Tone and emotion,I share an article. I hope you like it。

The association of musical keys with specific emotional or qualitative characteristic was fairly common prior to the 20th century. It was part of the shared cultural experience of those who made, performed and listened to music. When Mozart or Beethoven or Schubert wrote a piece in a Ab major, for example, they were well aware of this was the ‘key of the grave’ and knew that many in their audiences were as well. We lose a part of the meaning of their music if we are ignorant of their affective choices. Although these characteristics were, of course, subjective, it was possible to conceive of each key as unique because each key actually sounded distinct within unequal temperaments. When equal temperament became the dominant tuning after 1917, the aural quality of every key became the same, and therefore these affective characteristics are mostly lost to us. (See Piano’s Ivory Cage) One of the most influential descriptions of characteristics shared in German-speaking cultures in the late 18th and early 19th century was from from Christian Schubart’s Ideen zu einer Aesthetik der Tonkunst (1806):

C Major
Completely Pure. Its character is: innocence, simplicity, naïvety, children’s talk.

C Minor
Declaration of love and at the same time the lament of unhappy love. All languishing, longing, sighing of the love-sick soul lies in this key.

D♭ Major
A leering key, degenerating into grief and rapture. It cannot laugh, but it can smile; it cannot howl, but it can at least grimace its crying.–Consequently only unusual characters and feelings can be brought out in this key.

C# Minor
Penitential lamentation, intimate conversation with God, the friend and help-meet of life; sighs of disappointed friendship and love lie in its radius.

D Major
The key of triumph, of Hallejuahs, of war-cries, of victory-rejoicing. Thus, the inviting symphonies, the marches, holiday songs and heaven-rejoicing choruses are set in this key.

D Minor
Melancholy womanliness, the spleen and humours brood.

E♭ Major
The key of love, of devotion, of intimate conversation with God.

D# Minor
Feelings of the anxiety of the soul’s deepest distress, of brooding despair, of blackest depresssion, of the most gloomy condition of the soul. Every fear, every hesitation of the shuddering heart, breathes out of horrible D# minor. If ghosts could speak, their speech would approximate this key.

E Major
Noisy shouts of joy, laughing pleasure and not yet complete, full delight lies in E Major.

E minor
Naïve, womanly innocent declaration of love, lament without grumbling; sighs accompanied by few tears; this key speaks of the imminent hope of resolving in the pure happiness of C major.
F Major
Complaisance & Calm.

F Minor
Deep depression, funereal lament, groans of misery and longing for the grave.

F# Major
Triumph over difficulty, free sigh of relief utered when hurdles are surmounted; echo of a soul which has fiercely struggled and finally conquered lies in all uses of this key.

F# Minor
A gloomy key: it tugs at passion as a dog biting a dress. Resentment and discontent are its language.

G Major
Everything rustic, idyllic and lyrical, every calm and satisfied passion, every tender gratitude for true friendship and faithful love,–in a word every gentle and peaceful emotion of the heart is correctly expressed by this key.

G Minor
Discontent, uneasiness, worry about a failed scheme; bad-tempered gnashing of teeth; in a word: resentment and dislike.

A♭ Major
Key of the grave. Death, grave, putrefaction, judgment, eternity lie in its radius.

A♭ Minor
Grumbler, heart squeezed until it suffocates; wailing lament, difficult struggle; in a word, the color of this key is everything struggling with difficulty.

A Major
This key includes declarations of innocent love, satisfaction with one’s state of affairs; hope of seeing one’s beloved again when parting; youthful cheerfulness and trust in God.

A minor
Pious womanliness and tenderness of character.

B♭ Major
Cheerful love, clear conscience, hope aspiration for a better world.

B♭ minor
A quaint creature, often dressed in the garment of night. It is somewhat surly and very seldom takes on a pleasant countenance. Mocking God and the world; discontented with itself and with everything; preparation for suicide sounds in this key.

B Major
Strongly coloured, announcing wild passions, composed from the most glaring coulors. Anger, rage, jealousy, fury, despair and every burden of the heart lies in its sphere.

B Minor
This is as it were the key of patience, of calm awaiting ones’s fate and of submission to divine dispensation.

