Do keys matter?


#1

(Beginner here)I made a simple melody in the piano roll of FL studio and started shifting it up one semitone at a time (keeping the intervals the same). I notice that there was no real difference in how the melody felt as I shifted it up or down. It made me think about why keys or octaves were important. I’ve heard some things about how historically, there were implications involving the way different instruments were made and what not, but in today’s day and age does it really matter if we’re making music digitally?? I feel like what’s most important are relationships between notes (intervals). Thoughts???


#2

I only know a little theory but to me the key is important not because it changes the melody when you move it up and down an interval but because it explains the relationship between the melody and all the other notes you will use (chords, bass line notes, etc) if you want things to sound tuned in the Western fashion.


#3

Ok, interesting. I guess I didn’t think about things outside the melody


#4

Yea, the key kind of describes what notes/chords will sound good together. And then keys have relationships with other keys. Like when many DJs mix songs they mix “harmonically” meaning they will only mix two tracks if the keys of the tracks sound good together.


#5

Raven Spiral’s Guide to Music Theory is widely regarded as a very good free resource. My friend who taught piano for years told me for older students she always taught them about chords first. And that really helped me. Dunno how old you are, but something to think about. Everything I read for a long time wanted to start with keys and scales and it didn’t make ANY sense to me. Chords make sense to me and now the other stuff makes more sense.


#6

To me, I write with chords first, so the key determines what chords I have to choose from, and that determines what notes I’ll have to choose from in my melody. In your case, it sounds like you can make it fit whatever you choose.

I don’t really know keys all that well, but the helpful thing is that once you have one chosen and you have a chord you’re starting with, you have a next logical step to go to. C major for example, if you start with a C chord, a G chord is almost always going to be pretty cool coming after. So if you know enough theory, it can help you write faster, with less trial and error. I mostly stick to trial and error, but I know enough theory to speed the process along a little bit.


#7

yes because if you want to have a compelling complex compositional piece…also investigate negative harmonies there is some info about it on a thread somewhere on here


#8

tl;dr what key you use can change the entire feel of the song, even when there’s no key change, due to reasons ranging from physical, scientific, and ineffably emotional.

I feel like y’all missed the point of the question. If you have an entire song and you transpose all the notes, chords, etc up a few semitones, what difference did it make? All the relationships between the notes are identical, all chord progressions are intact, everything fits together the same way. If there’s a key change in the song, you’re still getting the same interval of change because you transposed everything. Why, then, does it matter what key you choose initially?

I’ll tell you why: you’re on the right track about physical instruments having limitations of what ranges they can play, and avoiding writing something in a key that the instrument can’t physically produce or just won’t sound good in is a reasonable consideration. Example: Maybe you want to compose a song that has max possible note range, the lowest double bass note to the highest note on the violin. But maybe the highest note won’t be consonant in the key you initially pick. Obviously a good composer will definitely fit it in somehow, probably via key change, but you get the idea. Or maybe you need the timbre of an oboe to play a certain note, you just gotta have that timbre. But the oboe can’t play that note in that key. So choose another key, tada fixed. Same goes for vocal range, singers have their preferred ranges they like to sing in, and are even capable of singing in.

So, now with instruments with no limitations, i.e. synths and the digital world. There is no need to consider writing something to have the right note ranges because a synth can play any note theoretically.

BUT, now we get into mixing and physics of sound reproduction. Your song might sound better in a higher key if your consonant subbass is too low to be intelligible on even high end listening environments. I know I’ve made songs that the sub has to go real low (like 30 Hz) to be in key, and that doesn’t really show up on a lot of speaks. Another facet of physics in music is that live sound subs and bassbins have a sort of sweet spot. They’re all different yeah, but a lot of bassbins have a physical emphasis at like 40Hz or something, so certain keys (I think it was D sharp if I remember properly? Probably wrong) will naturally sound better in the bass range because of this.

Then you have: Ease of playing. Certain keys require more flats and sharps to play on a keyboard. But we don’t have to worry about that, we can just click in the midi notes and be done with it. Just kidding. C major and A minor are the most popular keys in music production today because the only keys you need to play are the white ones. They also sound nice together, frequently featured in 1564 style songs. Pop standard really.

Last one I can think of, most important I think: They actually feel different. You can be writing a song, have the lead melody worked out, nice chords, but then feel like it needs to be changed in some way… So you change the key and bam, it’s just what you needed. There’s maybe some science to it, specifically how equal temperament hides dissonance in its generally nice consonance, so some keys with certain chord progressions will sound naturally more consonant than others. But beyond that, it is really just whatever emotional resonance is achieved by a different key, even disregarding the relationship with the previous key. Key changes obviously are extremely drastic and effective emotional tools. But like I said earlier, changing the root key still leaves key change intervals intact.

An example from real life. I was interning at a studio in town, just listening to the tracks the artist was laying down. The vocalist comes in, and hearing about a minute of the recording, says it needs to be a whole step higher. The change is made, and instantly it breathes life into the song. Everything feels more open. It was wild, such a small change made all the difference.

I could also believe that some people attribute certain keys to certain feelings anyway, as removed from empirical reasoning as that sounds. Like, some folks would have a consensus of what different keys mean, maybe there’s a chart somewhere that goes like “the A key is cheerful, the B key is playful” and some such nonsense. But to the people who have these feelings, they actually do have an emotional response to just key information, possibly even emotions to single notes.

WALL OF TEXT YEEHAW