Jump to content
Mander Organs
Sign in to follow this  
Stanley Monkhouse

Comfortable keys

Recommended Posts

Some find it easier playing in sharp keys. I prefer flat. Some like this major, or that minor. I like 5 flats. Very comfortable. I wonder if this has anything to do with the anatomy, the shape, of the hands and digits, and the mechanics of the tendons and small muscles. There's a master's dissertation in that. Anyone interested?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I don't mind flats or sharps as long as there aren't too many for my brain to keep track of.  As far as hand shape goes, A Major fits like a glove.....

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

For me it's not so much that the key fits my hands as that the music fits the key.  For instance, I find Schubert's Impromptu in Gb, Op90/3, very comfortable to play because the hands are floating over the top of the black keys so much of the time. and my fat fingers rarely risk getting stuck between them.

Paul

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hi

I don't have any real preference for specific keys, but I did find working on pieces in 6 flats & 6 sharps in the same practice sessions somewhat "interesting", especially as I only had a couple of days to get the 6 flat Rutter accompaniment up to concert standard (deputising for the regular accompanist who was ill)

Every Blessing

Tony

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 11/04/2020 at 16:41, Stanley Monkhouse said:

Some find it easier playing in sharp keys. I prefer flat. Some like this major, or that minor. I like 5 flats. Very comfortable. I wonder if this has anything to do with the anatomy, the shape, of the hands and digits, and the mechanics of the tendons and small muscles. There's a master's dissertation in that. Anyone interested?

Very interesting Stanley.  Something very similar was discussed by the late Arthur Benade in his classic book 'Fundamentals of Musical Acoustics'.  He suggested that anatomical differences such as those you mentioned might result in the appearance of key colour even in an organ tuned accurately to equal temperament, but only provided it had a mechanical action.  Quoting:

"On such organs, the valves may be opened more or less promptly depending on whether they are worked by stronger or weaker fingers as the player presses the long white keys or the short black ones of the keyboard.  The patterns of finger motion and of long and short levers on the keyboard are altered when one plays in different keys, so that there are fairly well established changes in the patterns governing the way the individual pipes break into song ... "

He carried on at some length but this extract should be sufficient to get the drift of his thinking.  He was a physicist by profession but this book was written for musicians, and apparently he was trying to rationalise what some of his professionally-qualified musical colleagues were saying when they insisted that equal temperament was not devoid of key colour as often assumed by those who only consider the issue superficially, or who find it fashionable to deride it in favour of today's politically correct point scoring in favour of unequal temperaments.

The effects described would be less likely to result on organs with non-mechanical actions, but they could also occur in principle with other acoustic (not electronic) instruments such as the piano, harpsichord, etc.

I'm sure there's a research project in there somewhere, as you said.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I recall a discussion at school with some pupils in which I posed the question - which is the easiest key to play. True to form they nearly all said C Major, I suspect due to subliminal piano teacher brainwashing, that it has no accidentals and was  therefore easier to read. Fair point I suppose. However, I suggested they try playing a B major scale and say how that ‘felt’, under the fingers. Unanimously the answer was ‘dead easy’. And why? Because thumb passing is simpler off black keys, C involves a contraction to pass the thumb. Same principle goes for D flat, a similar easy feel. It’s Not conclusive by any means but at least they began to think about physical movements rather than getting bogged down deciphering sharps and flats. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Also you need to factor in perfect pitch and familiarity.

My wife has perfect pitch and cannot cope with attending a parish church near us where the originally Hill organ is a bit sharp to normal A 440. She also cannot stand me playing hymns in keys other than those she first knew. Tuning my spinet a bit flat makes the tone less brittle but she can only stand that if I go a full semi-tone and even then when I play pieces she hasn't known at other pitches (which is luckily rarely contentious as she lives in the Liszt world of pianism).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
4 hours ago, OwenTurner said:

Also you need to factor in perfect pitch and familiarity.

My wife has perfect pitch and cannot cope with attending a parish church near us where the originally Hill organ is a bit sharp to normal A 440. She also cannot stand me playing hymns in keys other than those she first knew. Tuning my spinet a bit flat makes the tone less brittle but she can only stand that if I go a full semi-tone and even then when I play pieces she hasn't known at other pitches (which is luckily rarely contentious as she lives in the Liszt world of pianism).

How does she cope with non-equal temperament?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
3 hours ago, Dafydd y Garreg Wen said:

How does she cope with non-equal temperament?

Not at all. She sings in equal temperament and plays the cello in equal temperament too! In fact it was commented on in her grade 8 cello mark sheet I am told.

I tuned the home piano in recent weeks and I've not laid the equal temperament scale quite perfectly and that isn't going down too well despite it being having been horribly out previously and is so nearly right.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

How does your wife cope with the frequencies of the harmonics of piano strings being so noticeable wacky and the need to accommodate this when tuning? Does she prefer listening to instruments where the harmonics are more 'in tune' such as harpsichord or organ?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It is all to do with familiarity I believe. She remembers all too clearly what she learnt on when young, and having accepted that as “right” feels that anything else is “wrong”. My point is that I am confident that she is an extreme case but there must (or could) be a bit of this in everyone (or some people).

I remember another situation where discussions with other first year members of a university chapel choir encountering the tonal palette of a chiffy mutation rich tracker organ for the first time, as their accompaniment, felt quite strongly that it was wrong due to not sounding like a Harrison or Walker or whatever they grew up hearing. I remember a deputation asking for less use of the tierce! I’m going off topic with timbre but, as my first contribution to this thread, I believe that key familiarity affects those with perfect pitch.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Please sign in to comment

You will be able to leave a comment after signing in



Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  

×
×
  • Create New...