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#1
Old 09-28-2005, 10:47 PM
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How many musical keys are there and what are they?

I have a funny feeling that there may be different answers to this, depending on the classificatory procedures used, but there we go. Answers, please.
#2
Old 09-29-2005, 12:20 AM
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In the modern tonal system, there are 12 major keys and 12 minor keys, so the answer is 24.

The major keys and their relative minors are:

G-flat (same as F#)/ e-flat (same as d#)
D-flat / b-flat
A-flat / f
E-flat / c
B-flat / g
F / d
C / a
G / e
D / b
A / f#
E / c#
B / g#
F# (same as Gb) / d# (same as e-flat)

The sequence above is called "The circle of Fifths". Wikipedia explanation
#3
Old 09-29-2005, 12:37 AM
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Thank you. I can see that you're an E-flat major man!
#4
Old 09-29-2005, 01:09 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by roger thornhill
Thank you. I can see that you're an E-flat major man!
Very astute!
#5
Old 09-29-2005, 01:10 AM
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B / g# can also be represented as C-flat / a-flat
That, and the two mentioned above are the only three keys that can be expressed two ways. For example, although B-flat is the same note as A#, there is no "key of A#."
#6
Old 09-29-2005, 01:17 AM
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For what it's worth, there are four different types of minor keys (see here), so the number is slightly larger.
#7
Old 09-29-2005, 01:39 AM
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That's very interesting and thanks for the responses! (Yes, I know I'm not the OP; however, I've also had this question but didn't know how to frame it.)

That's for the octave system/sequence. What are the keys (and scales, too) for the pentatonic?
#8
Old 09-29-2005, 01:41 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ultrafilter
For what it's worth, there are four different types of minor keys (see here), so the number is slightly larger.
Well, not really. It depends on how you're counting, but I'd consider all four of those minor scales part of a single minor key. You might be using a harmonic minor for, well, your harmonies, and a melodic (ascending) and natural minor (decending) for your melodies. Your still in the same key, just using different scales depending on your purpose.

Otherwise, we can expand our definition to include all the modes. For each tonal center, there are seven classical modes: ionian, dorian, phrygian, lydian, mixolydian, aeolian, and locrian. On top of that, there are altered modes like the dorian flat 2, the lydian augmented, the mixolydian flat 6, etc...

However, in classical Western music theory, there are 12 major and 12 minor keys, for a total of 24.
#9
Old 09-29-2005, 01:45 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Monty
I've also had this question but didn't know how to frame it.
It helps to be pretty unmusical and simple-minded.
#10
Old 09-29-2005, 01:45 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Monty
That's for the octave system/sequence. What are the keys (and scales, too) for the pentatonic?
The pentatonics work exactly the same way. For major pentatonic, just remove the fourth and seventh of any major scale.

For minor pentatonic, remove the second and sixth of any natural minor scale.

Therefore, you have 12 major pentatonics, and 12 minor.
#11
Old 09-29-2005, 01:51 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TJdude825
B / g# can also be represented as C-flat / a-flat
That, and the two mentioned above are the only three keys that can be expressed two ways. For example, although B-flat is the same note as A#, there is no "key of A#."
While A-sharp major only exists in theory (so far as I know), A-sharp minor does exist in practice, being the relative minor of C-sharp major (7 sharps).
#12
Old 09-29-2005, 02:29 AM
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My simple answer would be fifteen major and fifteen minor.

K364's list matches the circle of fifths, but only takes us as far as key signatures with six sharps or flats. The next ones along are C# major / A# minor, and C flat major / A flat minor.

And these keys certainly do get used - I've also seen sections of music which find themselves even further around the circle of fifths, using lots of flats & double-flats. While such passages could, in isolation, be written in a more simple manner, if they're arrived at via other 'flat keys', jumping into a whole load of sharps doesn't necessarily make sense.
#13
Old 09-29-2005, 08:47 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by GorillaMan
My simple answer would be fifteen major and fifteen minor.

K364's list matches the circle of fifths, but only takes us as far as key signatures with six sharps or flats. The next ones along are C# major / A# minor, and C flat major / A flat minor.


