Monday, January 8, 2018

Why Change Key?

Now that you know Do can move to change the key (read and watch the magic key post), you might be wondering... 

Why Change Keys?

We've learned to play some pretty great songs in the key of C. Why can't every song be in the key of C all the time? Life would be easy for the pianists. Why bother with key changes?  


First, singability. The voice or instrument you hope to perform the music with you will be able to cover a certain range. If the melody goes too low or too high for that voice or instrument to reach, transpose up or down so the voice will be able to reach all of the notes. 

When we sing "Turkey in the Straw" in Key of C during Purple Semester, the notes are a tad low for some singers in my class. Then we transpose it and sing in the key of F and everyone notices, "yeah, that was easier to sing!"

YOU can test your singing range by following a video like this one. Now you know what your range is!  

Instruments have a range, too. A chart like this one demonstrates the range each instrument can cover. You'll get a different tone and sound from instruments when they are playing at different parts of their range. The composer needs to consider which instrument he's performing with!

  • Voice Type: Soprano, Range: B3 – G6.
  • Voice Type: Mezzo-Soprano, Range: G3 – A5.
  • Voice Type: Contralto, Range: E3 – F5.
  • Voice Type: Countertenor, Range: G3 – C6.
  • Voice Type: Tenor, Range: C3 – B4.
  • Voice Type: Baritone, Range: G2 – G4.
  • Voice Type: Bass, Range: D2 – E4.

  • Concert Pitch

    ALSO, now that you know how to transpose, you are going to love composing for large ensembles! Some instruments play a C and it matches the C from the piano. Those instruments are in concert pitch.

    But for many instruments, the simplest note does not happen to be a C. With no valves are pressed, the simplest note that comes out is something else

    To make the music easier to read and play, we rewrite their music so that everybody's home note is written as middle C. Here is a chart showing the transposition for different instruments.

    When I show my French-horn-playing son a middle C, he plays a note that matches Bb on the piano.  Not to worry... the composer took it into consideration when writing each part for the ensemble. My piano music has me playing a Bb on the piano at the same time he is playing "C".  Sounds good!

    Now that you know how to transpose, you can take your favorite piano music and transpose it so your clarinet, trumpet, and saxophone friends can all play along with you.

    Fingering Instruments

    Speaking of clarinets, (and saxophones and double reeds), there are many sizes of clarinet that change the range by something other than an octave. To make it easy to switch between instruments in the same family, the sheet music is transposed so the same note has the same fingering, but produces a different actual pitch.  A few minutes by the composer, transposing music for each size of clarinet, guarantees that he can assign anyone to play any size of clarinet and they'll know the fingering.


    But if you're playing piano without other instruments, why would you want to play in different keys?  Composers sometimes say different keys have different feel to them.  Keys that have several sharps have bright, exciting sounds. Keys with several flats have more relaxed or somber sounds.

    Historically, this used to be more true because instruments were not tuned as exactly as they are today, they were not perfectly tempered. That is, the step in wavelength between notes was not always equal. The well-tempered clavier was well tempered because you could play scales in all keys on it, but those scales did not all have the same exact pattern of steps in wavelength. So, yeah, back then the key of F# sounded really different from the key of C.  Learn more here.


    But my FAVORITE reason to learn to play in other keys...

    I love changing key in the middle of a song! That's called modulation. 

    Changing key for a section of a song adds interest and variety and feeling. Listeners will really perk up and notice that something is different. Modulation can also increase or decrease intensity and emotion during a song. Modulation is a powerful way to give your music the feeling that you want to convey.

    Watch some examples of modulation in pop songs here.

    Our LPM students get to modulate right in the middle of the song Magic Keys. You can watch the song and experience all of the education again in this post.

    Read/watch Magic Keys here.

    Enjoy adding some modulation into your own compositions.

    - Gina Weibel MS
    Let's Play Music Teacher

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