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I have been studying some new piano music. I run across things like clair de lune. Why Db? 5/4 time, or even 9/8, I can sort of understand. But Db, B, Gb, F#, C#, and Cb, have always seemed a bit odd.

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as a guitarist CAGED covers the keys we play in and a capo sorts the rest out. however a friend of mine plays piano and apparently the way notes fall under the fingers is very different. if you listen to Johnny B Goode by Chuck Berry it's in Bb on the record. But we all play it in A. I wonder if Chuck tuned down half a step for the benefit of the keyboard player as Bb was described by Keith Richard in an interview as a piano player's key.

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Hi Billy,

If those songs were with vocals that the key signature probably is the one that is natural for the vocalist. We have a lead singer who's natural singing key was Eb. We tuned our instruments down 1/2 step to make it easier for us.


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I can play guitar in any key for the most part. This came up while looking at some piano instructional videos.

What I was doing was sight reading the piano sheet music and playing that on guitar. One of the songs was Clair De Lune in Db and written in 9/8 time (Claude Debussy wrote it in 5/4). The melody is pretty easy to play by ear, but having to sight-read in five flats was not at all easy for me.

That got me to wondering why write in those keys to began with. The vocalist issue is typical. Perhaps Db provides a better fingering position on the piano.

Perhaps some piano player here will speak to the issue.

Billy


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Originally Posted By: Planobilly
I can play guitar in any key for the most part......................

...................................

Billy


Same here. I learned how to play in the flat key signatures when playing from the old original fake book in a band with a sax lead instrument.


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Originally Posted By: Planobilly
I have been studying some new piano music. I run across things like clair de lune. Why Db? 5/4 time, or even 9/8, I can sort of understand. But Db, B, Gb, F#, C#, and Cb, have always seemed a bit odd.

Maybe he just liked playing the black keys.

After all, there are only two "accidentals" in the key - F and C. They just happen to be white keys.

From that point of view, it's as easy as playing in the key of D or Bb.


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Lots of reasons could apply. Here’s one that wasn’t mentioned yet: color.

Some folks, especially those with perfect pitch, say that tones, and therefore keys, have a feel (like bright, or somber) and can even see the pitch as a color.

Have a little fun and see if you believe this: https://glasses.withinmyworld.org/index.php/2012/08/18/chord-colors-perfect-pitch-and-synesthesia


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Well Matt, you got me on that one. So down the rabbit hole........

Synesthesia is a neuropsychological trait in which the stimulation of one sense causes the automatic experience of another sense. Synesthesia is a genetically linked trait estimated to affect from 2 to 5 percent of the general population.

Grapheme-colour synesthesia is the most-studied form of synesthesia. In this form, an individual’s perception of numbers and letters is associated with colours. For this reason, in all the subject reads or hears, each letter or number is either viewed as physically written in a specific colour (in so-called projector synesthetes) or visualized as a colour in the mind (in associator synesthetes). Many synesthetes, however, have more than one type of synesthesia. A number of types have been reported, ranging from music-colour synesthesia, in which musical notes and sounds are associated with colour visualization, to tactile-emotion synesthesia, in which certain fabrics and textures conjure certain emotions in the synesthete. Examples of other types include sound-colour, spatial sequence, flavour-temperature, flavour-sound, sound-smell, time units-colours, and personality-smell.

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last night I had a dream where I played piano in a completely new color.
But it was a pigment of my imagination.

Billy


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There have been occasions where a song has been recorded in C, but then frequency shifted to C#/Db to make it more awkward for other people to copy/play. There are probably other reason, too.

Historically, instrument tunings also varied, so different keys could have different characters. Modern equal temperament tuning mostly circumvents that.


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One of my favorite copyrighted hymnists is Thomas E. Dorsey. For years, he made a living playing the blues in night clubs. When he converted to church music, he fused blues and gospel with acknowledged impact. The first two lines of the verse of his classic "Precious Lord, Take My Hand" goes like this:
-------------------------------------------------------------------
Precious (C) take my (C7) hand, lead me (F) on, let me (F) stand, I am
(C) tired, I am weak (Am) I am (Dm) worn.
----------------------------------------------------------------------
One of those progressions you'd likely hit on unaided.


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Originally Posted By: edshaw
One of my favorite copyrighted hymnists is Thomas E. Dorsey... One of those progressions you'd likely hit on unaided.

If you're worried that the chord progression is copyrighted, don't worry.

You can't copyright a chord progression.

https://support.easysong.com/hc/en-us/articles/1500009595681-What-Parts-of-Music-Can-Be-Copyrighted-and-What-Can-t-


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Here is what ChatSonic had to say.

Why was clair de lune written in D flat?