Of course that's right. I was obviously counting enharmonic keys as the same key (like B-flat minor and A sharp minor). But, in practice, you will encounter 0-7 sharps or 0-7 flats (not counting weird key signatures that include both sharps and flats, like in Bartok) for a total of 15 major and minor keys.
#14
Old 09-29-2005, 09:19 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pulykamell
. . . not counting weird key signatures that include both sharps and flats, like in Bartok
How the flipping heck does that work? Must be murder to read.
#15
Old 09-29-2005, 09:45 AM
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[QUOTE=pulykamell. . .key signatures that include both sharps and flats, like in Bartok. . .[/QUOTE]Never knew this. The key signature contains both? I would think it would be much better to write to a standard key signature then just put the extra accidentals in as needed. You would have to make a career out of reading a sig like that.
#16
Old 09-29-2005, 10:48 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CookingWithGas
Never knew this. The key signature contains both? I would think it would be much better to write to a standard key signature then just put the extra accidentals in as needed. You would have to make a career out of reading a sig like that.
Yes--there was a beginner's book of Bartok that I bought for my girlfriend years back which had the key signature of a single sharp (F sharp) and a single flat (B flat). I don't remember what the tonic was, but if it were C, then that would be the lydian mode with a flatted seventh (dominant lydian, as I call it. You can hear it in the Simpsons theme song).

It's actually quite easy to read.
#17
Old 09-29-2005, 10:52 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pulykamell
Yes--there was a beginner's book of Bartok that I bought for my girlfriend years back which had the key signature of a single sharp (F sharp) and a single flat (B flat). I don't remember what the tonic was, but if it were C, then that would be the lydian mode with a flatted seventh (dominant lydian, as I call it. You can hear it in the Simpsons theme song).

It's actually quite easy to read.
Look at it another way, it's G melodic minor, but the same descending as ascending.
#18
Old 09-29-2005, 10:56 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Malacandra
Look at it another way, it's G melodic minor, but the same descending as ascending.
You could think of it that way, but I find it much easier to think of it as C lydian with a dominant 7th. It all depends on the tonic, as you can think of any mode in terms of any other mode, but I feel it just confuses the issue. If C is the tonic, I think of it in my way. If G is the tonic, I think of it your way. If something else is the tonic, I think of it in terms of that tonal center.

The Bartok I'm thinking of is "Microkosmos." That collection of pieces also has unusual key signatures like a single flat, but the noted flat is A-flat, not the customary B-flat. There's also one where there's a single sharp, but it's the C-sharp, not the F-sharp.
#19
Old 09-29-2005, 11:11 AM
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Rings a bell, though if I've seen it, it's not been for the better part of thirty years. Didn't old Bela write something for piano where the left and right hands had different key signatures?
#20
Old 09-29-2005, 11:16 AM
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I've heard of a piece like that, but attributed to John Cage.
#21
Old 09-29-2005, 11:34 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Malacandra
Rings a bell, though if I've seen it, it's not been for the better part of thirty years. Didn't old Bela write something for piano where the left and right hands had different key signatures?
Here's an example from Mikrokosmos of what you speak.
#22
Old 09-29-2005, 11:41 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pulykamell
Yes--there was a beginner's book of Bartok that I bought for my girlfriend years back which had the key signature of a single sharp (F sharp) and a single flat (B flat). I don't remember what the tonic was, but if it were C, then that would be the lydian mode with a flatted seventh (dominant lydian, as I call it. You can hear it in the Simpsons theme song).
Here's a bit of trivia that brings this full-circle, then. The Simpson's theme song was composed by Danny Elfman, and I've seen in the past where he specifically mentioned Bartok as one of his classical influences.
#23
Old 09-29-2005, 11:41 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ultrafilter
I've heard of a piece like that, but attributed to John Cage.
Yes, Cage has used this kind of thing, too - but in a very different way to Bartok!