Translated by Rita Steblin in A History of Key Characteristics in the 18th and Early 19th Centuries . UMI Research Press (1983).

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Aside from the notions in this article being a bit dated on the social norms and stereotypes, what I don’t understand why it would matter what root note a major key starts with. If it is in major, then the intervals (hence the harmonic relationship between notes in that scale) are always the same across different scales qualifying as being in major. Why would that evoke different emotions if the only difference is in transposition? Does it really evoke different emotion if root note of a major or minor key is C or D? Unless you have perfect pitch, would most people even notice? Reminds me a bit of that debate between the reference frequency for A being 440Hz vs. the more esoteric versions…

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says the electronic musician… :wink:

It’s an interesting subject, I know for a given progression I like some scales more than others. I don’t know how much of it is due to my own expectations as a listener. By listening to songs I end up associating them and their scales to some specific emotions… Does that play a role?

With equal temperament all relations are suppose to be equal. But I guess on a real instrument, some physical properties could affect what resonates and how well it is transmitted to you.

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Indeed interesting discussion, and maybe more complex than at first sight it might appear.

I believe Bernd is completely correct. Further, by definition if you played 5 notes from an A natural minor scale in a random sequence they could not be distinguished in isolation from C major - they are de facto the same notes, and it would not be possible to identify which scale (or more, accurately, mode) it was. There needs to be some other context to hear the minor 3rd.
In Omnisphere, you can set over 60 tuning options, all of which will be done with ultra high accuracy (Al-Farabi 19 tone, anyone?), So Bernd’s assertion must be correct on a electronic instrument - transposition in a diatonic major would have no reason to invoke ‘wild passion’ in B major and 'innocent naivety in C major; as he points out, without perfect pitch Mr Average would not know the difference.

On the other side of the coin, hidden in Ed’s electronic instrument quip, is that in Mozart’s day, there were no electronic tuning gizmos, and there was not universal take up of 12TET, so it is likely that there was noticeable differences in rendering in different keys, on a piano for example.

Interesting article, though, @Swingmix.

I think the singing feeling of each key is really different.
It’s not a simple rise. It’s a change of feeling.
C major is really easier to sing like a children’s ballad
Singing in G major is another feeling. :sweat_smile:
My personal feelings.@yorkeman

Hardly! More of a sound butcher, torturing harmonies… :stuck_out_tongue:

Perhaps it’s just me not being able to detect the root note. I often find myself discovering well known melodies in my jams, just to realize I play them in a different root note than the original, but it does sound the same to me.

I still don’t understand why it matters where a scale starts, and why there is a distinction when various scales use the same keys, such as C Ionian vs. D Aeolian, vs. E Dorian etc. If they all use the white piano keys, then the resulting melodies and harmonies will always be based on the same notes. Or is it the order of notes that matters so much? Some of the classical music theory seems more complicated to me than it needs to be, perhaps because it was shoe horned on older (classical) instruments, but perhaps less relevant with modern electronic sound sources that have more flexibility in their tonality and psycho-accoustics (micro pitches, additive/subtractive, oscillator beating etc)

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It’s an interesting article, but I find designation of keys and feelings about them to be highly subjective. I would guard against assuming these designations to be true beyond what they meant to the author. I find Scaler’s descriptive designations useful and interesting, rooted in history, but, I don’t let them direction my thinking.

I have some association of signing voices and colors. Instruments don’t read in “color” but signing voices often do. For example, Celia Cruz’s voice is a beautiful shade of copper color. I often see an associated color with a voice, but, only if I look for it and, in the end, it really doesn’t matter. It’s just my subjective experience. It’s interesting and meaningful to me, but I doubt anyone else would find it meaningful. I think the same is true about Scales and Moods. In other words, don’t let this prejudice your thinking. :slight_smile:

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@1stinversion does raise the point that after the D to A conversion in our computers, there is another conversion which is A to B - analogue to brain. Mick Goodrick in this book ‘The Advancing Guitarist’ does cite an example at Berklee who could distinguish tonal levels differently, but think it’s very much the exception.

