Light and Dark Keys

Questions and answers on the basic structure of the LCC

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Light and Dark Keys

Postby Bear » Mon Jun 15, 2009 1:17 pm

I am working on a project and am having a difficult time describing in words the difference between light and dark keys. Does anyone have any suggestions. Thanks.
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Postby dds1234 » Tue Jun 16, 2009 12:44 am

What an odd forum to post this on! I like you. ;)

It seems almost impossible to teach without delving into key signatures...

I would maybe state that there are twelve keys (signatures) and... If ya' only hit the white keys (actual keys on a keyboard) you're only playing in one of them. (No need to get complicated.)

Wait... Am I following you correctly? I hope you didn't initially mean key signatures!
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Postby sandywilliams » Tue Jun 16, 2009 9:04 am

As in light keys= sharp keys, G,D, A,E,B
and dark= flat, F.Bb. Eb etc?
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Postby Bear » Tue Jun 16, 2009 12:29 pm

As in light keys= sharp keys, G,D, A,E,B
and dark= flat, F.Bb. Eb etc?


So, what is it specifically (or analytically) about sharp keys that give it the quality of light or bright? As well as what makes flat keys dark in quality.

In regards to the laws of resolving tendencies, would you say that key centers moving to lighter key centers have a finality of resolution? And that key centers moving to darker key centers is a development of harmony?

I guess I am having a hard time coming up with words to explain specifically (or analytically) what dark and light keys are... and than how their relationship to one another yields different harmonic tendencies, such as a resolved harmonic progression or a developed harmonic progression.
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Postby dds1234 » Tue Jun 16, 2009 5:20 pm

Hmmm... I'm having trouble understanding... Are you talking about the dissonance of a key signature itself? (That's massively interesting if so) Or are you talking about the concept of key signatures over key signatures, such as C lydian over F lydian?
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Postby Bear » Wed Jun 17, 2009 1:51 pm

Are you talking about the dissonance of a key signature itself?


What do you mean by this? It sounds interesting. What I was specifically referring to was defining light or dark keys. Light and dark seem ambiguous to me. People can have different impressions of a particular key.

Speaking of ambiguity, I find Russell’s Lydian Augmented scale and Lydian Flat seven scale unclear, since they are both, if seen in traditional Western Music, ascending melodic minor scales. Can and anyone shed any light on why this is this way?
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Postby sandywilliams » Wed Jun 17, 2009 10:07 pm

[quote="Bear"][quote]As in light keys= sharp keys, G,D, A,E,B
and dark= flat, F.Bb. Eb etc?[/quote]

So, what is it specifically (or analytically) about sharp keys that give it the quality of light or bright? As well as what makes flat keys dark in quality.

In regards to the laws of resolving tendencies, would you say that key centers moving to lighter key centers have a finality of resolution? And that key centers moving to darker key centers is a development of harmony?

I guess I am having a hard time coming up with words to explain specifically (or analytically) what dark and light keys are... and than how their relationship to one another yields different harmonic tendencies, such as a resolved harmonic progression or a developed harmonic progression.[/quote]

I’m guessing that the terms ‘light’ and ‘dark’ for keys has to do with thinking about a vertical stack of keys( or fifths), as opposed to a circle of fifths or keys. The ascending fifths would seem to be reaching toward the (bright) sun and the descending fifths are looking for a place to hide in the (dark) ground.
It can get a little confusing because it is impossible to not utilize the circle. If I’m in Db and then move to E, this a movement of three fifths in a flat direction , even though E is a ‘bright’ key. The shortest route around the circle wins.
Have you ever heard the Piano Jazz interview with Bill Evans? He and Marion speak fondly of certain keys and Bill admits that while ‘he isn’t afraid’ of any keys he couldn’t instantly transpose some tunes without some thought.
You bring up some other good questions. I’ll have to sleep on them. Maybe some others while pipe in.
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Postby strachs » Thu Jun 18, 2009 9:45 am

Although there is no consensus about what the particular character of each key is, there is generally agreement that each key seems to possess something of a character or personality.

Part of this, of course, is due to mechanical considerations, like what chord and scale shapes (for a pianist, eg) you must get under your fingers. These can't help but shape the musician's impression of certain keys.

Also on the piano, since C major/A minor are the keys easiest to visualize intervals, and usually the first key learned, we tend to use that as our mental "home base" and consider keys in the flat direction (relative to CM/Am) to be darker and those in the sharp direction to be brighter. This may have more to do with the effect of those keys RELATIVE to CM/Am, such as the effect of modulating to them from the "home" key.

For the listener, of course, non of these factors apply. Even for non-musicians, though, the keys still seem to have a character that could be termed light/dark. Non-musicians can develop perfect pitch, for example, even though this skill is not about memorizing pitches (it's about becoming sensitive to the inherent "color" of each NOTE).

As far as I know, no one seems to have a solid theory on why this happens, since even our definition of pitches is not universal or unchanging (Equal Temperament was not always in use, nor was 440 Hz always the accepted standard pitch for A).

The Concept does not address this phenomenon, but I suspect that if anyone has given this careful thought, it would be someone who has also explored the Concept.
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Re: Light and Dark Keys

Postby tonalsearcher » Thu Feb 28, 2013 2:58 pm

This is a topic which has always interested me. I doubt that if we held a global conference we could agree on what colours or intensity of light or dark should be assigned to keys. Russels concept also (to me at any rate) would also further complicate things as the concepts' view of keys and their relationships is different to the traditional major minor viewpoint. I do however question people talking about how a key doesn't matter to a piece as nobody would notice. I have perfect pitch but it doesn't change the fact that tunes sound better in certain keys than others and indeed darker or lighter....to me. There is much written about Messien and his synesthesia but even on a basic listen, Db major is a much darker world than B major. I'm interested to hear more from interested parties on this, as I had spoken to an artist about looking at where tonality and colour might cross over and how it could be used in writing.
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