FWIW, you don't have to mess around with these kinds of key signatures to find sections of music that go beyond the 'standard' keys. I think it's in Schubert's ninth symphony that a chain of fifths briefly reaches F flat major, before switching to sharps instead.
#24
Old 09-29-2005, 11:44 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ultrafilter
I've heard of a piece like that, but attributed to John Cage.
Bitonality and polytonality are concepts dating back to at least Mozart in classical music. Mozart used it facetiously in a piece called Ein musikalischer Spass. Others who have used it in the classical realm include Ives, Stravinsky, the aforementioned Cage, and plenty of others in the contemporary era of classical music. You will also find it creeping up in a lot of Eastern European folk music, which is, I suppose, where Bartok got a lot of his bitonality ideas from.

However, many bitonal and polytonal pieces are written out in a single key signature for ease of reading. It all depends on the preference of the composer or transcriber.
#25
Old 09-29-2005, 11:52 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pulykamell
Yes--there was a beginner's book of Bartok that I bought for my girlfriend years back which had the key signature of a single sharp (F sharp) and a single flat (B flat). I don't remember what the tonic was, but if it were C, then that would be the lydian mode with a flatted seventh (dominant lydian, as I call it. You can hear it in the Simpsons theme song).

It's actually quite easy to read.
Lydian Dominant is actually a very common key for jazz soloing - it works nicely for almost all non-diatonic dominants, by providing an upward leading tone to the fifth and a downward to the sixth.

I use it quite frequently, and it works especially well in conjunction with the diminished scale (which nicely handles the upper extensions of a 7b9) to move around the neck (guitar) to get to other positions.

It's the first non-modal scale I teach my students for handling outside changes in jazz soloing. (followed by the dim and whole tone scales)

[jazz geek]
Down with modal thinking!
[/jazz geek]
#26
Old 09-29-2005, 02:52 PM
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Of course, some Indian musicians might argue that there are hundreds of keys not represented by the typical Western music scale.
#27
Old 09-29-2005, 03:27 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ouryL
Of course, some Indian musicians might argue that there are hundreds of keys not represented by the typical Western music scale.
Very true!

Back in school, I had a rather unconventional teacher for a few semesters. He was actually supposed to be my private instructor in guitar pedagogy, but we pretty much spent every class time discussing odd little minutiae of music - from performance to theory to various world traditions. I fondly remember all the lessons I was supposed to be studying some theory of teaching, and instead jammed with him on the sitar, or celtic harp, or samisen or somesuch instrument.

One of his favorite books - which I had for a long time, lost and now for the life of me can't remember the title of - was a huge volume of all possible scales, ranging from four to thirteen tones, with every scale that had a name titled, and thousands more that were more or less mathematical permutations of the available tones.

It was pretty impressive - one of his favorite exercises was to assign me a scale or group of scales and then have me compose lines and pieces for that scale. And somehow manage to harmonize it, if I could. Infuriating at times, but really fun and good practice.

Still, it wasn't as hard as when we got into Mick Goodrick's theories, or when I dove into Ornette Coleman's Harmolodics....
#28
Old 09-29-2005, 03:42 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by picker
One of his favorite books - which I had for a long time, lost and now for the life of me can't remember the title of - was a huge volume of all possible scales, ranging from four to thirteen tones, with every scale that had a name titled, and thousands more that were more or less mathematical permutations of the available tones.
Ffftt. That's nothing. Xenakis, a slightly-barmy but fantastic composer, outlined a mathematical model to calculate any scale, using any division of pitch, not necessarily repeating in each octave, and so on. The result? An infinite variety of scales.
#29
Old 09-29-2005, 03:43 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by GorillaMan
Ffftt. That's nothing. Xenakis, a slightly-barmy but fantastic composer, outlined a mathematical model to calculate any scale, using any division of pitch, not necessarily repeating in each octave, and so on. The result? An infinite variety of scales.
Yeah, but I probably couldn't have fit his book in my backpack, mr. smartypants.

#30
Old 09-29-2005, 03:50 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by picker
Yeah, but I probably couldn't have fit his book in my backpack, mr. smartypants.
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Smartypants? Damn right
#31
Old 09-29-2005, 03:52 PM
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and while we're noodling around here

There are a number of people who have written music in quarter tone "scales." Sort of like playing music in the cracks of the keys.

And, poster K364 - are you, perhaps, a fan of the Symphonia Concertante?
#32
Old 09-29-2005, 03:55 PM
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As to what they are for...

The Major Keys are for the big things.