Maybe it’s like colour ; we can agree something is a red frequency (say from a laser) and we all call whatever we perceive that colour to be as ‘red’, but it’s a label. My personal perspective of red might be different to your red…

However, Bernd points out at the output of the laser (or in our cases, what come out of the speaker) is definitive - A aeolian and C ionian have the same notes and intervals between notes; that’s the fact.

There remains then the question of whether if C is dropped a semitone, that frequency difference changes the perception of ‘feel’ to the listener. To my ear, it doesn’t (as I don’t have perfect pitch) and ‘cold’ I probably couldn’t tell you on first hearing 5 notes whether they were C ionian or B ionian, but there are probably people who can.

When those notes are given a separate harmonic back drop, it immediately becomes evident which is it, so my comments all refer to (a) scales, and not to chords. and to sounds produced electronically and not to (say) a piano or a pipe organ, which are not strictly 12TET, as I understand it.

Whatever, an individuals perception of the effect of a musical piece is clearly unique to them.

They are the same notes in the overall song but the fact that you can say if it is in A or C comes from the fact that you will hear more A’s or more C’s (the progression will revolve around one or the other, by definition). Equal relations between notes do not mean that the same frequencies are transmitted to your brain.

As a listener, you develop a preference for things you hear more often. So if you listen mostly to songs in A, it’s possible you will prefer the version in A.

You also tend to prefer things that are louder, and speakers will transmit some frequency better than others, your room will accentuate some of them, etc…

On some instruments, certain scales are harder to play and some melody could be trickier in terms of finger movement. This could have an impact on the smoothness of your solo, ultimately impacting the feeling of the listener.

I don’t think there are some scales that will make you “trust” or “mock God”, but it’s a bit more complicated than “everything is equal” and I don’t think you need to have perfect pitch to perceive it.

Equal temperament has been around for a while now but it seems there is a subset of scale that is used a lot more than others, if everything is purely equal and we use more and more digital instruments, I guess we should see this tendency go away.

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Great post and yes, whilst being subjective writing in Eb Major as opposed to any other major key feels much more magical and less obvious to me. Obviously your tonal centre is different even though the distance between notes are the same as other keys. That shift in tonality makes it feel very different. 50% of everything I have ever written is probably in C Major / A minor and that is not a good thing!!!

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Due to Pythagoras’ acuity of hearing, and his fundamentalism in finding everything in a “natural” order, we had a reasoning of music from that perspective JSBach writes and demonstrates the new temperament and the ease of modulating between keys in approximately 1722, but his “Well-tempered Clave” is not published until 1801. The ability to change tones throughout the Middle Ages and Renaissance goes through modulating by fifths (or by fourths, the boldest, hehe). And all because of two hammers hitting against an anvil (legend has it that this was the inspiration for Pythagoras). It must be taken into account that while the keyboards always remained in a fixed, immovable tuning, for the string and wind instruments, the modulation that the keyboardist did, for the others, was a real problem to adjust the tuning.
And it is not until 1917 when the world tempered tuning is reached. In fact, the article with the sensations produced by the different tones is based on that tuning of instruments prior to temperament
Anyway, here are some links for those who are more curious. In most cases there is a lot of mathematical data (how could it be otherwise). In the mathematical tables it is observed that reaching the temperate scale has meant giving up richness in tuning and even in timbre. But on the balance sheet it has been a huge benefit in unifying the world of music. Now with much more technology we may be able to investigate these things further and bring back the best of the 2 tunings, or even come up with a new vision.
What I have been observing for a long time is many songs written in tones with many sharps or flats. I directly think of the lack of training on instrumentation of its authors. It is not the same to play on a keyboard, or on a fretted guitar, than on a violin, cello, oboe, bassoon, etc. If they had to touch it, they would think about it a little more :smile: :smile:


I suspect that the context of songs played together also matters, and that much of shared subjectivity around certain scales is probably social conditioning, by the way traditionally concerts, or radio stations play songs. One’s perception of harmony goes beyond the notes and harmonies used in a single song, but across the repertoire of what we listen to. And if enough people listen to similar stuff (a genre?) then a shared consensus emerges on what this is supposed to invoke. And from there you have assertions like this article. But when new musicians orient along that “guidance”, this eventually becomes a self-perpetuating phenomenon. Therefore more power & fame to those who “break the mold” and come up with new concepts & ideas, e.g. Hendrix chord etc.


