View Full Version : Characteristics of Keys

06-20-2016, 04:24 AM
I stumbled on this list (http://www.wmich.edu/mus-theo/courses/keys.html) while reading up on different keys and their "moods". I felt it was insightful, so I wanted to share. The list is based on a German book of 1806:

C Major
Completely pure. Its character is: innocence, simplicity, naivety, 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 depression, 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
Naive, 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 uttered 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 one's fate and of submission to divine dispensation.

Croaky Keith
06-20-2016, 04:50 AM
Thanks for posting this, could come in handy when I try to write my ditties. :)

06-20-2016, 05:06 AM
Good one Mivo. I like that. I also agree with it. Some say that you can play any song in any key, and technically that is true I guess. But a lot of songs have their own key. In any other the message just doesn't come through.

06-20-2016, 05:09 AM
I'm a big fan of Dm and Fm - sums me up pretty well actually.

06-20-2016, 05:21 AM
Whooey! Wowee! Zowee!

06-20-2016, 06:27 AM
Ukulele is an equal-tempered instrument (like piano), so the changing the key has minimal effect on the mood except relatively: that the higher you play, the brighter the sound.

Key differences are more noticeable with with instruments like the reeds and brasses, which are less purely tempered: intervals of the same theoretical size differ more greatly in actual size, and thus each key has a more individual sound. However, this character will differ from instrument to instrument; for instance, Bb clarinets and Eb clarinets will have the same overall key characteristics, but they'll be remapped up a fourth for the Eb ones (in the way chord voicings transpose between G and C ukes). Therefore, you might discern different key characteristics when dealing with such an instrument in isolation, but characteristics largely will be canceled in the aggregate.

The characteristics ascribed in the 1806 text are about as whimsical and accurate as astrology predictions or homeopathy, and in any case wouldn't apply universally to different instruments. At best, you can make sweeping generalizations about major and minor keys in the collective. If you believe this kind of over-detailed tripe, you're gullible and foolish. If you turned your back and I played different pieces with different moods in different keys on the uke, you'd quickly see that the mood was dictated by the nature of each piece itself (relatively), and that the key chosen had no discernible effect. I very frequently transpose pieces on uke and play in different tunings, so I know this first-hand.

Down Up Dick
06-20-2016, 06:59 AM
A stellar use of music theory, ubulele. It really made me wanna delve more deeply into it--well done! :old:

06-20-2016, 12:52 PM
This is awesome. Thank you for posting. Reminds me of a Horoscope / things you read on a place-mat at the Chinese restaurant

Jim Hanks
06-20-2016, 02:05 PM
I'm a big fan of Dm and Fm - sums me up pretty well actually.
Well I had been told by a preeminent musical authority that Dm was the saddest of all keys and now I find that it was Fm all along. Mind. Blown. :o :p

Ukulele is an equal-tempered instrument (like piano), so the changing the key has minimal effect on the mood
I agree; I don't hear any of this. But I have known pianists who swore they could - even though modern pianos are supposedly equal temperament as you say. I wonder what temperament the Germans were using in 1806?

06-20-2016, 02:52 PM
I believe it's a case of the tail wagging the dog. The earliest music was just-tempered, which truly gave each key a different sound (at least relative to the key the instrument was primarily designed for). This was also true with well temperament (more compromise between the enharmonic equivalents, but still biased towards certain keys and still comprised of intervals of varying size). Therefore, a mythos about what keys were appropriate for what kind of pieces arose, and consequently composers followed the mythos in selecting keys for pieces. Equal temperament (albeit inexact) began to be employed in the lute world as far back as the early 1500s, and had largely been favored in the classical world by the Classical era (beginning in the mid 1700s), becoming standard by the early Romantic period (start of the 1800s). So it would have been well established by 1806, though the mindset regarding keys has yet to catch up entirely and would have been entrenched still at that time.

06-20-2016, 06:02 PM
Well, even with all the mythos, I think it is pretty darn cool!

06-20-2016, 06:35 PM
Well I had been told by a preeminent musical authority that Dm was the saddest of all keys and now I find that it was Fm all along. Mind. Blown. :o :p ...

Would that have been Nigel Tufnel of Spinal Tap?


Jim Hanks
06-20-2016, 06:41 PM
Would that have been Nigel Tufnel of Spinal Tap?
Yasss! :smileybounce: :cheers:

06-20-2016, 08:56 PM
An interesting viewpoint Mivo. I finally have learned enough to start playing in different keys and find Am-Dm-E7 has a nice 'feel' to it. The Keys all have different uses I expect. Over the last six months or so, I have been noodling in different keys to practice chord switches and find they have different moods. I'm not sure how to use that, but in a year or two I might.

I'll save this description and see if it holds up when I play Baritone or Concert in the different tunings.