B-flat Major is the house. G Major is for the Car. F major is the store key.

The minor keys are for small things.

D minor is to the padlock on the shed.
A minor is a lonely miner.
F minor is the saddest of all keys
C sharp minor is the key to the suitcase you don't use anymore.


Nobody knows the use for either E flat major or E flat minor. It might have been the key to my mom's house and a filing cabinet or a locker at some bus station.
#33
Old 09-29-2005, 03:56 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CC
There are a number of people who have written music in quarter tone "scales." Sort of like playing music in the cracks of the keys.
Oh, yes, and sixth-tone and eight-tone and .....

Most of these pieces tend to be completely atonal, not having any central reference-point, so they're no more using a particular scale, just a convenient and regular division of pitch.
#34
Old 09-29-2005, 03:57 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Zebra
As to what they are for...

The Major Keys are for the big things.

B-flat Major is the house. G Major is for the Car. F major is the store key.

The minor keys are for small things.

D minor is to the padlock on the shed.
A minor is a lonely miner.
F minor is the saddest of all keys
C sharp minor is the key to the suitcase you don't use anymore.


Nobody knows the use for either E flat major or E flat minor. It might have been the key to my mom's house and a filing cabinet or a locker at some bus station.
Brilliant! Do you mind if I add this to a sheet I wrote earlier this week explaining relative major/minor keys?
#35
Old 09-29-2005, 04:00 PM
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I believe that E flat minor was used originally in England when a small child was run over by a steamroller and had to be slid under the door, as his mum was indisposed in the bathroom.
#36
Old 09-29-2005, 04:29 PM
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Well, damn, I guess I'm too late to this thread to add anything relevant.

Just one comment:

Quote:
Originally Posted by pulykamell
(dominant lydian, as I call it. You can hear it in the Simpsons theme song).
Where is the flatted 7th? To my ears, at least in the main theme, it's just regular old lydian.
#37
Old 09-29-2005, 05:24 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Moe
Well, damn, I guess I'm too late to this thread to add anything relevant.

Just one comment:



Where is the flatted 7th? To my ears, at least in the main theme, it's just regular old lydian.
The second half of the main phrase/riff.
#38
Old 09-29-2005, 06:17 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ouryL
Of course, some Indian musicians might argue that there are hundreds of keys not represented by the typical Western music scale.
Depends on what you mean by "key." I consider the concept of "key" to be one only useful when looking at Western music, and dictionaries seem to agree:

(for example, here's Merriam-Webster's take it: "key: A tonal system consisting of seven tones in fixed relationship to a tonic, having a characteristic key signature and being the structural foundation of the bulk of Western music; tonality.")

Indian music has concepts of thats, ragas, and swaras underlying its musical structure and while these may be somewhat analogous to Western tradition, it's really not that useful to think in traditional terms of key when it comes to non-Western music. The concept of key includes a major and minor distinction, something which does not exist in Indian music.

As for the Simpons theme, actually, you're right. There is no dominant seventh in the main riff. I just listened to it, and the way it plays in my head is a little different than the actual recording; However, the dominant seventh harmony is heavily implied. If you "jam along" to the Simpsons chords, you'll note that the major seventh sounds wrong, but the dominant seventh sounds right.

Also, right before the C - F# bass gives way to the B major chord, the leading chord before the B major is a C7, giving you the dominant seventh I hear so strongly implied. That tune changes tonal centers so many times...
#39
Old 09-29-2005, 08:11 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pulykamell
While A-sharp major only exists in theory (so far as I know), A-sharp minor does exist in practice, being the relative minor of C-sharp major (7 sharps).
You are correct. I meant that there is no such key as "A# major" although "a# minor" (using a lower-case a) does indeed exist. Sorry for the confusion.
#40
Old 09-29-2005, 09:08 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Zebra
C sharp minor is the key to the suitcase you don't use anymore.
At the risk of showing my ignorance and having all the "music weeds" snorting at me behind their snotty handkerchiefs, Chopin's Nocturne in C-Sharp minor (1830), featured on Polanski's The Pianist, is so beautiful, soulful and lyrical that something as mundane and tatty as an old suitcase (though invoking mystery - one element, I grant you, of the piece/performance) doesn't do it justice, to my mind.
#41
Old 09-29-2005, 10:38 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by roger thornhill
At the risk of showing my ignorance and having all the "music weeds" snorting at me behind their snotty handkerchiefs, Chopin's Nocturne in C-Sharp minor (1830), featured on Polanski's The Pianist, is so beautiful, soulful and lyrical that something as mundane and tatty as an old suitcase (though invoking mystery - one element, I grant you, of the piece/performance) doesn't do it justice, to my mind.
I must admit I don't understand Zebra's description of C sharp minor, as poetic as it is. But this is also the key of Beethoven's famous "Moonlight" sonata, so it can't be all that bad. :-)
#42
Old 09-29-2005, 10:42 PM
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You'll have me humming that tune from my childhood all day now!