Some of you may be familiar with ; Amongst other things ‘Niko’ sells midi files - see Niko's MIDI Pack Order Page
Essentially these are (largely) chord progressions, but also riffs and arpeggios etc.

I mention this because he has a PDF list of common progressions by genre, and analyses these by ‘feeling’, as in the original post in tis thread. You may find it interesting to glance at this - see the link below.

One can ascribe feeling to a progression, as of course there is a harmonic framework to hear them in. The comments I made (and those of Bernd, I believe) were in the context of random notes in isolation, from a strictly 12 TET source, and without any performance nuances of expression which are superimposed in real life…

As I can’t upload PDF’s, you can download the PDF at , and click on menu item ‘progressions and feeling’.

[PS: for non-Europeans, the picture is from Strasbourg, France.]

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Wonderful place!
It reminds me some place in The Netherlands I visited years ago

mmmm i would say that between the same melody or chord progression in Cm transposed in Gm for example, there is no difference in the relative area but a big one in the absolute world of nature. The frequency content is different and i m pretty sure our brain does not feel the same if the frequencies are not the same. Just try a simple melody in Cm then transpose it to, let’s say, Gm… Do you feel the same ??? from my side i think relative things are upon intelligence but absolute things are upon sensitivity/instinct (sorry for my bad english)

Is it possible that the reason different moods are ascribed to different keys is not due to intrinsic differences between the keys but that when a certain piece is composed in a particular key, the listener may erroneously ascribe the mood of the piece not to the musical arrangement but to the key itself. For instance, if a non-experienced composer wants to write down the notes of a simple childlike nursery tune, he/she may adopt C major for its simplicity in composing, having no sharps or flats. The listener, on hearing the piece, may ascribe a childlike simplicity to the key of C, rather than to the melody itself. Perhaps the mood of a great musical composition that happens to be written in a particular key does not depend on the key but on the note relationships within the musical arrangement, and we mistakenly regard the key as significant. I understand the practical significance of composing in a particular key to remain within the pitch range of the singer or instrument, and also the value of suddenly modulating to a different key within a song, which the listener clearly notices, but I am still at a loss to see how the originating key itself is important. I just finished a series of courses on how to portray emotions in music. At no point in any of them did the instructors suggest composing in a particular key to convey a particular emotion. Even major and minor keys can portray happiness or sadness, depending on the note relationships within the composition. In any event, a composer, to be sure, can instantly transpose electronic music simply written in C major or A minor to a different key to be on the safe side. It is a question whether the musical brain works solely by detecting relationships between notes, for which the key would be unimportant, or whether some people (not necessarily those with absolute pitch) are sensitive to the notes themselves. Also, it could get boring composing everything in the key of C.


Well, I think that the particular taste of each of us is involved as well

For example (I beg your pardon @jjfagot :grinning:) I cannot find classical music cheerful, nevertheless the chords/notes used, even if I love the sound of many classical instruments

Why is it that we recognize the same song regardless of what key it is written in, despite the fact that the individual pitches differ? An important part of brain function appears to be the ability to analyze relationships rather than just absolutes. My background is that of a neuroscientist, and this issue to me has a great deal to do with the origin of human consciousness. When we look at a tree, why do we see a tree when the circuits firing in the brain bear no resemblance to a tree? There is no movie projected on the brain; rather the circuitry is a hodgepodge of twisted nerve connections. The brain appears to detect relative differences between its inputs, not just absolutes. The same relationships that exist in the outside world in the tree also exist in the twisted circuitry of the brain, so we see the tree. When two people see a rainbow, we cannot be sure they each see the same red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo. However, they will both place the colors they see in the same order within the rainbow arc, because they detect the same relationships, and consciousness has a lot to do with relationships. Perhaps it is also true in music. We hear the same relationships, regardless of key. An interesting book on the subject is Daniel Levitin’s “This is Your Brain on Music.” I have also written a book “Consciousness Made Ridiculously Simple,” which touches on this question of relationships. It is also true that we can detect absolutes, as in people with perfect pitch, but here, too, the person may be comparing the relationship between the frequency recorded in the brain with other frequencies (and even emotions) the person has experienced.