[Dixielandjazz] Keys?

Dan Augustine ds.augustine at mail.utexas.edu
Tue Oct 3 22:16:14 PDT 2006

Bill and DJML--
     The perception of different keys is complicated.  'Synesthesia' 
is the word commonly used to describe some persons' reactions to 
different keys (see 'http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synesthesia'). 
Scriabin ascribed different colors to keys.
     In regard to playing in different keys in a band, you have to 
think of the fact that most wind-instruments don't play the same 
exact pitches in a scale.  They certainly don't (and can't) play the 
equal temperment of a piano, but the F major scale on a trumpet 
(notated in the key of G) will contain intervals that are different 
from those of the E major scale on the same horn.  Why?  Because of 
the way instruments are built, for one, and because of the 
psychoacoustic realities of how humans hear, is another.  Also, 
different combinations of valves depressed use different tubings on a 
trumpet, changing the tone-color of a note.  A concert 'C' (an octave 
above middle 'C') on a trumpet (written 'D') can be played with the 
first valve depressed, but it's a little flat that way, so valves 1 
and 3 can be depressed to raise the pitch; however, doing so causes 
different tubing to be used, slightly changing the tone-color because 
different segments of the horn are vibrating.
     In short, yes it's possible for some people to have coloristic 
and other kinds of impressions of different keys.  I myself hear the 
key of Db Major as a very 'dark' key, but the key of D Major as a 
moderately 'bright' key, but mostly when i'm actually playing the 

>From: "Bill Gunter" <jazzboard at hotmail.com>
>To: mike at railroadstjazzwest.com, dixielandjazz at ml.islandnet.com
>Date: Wed, 04 Oct 2006 00:49:24 +0000
>Subject: Re: [Dixielandjazz] Keys?
>Hello troops,
>Mike wrote (regarding keys):
>>I like the timbre of the sharp keys.
>I've heard of this notion before but I never have quite understood it.
>As I understand it, timbre (pronounced "TAM brughhh" or TOM brugghhh" or
>maybe "TOM burr" of something in an unpronouncable French accent) has
>nothing to do with the pitch or volume of a note, but rather it's "color" or
>tone quality.
>Are there those among you who can distinguish the difference in "tone color"
>between, say, E and F?  Does a piano solo played in the key of E (4 sharps)
>sound (color wise) different than the same piano solo played in F (1 flat)?
>I'm not saying that such things as "tone color" don't exist. For example I
>can certainly tell the difference between an oboe playing A and a trumpet
>playing A. That, to me, is what I would recognize as distinctive timbres. 
>But if I hear an oboe playing a tonic scale in E and then repeating the same
>thing in F . . . to tell you the truth I can hear no significant difference
>in tone color. It still sounds like a freakin' oboe.
>Oh sure . . . I can tell the F scale is a half step HIGHER (not LOWER) than
>the E scale when rendered on an oboe - but that's a difference in pitch.  To
>me, the tone color is the same.
>Please tell me what I'm missing here.
>Respectfully requested,
>Bill "tin ear" Gunter
>jazzboard at hotmail.com

**  Dan Augustine  --  Austin, Texas  --  ds.augustine at mail.utexas.edu
** "Education, n. That which discloses to the wise and disguises from
**  from the foolish their lack of understanding." -- Ambrose Bierce 

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