[Dixielandjazz] What a difference a key makes.

Bill Gunter jazzboard at hotmail.com
Wed Oct 4 18:00:43 PDT 2006

Stevie Barbone wrote (regarding my inability to discern key "tone color"):

>Since he is pulling our chains, the best retort is "Bill, If you have to
>ask, you'll never know." With all that training, musical intelligence and
>normal ears, you should be able to hear the difference for yourself.

When I mentioned Stockhausen, Boulez, d'Arezzo, and Schoenberg and my deep 
understanding of their music I was making a joke. I'll never understand the 
allure of Stockhausen and Boulez and I'm only at the shallow end of 

Also, I'm not yanking your chains. I sincerely do not know what people mean 
when they say that the selected key conveys a tone color that is different 
than some other selected key.

I just did a musical experiment and asked my wife, Beverly (if you know her, 
you'll know that she is always directly honest in everything she tells you) 
to respond regarding her "tonal perception" of two arpeggios.

I described to her the basic concept that people can hear a different tone 
color in different keys and then asked her to evaluate an arpeggio I would 
play. I then played a C major arpeggio. Then, after a moment I played a Db 
arpeggio using the exact same intervals, volume and tempo and asked her to 
compare the two.

Her response: "The first one seemed light and airy and the second one seemed 
darker -- like a rainy day."

I repeated process and got exactly the same response.

I'll repeat it again tomorrow when her "ear memory" of the experience has 
diminished and when I do, I'll reverse the arpeggios (first the Db and then 
the C) and see what her response is.

If it's consistent I'll know there's something at work which can be verified 
with further experimentation. If she's inconsistent then something else will 
be implied.

Understand - I'm not kidding about this . . . we're talking about a stated 
perception here and I don't seem to be able to detect the thing when I 
listen.  What am I missing?

Two answers:

1. I'm not missing anything and those who claim that a key conveys some 
specific "tone color" are full of doo doo.

2. I'm unable to perceive that difference which really exists regarding the 
"tone color" of keys because I'm somehow musically deprived in some areas.

If this so called "Synthesia" is an actual phenomenon which (according to 
the data I read) is experienced by no more than 4 percent of the population 
then the reality is that very few of you out there hear music as "color" in 
addition to pitch, volume, duration and timbre.

Remember - this effect has nothing to do with tubing, valves, length of 
string, instrument, pitch, volume or any of that stuff . . . it simply has 
to do with the key. If "do-me-sol-do" has a different tone color in C than 
in Db, I'd like to know just what that freaking difference is.

Respectfully submitted,

Bill "still unconvinced" Gunter
jazzboard at hotmail.com

>From: Steve Barbone <barbonestreet at earthlink.net>
>To: DJML <dixielandjazz at ml.islandnet.com>
>Subject: [Dixielandjazz] What a difference a key makes.
>Date: Wed, 04 Oct 2006 19:54:01 -0400
>Bill Gunter has said (polite snips)
> > Look . . . either the sharp keys have a different "tone color" or they 
> > regardless of ax.
> > A symphony orchestra playing compositon in F (1 flat) should have a
> > different "tone color" than it does when playing in G (1 sharp)!
> > My question . . . "Does this effect really exist and how can you prove 
>it to
> > me?
>and then . . .
> > There are those composers like Scriabin and Tschaikowski who have spoken
> > about this in the area of orchestration. They note that each key has its 
> > nature and color and has an impact on the particular key in which they 
> > score the opus.
> > That implies that Rachmaninoff's Prelude in C#minor would somehow have a
> > distinct and essential difference than the same composition played
> > transposed down a half step and that difference does not involve pitch. 
> > is that difference?
>and then . . .
> > I am a classically trained musician with a
> > deep understanding and appreciation for the music of our western culture
> > from Guido d'Arezzo, through the 12 tone scales of Arnold Schoenberg on 
> > to the atonalities of Karlheinz Stockhausen and Pierre Boulez.
>He is therefore quite able to answer his own question of does the effect
>exist, but . . . but then he asked "How can you prove it to me?
>Since he is pulling our chains, the best retort is "Bill, If you have to
>ask, you'll never know." With all that training, musical intelligence and
>normal ears, you should be able to hear the difference for yourself.
>Steve Barbone
>Dixielandjazz mailing list
>Dixielandjazz at ml.islandnet.com

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