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dxs's avatar

To the people who like music: do different keys have different moods for you?

Asked by dxs (11704 points ) January 6th, 2014

I don’t have perfect pitch, but certain keys seem to evoke different moods for me. They all seem to have different attributes, but it’s obviously highly subjective.
For instance, for me,
The key of D is a very strong, like a building or a fortress.
The key of F# is flowing and brisk.
The key of E is very comforting.
The key of E flat, however, is very triumphant and glorious.
The key of C is innocent, but the key of C minor is very impure, the minorest of all minors except that torturously severe F minor.
Maybe it’s some form of syn├Žsthesia.

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13 Answers

longgone's avatar

It’s too late now, but I’ll see what those keys mean to me tomorrow. GQ.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

They do and as crazy as it sounds they make me think of certain colors also. A is greenish, E is red F is grayish, D is blueish…

dxs's avatar

Interesting. I’ve never applied colors to it, but in my mind D major does seem to have a brownish-red hue. As long as I’m not the only crazy person…

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

I suspect that there is a larger population affected by this. I did not realize it until I was around 9 and began learning guitar scales. I probably would have never realized otherwise. Music runs in my family so there may be something genetic. I need to talk to my sibling who is a virtuoso. I never thought to ask if she visualizes colors in notes also. It’s not exact for me but consistent. I don’t see solid colors but more like blended hues like blue-green for D or dark maroon for E. Maybe someone with perfect pitch will chime in if they do too.

dxs's avatar

I feel like it’d be even more evident with someone with perfect pitch. Does your sibling feel moods in key signatures, too?

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

I don’t know, never asked. I will when I see her next though. I’m guessing yes. I think almost everyone does. There is a reason sad songs are usually done in minor keys. Sight, sound taste and probably even touch may trigger some elements of each other when experienced. I need to read up on this now. Kinda interesting.

Kardamom's avatar

Yes. I cannot read music, but I’ve lived music all of my life. Since the advent of You Tube, I now have a tendency to visualize things in my head set to music. Different tones definitely bring on different moods, but I have no idea why that is so.

Apparently people like John Williams and other soundtrack composers are keenly aware of this.

Because I and probably some of the other Jellies don’t read music, it would be neat if those of you who do, could present some pieces of music and tell us which key they are in, then we could all do a little informal survey to see if any of us felt a certain way, saw the tones as colors or flavors or roused up other sensations. I know they do for me, but I have no idea which key is which, I just know that when I hear certain pieces and the key changes, I might have a very different sensation than I did before the key changed.

PhiNotPi's avatar

It is not so much that different keys have different feels, so much as different relationships of keys have different feels. Everything is relative.

Let’s say that you have a song written in Bb, and then halfway through it transitions to Eb. The music will now have a different feel. This is not, however, due to the fact that Eb has a different feel on its own. The feelings are caused by the transition of adding a flat. Also, transition from G to C would have a similar effect.

I’m not sure if I’m explaining this well, but here is an example: I have an app (called SoundPrism) which allows me to easily play music/chords in various keys. Often, I would play a piece of music in one key, and then I would transition from the “sad” key to a “happier” key. Then after a while, that key would get boring and I would transition to a different happier key. And so on, until I arrived at the original key. All of a sudden, the sad original key sounded happy, even though it was exactly the same music.

Basically, the feeling of a key does not depend on what that key is, but rather its relationship to the keys before it.

Kardamom's avatar

@PhiNotPi I don’t necessarily agree with that, at least as far as my own experience goes. Because I have no idea what key is what, all I know is that some songs/pieces of music that are in one particular key (which I have no knowledge of) effect me very differently. I took a lot of music appreciation classes in high school and college (even though I couldn’t read music) and the sounds of certain keys brought about different feelings within me (that I can’t explain) even when there were no key changes (which I do understand).

Maybe for some people the keys themselves have effects upon them, and with other people, it’s just the change from one key to the other that effects them.

dxs's avatar

@PhiNotPi That’s why I said it is very subjective. The whole point is that I (me personally) feel like there is a mood in each key. I can’t prove it scientifically—doing that is invalid since it is a feeling. I always note a key change and it definitely spices up a piece, but I am referring to the choice of key signature and how it can potentially express a mood.
I’m not even talking about chords here, and I probably should have specified that I am talking solely about major scales (but who says it can’t apply to any other mode). You can write a piece with all major7th chords, and it’d be melancholy. You could write a piece with all diminished chords and it would sound tragic (or like one of those silent films in the 20s). Chords do have that kind of impact. But I’m thinking of the key signatures themselves. Can you relate?
I’m sorry if I’m sounding too F minor…just trying to help phrase things right haha.

PhiNotPi's avatar

I’m not quite sure if everyone was talking about the same types of keys in this thread. For example, the fact that different modes (major vs. minor keys) have different feelings isn’t what I was talking about earlier. In my first response, I was talking about different keys of the same mode.

Anyways, I suppose there could be two explanations for the phenomenon. The first is that the relative nature of keys is the primary factor. It’s just that the relationships occur between songs rather than within individual songs.

The second is that composers (the majority of which have developed perfect pitch) might tend to follow similar patterns. If I were a composer, and I wanted to write a piece of music that has a similar feel to another piece of music, then I would write it in the same key with the same chord transitions and similar harmonies. In this way, the patterns continue to exist. In short, Eb sounds glorious because composers write glorious music in Eb, because other composers wrote glorious music in Eb. It’s a cycle.

Yetanotheruser's avatar

I’m sure that composers many reasons for using different keys, and thereare most likely some who have certain feelings for various keys, as OP has stated. My personal experience, however, is much more practical. When I have written a song in the past, the key has been determined by a combination of my vocal range and the practicality of playing on a certain instrument, usually guitar.

Recently, I have been working on more orchestral works, and the key I use will depend on the range of various instruments used to carry the melody, harmony, etc.

@PhiNotPi I will take your observations into account in the future, and experiment with various keys for something that sounds glorious, or strong, or any of the other feelings you have described.

mattbrowne's avatar

I’ve got perfect pitch and my answer is no.

It’s the harmonics and melodies that have an effect on mood.

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