"There was was just a-standin' in the street"
#43
Old 09-30-2005, 01:39 AM
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Back to the OP - there's another explanation of scales, with audio examples, here
#44
Old 09-30-2005, 10:08 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Zebra
As to what they are for...

The Major Keys are for the big things.

B-flat Major is the house. G Major is for the Car. F major is the store key.

The minor keys are for small things.

D minor is to the padlock on the shed.
A minor is a lonely miner.
F minor is the saddest of all keys
C sharp minor is the key to the suitcase you don't use anymore.


Nobody knows the use for either E flat major or E flat minor. It might have been the key to my mom's house and a filing cabinet or a locker at some bus station.
I think that E flat major is an electric elk called Simon.
#45
Old 10-04-2005, 05:02 AM
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Is it conventional to present the keys in writing in a certain order (for example, that given by K364)? I've also come across that order inverted, i.e. starting with F-sharp major and ending with G-flat. Which is more common?

And is it okay to simplify and explain keys to a kid as follows:"There are 12 major keys, one for every letter of the musical alphabet (e.g. A-major, Bb-major, B-major, C-major). Similarly, there are 12 minor keys (e.g. A-minor, Bb-minor, B-minor)"?
#46
Old 10-04-2005, 05:59 AM
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I'd say that was close enough, with one caveat, thus:

Each note can be known by more than one name (B natural or C flat; note that the double-flat and double-sharp names can be discounted). We use a key based on either name if the resulting key signature doesn't include double sharps or double flats. There are only a few notes for which there are two enharmonic key signatures (C flat and B; F# and G flat; C# and D flat).

Other keys would have more than seven sharps or flats, for instance "D# major" which would have nine... so we usually use E flat major instead. But these have a sort of in-between existence, for instance just as a piece in C major can modulate into G major, for which you need an F#, a piece in C# major can modulate into G# major, for which you need an F##. But they're not represented by actual key signatures; the odd notes are provided with accidentals.
#47
Old 10-10-2005, 12:54 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by GorillaMan
Brilliant! Do you mind if I add this to a sheet I wrote earlier this week explaining relative major/minor keys?

Go ahead.
#48
Old 10-10-2005, 06:43 PM
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What about the eighty-eight musical keys, them black and white ones, on that there pie-anno?
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#49
Old 10-19-2005, 02:36 AM
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What well known pieces were written in B major? Is it a commonly uses key? If not, why not?

There is a reason for all these questions, but it cannot be divulged at the moment!
#50
Old 10-19-2005, 02:55 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by roger thornhill
What well known pieces were written in B major? Is it a commonly uses key? If not, why not?

There is a reason for all these questions, but it cannot be divulged at the moment!
Many composers have written collections of pieces which systematically include every key (e.g. Bach's two Well-Tempered Clavier books which consist of a prelude and a fugue in every key, or Chopin's Preludes for piano[/i].

I can't think off hand of any famous classical pieces in B major, though I'm sure there are at least a few. Incidentally, The Daily Show theme is in B major.

It is a less commonly used key, mainly because it doesn't sit well on most, if not all, instruments. C major is easiest on piano, along with the closely related keys G and F. Various wind instruments are most at home in Bb, Eb, and Ab so those keys are common, especially in jazz. On guitar the open string keys E, A, D, and G are most common. But I just don't know of any instrument well suited to B major.
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