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To all the Composers out there!

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Matthieu Stepec
aendym
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Post by aendym Fri Jan 29, 2010 12:41 pm

Hi everybody...

I listened to this new piece online and was determined to play it. After downloading the sheets to it I gasped.... SO MANY SHARPS!!!
When I was a kid still playing the sax and got new sheets for a song, I always disliked a piece before even trying it out cause it had too many sharps and flats which somehow made the playing more difficult.
Now all this leads to a couple of questions:

How does a composer decide in which scale he'd like to compose a piece? Couldnt one play the exact same piece in a different scale and it would sound the same, just a bit higher or lower? I mean, ok, I understand the whole difference about the major and minor scales but what makes a composer go for a F# Major scale instead of a C Major scale? (If this question sounds really ignorant to you composers then Im really sorry! Laughing Just trying to understand!)

Greets,

Andria
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Post by Matthieu Stepec Fri Jan 29, 2010 3:14 pm

Hi!

There are many reasons for writing in different scales than C.
The first and most obvious one to me is that it doesn't sound the same :-D It gives a different color, a different feel to a piece. This is also physically explainable:
Colors are determined by the frequency of electromagnetic waves. Fine. This means that A certain frequency will always be interpretated as "red" by your brain, another one as "blue" etc.
Tone pitch is determined by the frequency of soundwaves. For example, a soundwave with the frequency of 440 Hz is a medium A.
Most people don't have a perfect pitch because they can't memorize all the tone pitches, and so hear only relatively: they just hear the relationships between notes and not the notes themselves, which makes them ask "why don't we play everything in C?" because apparently, it would be the same.
But it's not: the "color" is not the same. Even if you can't tell immediately by listening, the effet of the piece will change depending on the tonality you chose. You can try to compare for example, play in piece in F# and in C. You'll see it's completely different.

Another reason is the general pitch of the piece: a piece in C will be a 4th higher than a piece in G (or a 5th lower, depending on which direction you chose to transpose): composer might prefer a tonality because it avoids getting out of the range of the instrument they write for. Or simply because they wanted such or such low or high notes to be played.

I think you shouldn't be scared by sharps and b's. They are more difficult to read at first, it's true, but easier to play on the keyboard. The easiest scale, for example, is B major. Try to play a scale in B major, you'll see how comfortable it is! The most difficult one is C major. Wink

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Post by frank Fri Feb 05, 2010 9:00 pm

I've heard this, too, that different scales sounds different, and I think I can hear it a bit, but I don't understand it. If you use the equal temperament ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equal_temperament ), then it should make no difference at which tone pitch you start, especially with electronic pianos.

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Post by Matthieu Stepec Fri Feb 05, 2010 9:09 pm

No, as I explained, relatively it's the same, but in absolute terms the "color" is changed, because the frequencies aren't the same Wink

It's true that on acoustic pianos, the difference is clearer because you get different overtones etc...
But electronic pianos suck anyway, honestly :-D

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Post by frank Fri Feb 05, 2010 10:00 pm

You are right, I think the absolute frequency is important. I've tried two versions of a piece:

http://www.frank-buss.de/tmp/schneefloeckchen.mp3

The second one is without any sharps Very Happy But I think it has to be played at higher pitch, so the first version sounds better, and playing it a full octave higher would be too high. But the melody sounds the same, regardless of the transposition (but maybe not on real pianos, which really have different sound colors for each note).

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Post by Statue Sat Feb 06, 2010 12:25 pm

Whenever I read about the different colours of different pitches, I'm reminded somewhat of some neurological conditions that alter the way in which people with them perceive differently to the considered norm. For example, a famous case of abnormal neurological functioning led to a particular individual perceiving sounds as a stream of actual colours and textures. The subject would say things like "What a crumbly yellow voice you have" which would generally of course be met with raised eyebrows but was indicative of the extreme difference in the way his brain interpreted sensory input.


Now I'm not saying that you need brain damage in order to perceive the difference to a musical phrase that it being in a different scale affords - you don't (so don't try bashing your head on the table to get your ears working better!). Very Happy But the example does highlight well the fact that dependent upon various factors (including neurological mappings and experience) individuals perceive sensory input in different ways and to different extents. Most of us can't (and probably shouldn't!) try surgically rewiring our brains, but the factor we can all easily mess with is our level of experience of and skills at listening. There are a bunch of exercises to develop ability to discern differences in relative and absolute pitch (pitch training), and just listening a lot and paying as much attention as possible when listening helps too (actively processing input rather than passively). Doing those exercises and/or listening a lot can broaden and refine the way in which we discern sensory input, in much the same way that reading a lot can broaden the experience we get from reading something.

