite violin key, and E flat major and C minor for piano.
Yeah, it's pretty weird.
January 16, 2019, 6:41 AM · I love G :)
January 16, 2019, 6:48 AM · The great thing about C-flat major is you can just ignore the key signature and play the double flats as single flats and you're in C. Then you just tune down your instrument!

When I play jazz gigs, once in a while someone will call a tune that is hardly ever played -- and the reason it's never played is because the key is different among different editions of the Real Book. Kind of a stupid reason because most of us can transpose, especially when it's a ballad like "Here's That Rainy Day", but for me I can cheat by pressing a couple of buttons on my digital piano. That is a situation where it is a real blessing to NOT have perfect pitch!

January 16, 2019, 7:08 AM · G minor as its got a Spanishy influence. Or A major
January 16, 2019, 2:40 PM · My favorite key is "F", but then I play standards.
January 16, 2019, 2:57 PM · That's interesting because F is one key that really just doesn't inspire me at the jazz keyboard. The Beethoven Romance Op. 50 is pretty though, and so is the Spring Sonata, so I guess it must be okay.
January 17, 2019, 8:21 AM · Oh, and I don't like a minor or A Major very much.
I don't mind them, something about them just irks me for some reason.
January 17, 2019, 10:58 PM · D-flat Major and B-flat Minor are the most beautiful keys, to me - but depends on context.

When used in the right context, they are sublimely powerful, evoking both love and loss. Sounds dramatic, but I think there’s something to it.

I think it’s one reason the Barber Adagio was written in these keys. Same for the Largo movement of Dvorak 9, and countless other pieces. D-flat major is used a lot in the pop world too (e.g. Shut Up and Dance With Me).

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