Do transposed keys create a different mood?

Do different keys convey different moods?. I.e., would the moods of C major, E major and G major convey any different sentiment? The Scaler descriptions for such transpositions imply that the moods would be the same. Yet this question was controversial in past centuries with a great deal of description of moods in different keys (perhaps because of ill-tempered tuning of instruments at that time for different keys?) . I know that you have to use different transpositions sometimes to match a singer’s vocal range or the pitch range of an instrument. In addition, I know that changes in mood can be very noticeable when transposing to a different key in the middle of a composition. Also, high pitches would seem to convey a lighter mood than dark, low pitches. However, if one wrote a piece in, say, C minor, would it differ in any way in mood from one written in C# minor? I am 79 years old and getting back to the piano that I studied and performed with over 50 years ago, and have been composing music during the past 2 years during COVID, using Logic Pro. I’ve taken many music courses in this time, but none seem to mention there being any differences in mood between compositions written in different keys. Since C is the easiest key to compose in, is there any reason regarding mood to compose in other keys? I’m wondering what the musicians in the Scaler forum feel about this question.
I have been finding Scaler incredibly useful and it is my favorite program to use in conjunction with Logic Pro and Kontakt. The huge range of Expressions is especially valuable.
Stephen G.


Check this thread @SteveG Mood/Style descriptions - source?
Overall I would ask - how do they make you feel?

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I think both major and minor scales serve the melody.
Different keys may inspire different melodies, which can also be considered as singing.

is absolutelu right. Although there is a genetral perception about major vs minor keys I think there is alot more to how

It depends upon tempo, melodic and harmonic shape, pitch, etc. Modes, of course also have an impact on this, as does the acual scale being used.

An interetsing experiment might be to take a tune written in a major key and transpose it to the relative minor. Do the two versions invoke different moods? Is this a subject for a phd student to investigate?

It seems that opinions still differ on the subject. I wonder if those who feel there is a difference in mood between different keys (how the key makes them feel), despite accurate tempering of instruments, may have some degree of synesthesia, just like some people see certain numbers as colors. Or else they are closer to perfect pitch than other people, even though not having it perfectly. My own field is neuroanatomy and it seems that people typically detect differences in pitches played together rather than the absolute pitch of a single note. In that case, a change in key may not make a difference for them, but would, for more sensitive listeners.

Scaler does reflect the taste of the developers and music history. I like that about it. The moods ascribed to the Scales are subjective and historical. Some will find them useful but I don’t think anyone should feel limited by them. Our ears and experience will always been the ultimate guide. I think of them as creative suggestions rooted in music history.

I use a simpler set of basic scales based on George Russel’s Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization. Many scales can be derived from its basic set of scales plus the Major and Minor Scales, two flavors of Blues Scale and the full 12-tone chromatic scale.

I have no sense of synesthesia other than with some singers whose voices have a distinct color for my mind’s eye. I can identify some singers by the “color” of the voice.

I spoke to Frank Zappa once and he gave me a mini music lesson. He said, “Major is Neutral, Minor is Serious, and Mixolydian is pure love.” You’ll find versions of him saying similar things here and there.

Take care :slight_smile:

Frank communing with the Mixolydian mode…1970

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Thank you for your note on synesthesia. I’m not sure I expressed myself in the best way. Scaler attributes different moods to different modes, e.g. mood differences attributed to Major, Minor, Dorian, Phrygian, etc. However, Scaler attributes no difference in mood if the scale is C major, D major, E major etc. If there are no differences in effect, why not just compose in C major, which is simpler, having no sharps or flats? I understand the need to take into account the pitch range of the singer and the instrument, and the value of transitioning to a different key within a song, but apart from that, is there any reason to compose, say, in E major rather than C major?

It is interesting that a person with synesthesia maintains their particular experience throughout life (e.g. always seeing the number 3 as red). However, other synesthetics may see 3 as a different color, e.g. blue, also maintaining that view throughout life. In music, might some musically synesthetic composers experience a note or a scale as a mood that other people do not experience?
Or perhaps, composers may ascribe differing moods to particular scales because of their experiences with music they have heard before. E.g., music written in a major scale can sometimes convey sadness, and some music can be happy although written in a minor scale. If only happy music were written in minor scales, would we attribute happiness to minor scales? Why do we experience sadness with a minor scale?

The association of specific human emotions with specific keys is based on some traditions. Composers for film and Opera have established rules and methods for this. I refer to that as “programmatic composition.” It’s certainly a valid and effective way to use music to communicate emotions appropriate for a character or setting.

Program music is different than what we call musical feeling. Musical feeling comes from the elements of performance and from the timbre of the instruments and voices, tempo, meter, dynamics. Human emotions and musical feeling are different things that may sometimes work together. Much great music is not about specific human emotions but it powerfully expresses the musical feeling of the composer and performer(s). We may ascribe the language of human emotion to music but in doing so we are speaking in metaphor.

If one wants to compose programmatically then one must first, I think, get to know the basics about musical feeling. You’ll never know if a chord, scale or progression is happy or sad or whatever if you can’t play it, singing it, spell it. After you live with these elements for a while you’ll learn how to intersect them with emotional metaphors or to just compose music for the art it is without need to be other than the art of

Tony Rice with Bela Fleck - Whitewater