Personally, I have very good relative pitch discernment but am far weaker on absolute pitch, but I can kind of hear differences in the same piece played at different pitches. In my mind note differences are less about colour than affect and contrast - I hear different pitches as 'happier' or 'sadder', 'brighter' or 'more dull', and some of them are more recognizable to me than others. I think if I keep at my pitch training and strive to be a more active listener, I'll gain more of an appreciation of the differences in absolute pitch that others have to a greater extent. It's meant to enrich both playing and listening, which (pardon the expression) sounds good to me. Smile

All that said, I totally understand and can empathize with the feeling of being intimidated by pieces with loads of sharps and flats. I'm currently quite poor at sight reading, so scanning a piece that's loaded with accidentals and in key signatures with multiple flats/sharps is a challenge. Unfortunately, it seems that pieces I tend to like and try to learn tend to go that way - perhaps my ears prefer things that make my eyes hurt!

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Post by aendym Sat Feb 06, 2010 12:56 pm

Hehehe Statue!

I really enjoyed reading your post! Very amusing!

I can also hear if a song is "happy" or "sad" in its pitch but would never be able to hear which scale its played in. On the other hand Ive never really given it a try or listened actively, paying attention to the pitch too much!
Maybe I should start doing so! =)
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Post by VictorCS Thu Feb 25, 2010 6:52 pm

How does a composer decide in which scale he'd like to compose a piece?

That's kinda like asking why you bought pespi instead of coke. It mostly has to do with what the composer wants. If he wants a sad piece he goes minor, if he wants a happy, he goes major. But why did he pick the F# instead of C? Because the F# scale had a different sound to it, and at that moment he decided he wanted that scale.

Couldnt one play the exact same piece in a different scale and it would sound the same, just a bit higher or lower?

Speaking literally, yes, if you play the piece in C# instead of C, it'll just be played in a higher pitch. How I see/hear it, playing higher/lower also means that you change the "color/sound" along with the lighter/darker pitch. But if you jump an octave it'll get the exact same "color/sound" as the original, the only thing that changes is the lighter/darker pitch.
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Post by jytte Thu Oct 07, 2010 9:12 pm

Statue wrote:Whenever I read about the different colours of different pitches, I'm reminded somewhat of some neurological conditions that alter the way in which people with them perceive differently to the considered norm. For example, a famous case of abnormal neurological functioning led to a particular individual perceiving sounds as a stream of actual colours and textures. The subject would say things like "What a crumbly yellow voice you have" which would generally of course be met with raised eyebrows but was indicative of the extreme difference in the way his brain interpreted sensory input.


Now I'm not saying that you need brain damage in order to perceive the difference to a musical phrase that it being in a different scale affords - you don't (so don't try bashing your head on the table to get your ears working better!). Very Happy But the example does highlight well the fact that dependent upon various factors (including neurological mappings and experience) individuals perceive sensory input in different ways and to different extents. Most of us can't (and probably shouldn't!) try surgically rewiring our brains, but the factor we can all easily mess with is our level of experience of and skills at listening. There are a bunch of exercises to develop ability to discern differences in relative and absolute pitch (pitch training), and just listening a lot and paying as much attention as possible when listening helps too (actively processing input rather than passively). Doing those exercises and/or listening a lot can broaden and refine the way in which we discern sensory input, in much the same way that reading a lot can broaden the experience we get from reading something.

Personally, I have very good relative pitch discernment but am far weaker on absolute pitch, but I can kind of hear differences in the same piece played at different pitches. In my mind note differences are less about colour than affect and contrast - I hear different pitches as 'happier' or 'sadder', 'brighter' or 'more dull', and some of them are more recognizable to me than others. I think if I keep at my pitch training and strive to be a more active listener, I'll gain more of an appreciation of the differences in absolute pitch that others have to a greater extent. It's meant to enrich both playing and listening, which (pardon the expression) sounds good to me. Smile

All that said, I totally understand and can empathize with the feeling of being intimidated by pieces with loads of sharps and flats. I'm currently quite poor at sight reading, so scanning a piece that's loaded with accidentals and in key signatures with multiple flats/sharps is a challenge. Unfortunately, it seems that pieces I tend to like and try to learn tend to go that way - perhaps my ears prefer things that make my eyes hurt!

Old post, I know, but I just saw it now.

I just loved the way you explained that. I actually knew this, but the way you explained it made it much clearer. It also made me think about how I listen to music, and made me realize that my ability in at least relative pitch has improved a lot since I started playing, without paying much attention to the subject.
And I do know what you mean, even it's more of a "feel" than exact knowledge at this point.

Thanks for sharing!!
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