Sharpen Your Music Skills - Add Variety

Imagine what it would be like to only eat vanilla ice cream – never taste the adventuresome Peach Melba, Rocky Road, Strawberry or Chocolate.   What would it be like if we only saw one color?  Playing everything in the key of C presents a similar situation. After a while all the music has the same sound (home note).  Our playing should have variety for ourselves and our audience.

Playing in other keys is actually a lot of fun and will add interest.  Rather than think of the sharp side of the psaltery as the “dark side” -- try to think of it as the “colorful" or "adventurous" side My theory is -- if the notes are there- we should use them.

First let’s talk about Key Signatures.   For now, we’ll stick to the common sharp keys and save flats for a future lesson. At the beginning of each piece of music – immediately following the clef sign – is our “code" or "road map” to find the sharps (or flats) required to play in the written key.The first sharp that will occur is F#. Key takes its name from the next name in the musical scale – Key of G

The next sharp added will be C# ,  now containing both F# and C# and is named for the note that follows the C#  -   Key of D

The next sharp added is G#,  now has F#, C#, and G#-  bet you can guess the name of the key-    (A)

The same process will continue until there are six sharps.  Each sharp is placed on the proper line or space for it's note name.

The key tells us what note is home.  For example in the key of C, we will always return to the C as a home base.  In the key of G our home will be G,  etc.   


If we play an easy melody in several keys, we'll discover that each has a different sound or "flavor".  Some fit singing range better.


Let's try Peace is Flowing in the safe key of C - no sharps or flats.



Now let's try the same melody in the key of G -  remembering that all the F's are now F# (over on the colorful side)



Let's try one more move -  to the key of D - this time remember that all C's and F's are now sharped -  C# & F#


Try listening to and comparing the different sounds of each key -  as Each key has it’s own sound, color, flavor, picture.   Many studies have been done on the association of musical keys with colors, etc. 

Synesthesia  is the phenomenon of seeing colors for musical pitches.  Some known to have this are  Stevie Wonder, Leonard Bernstein, Duke Ellington, Franz Liszt, and Itzhak Perlman.  

The following chart shows some of the associations over three centuries - from 1704 until the present in 2004.  (The white spaces represent unused notes)

See  for more info on this.



So --

Let's all play with a rainbow of sound 

Take a simple tune like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, or Mary Had a Little Lamb - start on  random note and cross to the colorful side when needed for the proper note.  You'll know by the sound when you do need to cross over.


The following is a chart I found many years ago at Old Town School of Folk Music.  It is suggested pitch associations.  I’ve always found the tastes and scenes quite interesting.   Of course it’s just suggested, not everyone will have the same thoughts.

Key or Note






Skim Milk

Calm Lake


Light Blue

Sparkling Water

Clear Sky



Red Salmon

Red Sunset



Orange Juice

Bright Sunrise




Field of Yellow Flowers




New Coins



Buttered Yams

Gold Nuggets




Tree Trunks in a Forest


Dark Blue

Blue Cheese

Dark Blue Ocean



Ripe Plums




Pie Crust

Wheat Field



French Bread

Sandy Beach



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Comment by Walton "John" Page on December 24, 2018 at 11:25am

I've also had mild synethesia, and I find this discussion fascinating.  One key point to remember, however, is that, up until the end of the the 19th century, most instruments were not tuned to the Equal tempered system, which means that there were differences in intervals for each key- and this had a huge impact on how a scale would sound. 

Bach did not use the EQ tempered tuning for his Well Tempered Clavier, and studies of these pieces have shown that he deliberately emphasized the best intervals for each key based on the tuning thought to be Werkmeister III. 

It's funny, my synethesia tends towards shapes, not colors, but in other temperaments I tend to see a lot more color.

Comment by Donnalee D-M on November 12, 2012 at 3:48pm

Hmm, I have a different kind of synaesthesia from getting electrocuted a few years back, so I perceive music and sounds as pressures in certain ways: in the early days after getting cooked, I would sleep and perceive, "Oh, something is pressing some brain thing", and it would be a sound happening out in the world that only came through to me as me knowing something was pressing on some brain bits, like a phone or loud car going past.  The brain still has some difficulties with 'stimuli processing' as they call it, sound and visual and all, so I will have to wait until I'm in a very open minded mood to try the colour stuff, since otherwise it will squish my remaining brain!  ahahaha!  I am always pleased to try to learn things and I know it all helps the brain function, but I have also learned that sometimes there needs to be peace and quiet and no pressures for it to work out best--

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