Member
The piece "Clair de Lune" ("Moonlight") by French composer Claude Debussy is one of the most famous pieces in the repertoire. Generally, it is performed in the key of D-flat major, which is a very dark, mysterious sounding key. The use of this key fits the mood of the piece perfectly, as Debussy wanted to evoke the mood of the night sky and a distant, shimmering moonlight. The piece utilizes several chromatic notes that would not be present in the key of C major, which is the home of the white notes on the piano. This gives the piece an added sense of mystery and beauty, as the subtle shifts and nuances in the melody create a unique atmosphere.


Do you music theorists agree?

Billy


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There are quite a few writers cheat sheets out in the ether telling one which key to write in to evoke a specific mood. There's A LOT of overlap, edge fudging & minor nuance involved in the same.
I have a couple of them saved somewhere as they were sent to me by well meaning people but I don't use them. My chord choices determine the mood, & therefore lyric, of a song for me. That is unless I was aiming for juxtaposition as I was in my most recent finished song & video.
A keyboard allows one to conjure more "colour" or mood as there are, usually, ten digits to use in voicing a chord.
As to the piece at the centre of the discussion:
"This gives the piece an added sense of mystery and beauty, as the subtle shifts and nuances in the melody create a unique atmosphere." This would be subject to interpretation and exposure. I doubt I would hear any nuanced mood in the piece as, after hearing it flogged to death for so many years, I shut off. It would probably take a different key or interpretation for me to pay attention.


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Originally Posted By: Planobilly
That got me to wondering why write in those keys to began with. The vocalist issue is typical. Perhaps Db provides a better fingering position on the piano.

I was wondering why someone with the name 'Pianobilly' was asking this question until I noticed that your forum name is 'Planobilly'.
Man, I've read your name wrong all the time...sorry about that, Billy blush

To answer your question: my completely unscientific explanation (which may only apply to me) is that on the piano all keys are equal, so you choose the one that sounds best for the song.
You don't care how messy the notation may look.

I only learned guitar to be able to write songs that a guitarist could play without breaking his fingers.
And of course, writing on the guitar puts you in a different mindset.


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Quote:
it is performed in the key of D-flat major, which is a very dark, mysterious sounding key

In the context of equal temperament, I'm inclined to call hooey on this sort of statement. I believe the sound of "Clair" has everything to do with its internal structure, the intervals and chord progressions used, and the physical situation with human hands playing piano keyboards, and probably nothing at all to do with the key per se.

Here, through the magic of MIDI, this is "Clair de Lune" transposed down a semitone, and so rendered in the key of C Major:

https://soundcloud.com/mark_hayes/clair-de-lune-in-c-major

Have I changed a "dark, mysterious" piece into something very different, something as "bright and familiar" as C Major? I don't hear it.

Now, where the whole piece sits on the frequency spectrum will clearly affect the sound — you would have a very different piece set two octaves up or down. But the idea that each of the 12 keys has some sort of musical personality, and in particular the idea that Db is a creature of darkness while C is a happy sheep in sunshine, strikes me as the aforementioned hooey.

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^^^^^^^^

This.

I do know, however, that D minor is the saddest of all keys.




I say its time for us guitar players to revolt and make everyone else play in E, A and G!


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The AI said, "The piece utilizes several chromatic notes that would not be present in the key of C major."

I would have to buy quality sheet music in several keys to see if that statement would hold up.

I also know little about Claude Debussy. Did he use equal-temperament tuning?

With just intonation, do melody notes sound out of tune the same in all keys?

Just Intonation: smooth chords, melody notes that sound out of tune. 2. Equal Temperament – melody notes sound in tune, chords sound rough. One of the best ways to understand the difference Equal Temperament and Just Intonation is to play harmonicas tuned to JI and ET and compare the way they sound.

I suspect there are technical issues involved as to why Db. People also come to accept that some particular musical key or chord represents something like dark or sad because they are told that is the case.

Musical lemmings...lol

Billy

Last edited by Planobilly; 02/10/23 08:41 AM.

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Originally Posted By: Planobilly
I also know little about Claude Debussy. Did he use equal-temperament tuning?

Yikes, I hadn't thought to question that, I think equal temperament was pretty much the law of the land by then but I can't say for sure. He did write for whole tone scales, which suggests a presumption of equal temperament, but I don't know. And the question is totally relevant to explaining his choice of key.

Of course, we listen to his music in equal temperament and presumably ChatSonic's comment about Db is intended to apply to our listening experience today.

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ME:

Did Debussy use equal temperament?

CHATGPT:

Claude Debussy, the French composer and pianist, lived and worked during a time when equal temperament was the most commonly used tuning system in Western classical music. It is likely that Debussy used equal temperament in his compositions, as most pianos of his time were tuned to this system.

However, Debussy was also known for his experimentation with non-traditional harmonies and novel approaches to tonality, and it's possible that he may have used alternative tuning systems at times for specific musical effects. This is a topic of ongoing debate among musicologists, and there is no definitive answer.

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