[Dixielandjazz] Keys?

Bill Gunter jazzboard at hotmail.com
Tue Oct 3 23:12:56 PDT 2006

Hi Dan and all,

You wrote (regarding "tone color"):

>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 . . .

Is it your feeling that you can distinguish between hearing a melody in Db 
and a melody in D because the Db melody will sound 'darker' to your ears?

Suppose one were to play a happy bouncy melody in Db and a sad melancholy 
song in D. Would the happy song sound 'darker' than the melancholy song?

When you say things like "dark" and "bright" to a person like me who has no 
concept of what that means in terms of "tone color" there is bound to be 
some confusion. I suppose one could say that a french horn has a "darker" 
tone than a "bright" cornet. But I'd be at a loss to define what was 
actually meant by these terms.

Here is what my dictionary say about "timbre":

1. the quality of a speech sound that comes from its tone rather than its 
pitch or volume

2. the quality or color of tone of an instrument or voice.  Also called tone 

Now I interpret that to mean that different instruments tend to have 
different tones (a sax, for example, compared to a piano) even when playing 
the same pitch and volume.

I don't interpret it to mean that different KEYS have different tones.  If I 
hear a bright song in the key of x and it is suddenly transposed into the 
key of y on the same instrument I'll notice a difference in pitch but I 
won't hear a different "tone."

Your referal to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synesthesia was interesting but 
not compellingly conclusive. For example, the cited text contains this 
sentence: "To date, no research has demonstrated a consistent assocition 
between synesthetic experience and other neurological or psychiatric 
conditions . . . "

It also states that this phenomenon occurs in roughly a mere four percent of 
the population - far from the norm. In fact, one may deduce that this is the 
function of an aberrant brain.

But finally, I'm not saying the phenomenon doesn't exist, I'm merely saying 
I can't experience it. That, of course, doesn't mean that nobody else can 
either. Obviously there are those who feel they do and I would just like a 
representative person from that group explain in terms I can comprehend what 
is actually going on here.

Respectfully submitted,

Bill "tone deaf" Gunter
jazzboard at hotmail.com

>From: Dan Augustine <ds.augustine at mail.utexas.edu>
>To: DJML <dixielandjazz at ml.islandnet.com>
>Subject: Re: [Dixielandjazz] Keys?
>Date: Wed, 4 Oct 2006 00:16:14 -0500
>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
>      Dan
> >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" 
> >tone quality.
> >
> >Are there those among you who can distinguish the difference in "tone 
> >between, say, E and F?  Does a piano solo played in the key of E (4 
> >sound (color wise) different than the same piano solo played in F (1 
> >
> >I'm not saying that such things as "tone color" don't exist. For example 
> >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 
> >thing in F . . . to tell you the truth I can hear no significant 
> >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) 
> >the E scale when rendered on an oboe - but that's a difference in pitch.  
> >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
>Dixielandjazz mailing list
>Dixielandjazz at ml.islandnet.com

More information about the Dixielandjazz mailing list