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What Key and Why?

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I'm sorry if this is a stupid beginners question, but it's really getting me down. I recently bought an English Concertina and have been learning to play some traditional folk tunes on it. I go to Google Images and type 'Music Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.' The first piece of music shown is in D Major, the second is in G major, the third is in C major. I then click on one of the websites and find the tune in B major, A major, F major etc...

 

My question is - What key should I be playing it in and why?

 

I'm also wondering if it's traditional to play tunes in the original keys that they were written down in?

Please note that I'll be playing them by myself and won't be singing. 

 

I shall be very grateful for any advice. 

With many thanks, 

Jon. 

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Excellent question, Jon:

 

Twinkle is a great tune , simple, but with scope and harmonic possibilities. Mozart admired it. Every beginner should learn it right off. For a tune like this, all keys work fine. Learn to play it in C, G, D and F, one at a time, in that order. Can't go wrong with that, though you might drive yourself "Twinkle Crazy". Each key presents a different set of finger patterns and challenges that you will soon learn to apply to the tunes you learn next.

 

For Twinkle, I don't believe there is a common key for its performance. The "right" key would be more likely to reflect the best key for the singer. Not so for other tunes that have socially accepted keys as a standard... however, since you are a beginner and playing alone without singing, it matters not a whit what key you play any tune in. You will learn a lot, working out a bunch of tunes in a variety of keys. Some keys might work better than others, but none are wrong as long as your instrument has all of the notes in its range. Just play, play, play, listen to yourself and decide what sounds best. It's all grist for the mill.

 

If you do end up playing with others and want to find out what keys are commonly used for a standard tune or song, go to:

 

fhttp://www.folktunefinder.com/

or

https://thesession.org/

 

Enter the title and see what is the most frequent key. This could take a bit of sleuthing, but not much. The most common key played will likely be the one that most folks use on these two sites. On the other hand, If you are playing with others, just ask them what key they play a tune in. You will certainly get an answer, though it might not be the same answer everywhere you go.

 

This key business is all based on context and I would suggest that you, as a beginner,  start with whatever key is easiest. Then work out from there.

 

As a beginner, another way to put it might be... whatever key sounds best... that's the right key for now. With Twinkle, you really can't go wrong whichever key you choose.

Edited by Jody Kruskal

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Exactly as Jody said, except that as an ec beginner player it might be tempting to transpose everything to C. That might hinder you later on when you play with others.

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In the days before equal temperament, all instruments were tuned to just or meantone temperaments so that fifths and thirds were closer to simple mathematical ratios (2:3, 4:5). Then, the semitones were of different sizes, and each key did have a different feel. A symphony in D minor would sound different (possibly sadder) than one in E minor. Now, with instruments all in equal temperament and all semitones the same size, unless you are a very unusual person with absolute pitch, the sound should feel exactly the same in different keys.

 

That said, the ergonomics of certain instruments makes playing in some keys easier than other keys. An example is the standard violin who's strings are tuned in fifths from low G (G, D, A, E), and hence 'prefers' playing in sharp keys (of G, D, A, E) rather than flat keys - but in the hands of a really good player can play in any key. An extreme case is diatonic instruments like 20 button Anglo concertinas, or two row melodeons, which can only play in two keys, and lack the sharps and flats for other keys. These days, for melodeons, that seems to be the keys of G and D, and given the prevalence of melodeons in sessions, a lot of English sessions seem to play predominantly in G and D. Scottish fiddle tunes are often played in A or D.

 

The English concertina is chromatic (has all the sharps/flats), and hence can play in any key, and the logical layout from Sir Charles means it's not any harder to play in two flats than in two sharps. Despite that, I find that nine times out of ten, I play tunes in G or D (or their relative minors), in order to fit in with the crowd.

 

I would actively encourage you that when you have learned a tune in one key, while it is in your head, to shift it to a couple of other keys. Shifting up by a fifth (G -> D) is trivial on the EC - shift up a row and add one more obvious sharp. Shifting down by a fifth is similarly easy. If shifting down gets too low, then shifting up by a fourth (G->C)  is equivalent, and is very similar, other than the finger pattern is mirrored to the other hands, which is a good practice exercise!

 

I hope this helps.

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All good advice but as a fiddle player transitioning to concertina, I think this deference to the fiddler has evolved into an unhealthy situation.  Many tunes played today in G,D, and A have other key signatures in their ancestry.  A competent violinist can play in any of them.  I say let the fiddler sit out or play second for a change as you rip into Fisher's hornpipe in F.  Many wonderful tunes in the old repertoire languish because they don't transpose well or no attempt is made to play them.

 

peace and harmony

Wunks

Edited by wunks
more info, better wording

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If you want to learn from, or play along with, recordings then you are going to have to figure out what key the recording is in and then either learn to play in that key or use software to change the key to one that you know.

 

Added:  Actually learning from a recording can be done in a different key, but that is above my pay grade!

Edited by Don Taylor

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On 12/1/2019 at 12:14 PM, Paul_Hardy said:

I would actively encourage you that when you have learned a tune in one key, while it is in your head, to shift it to a couple of other keys. Shifting up by a fifth (G -> D) is trivial on the EC - shift up a row and add one more obvious sharp. Shifting down by a fifth is similarly easy. If shifting down gets too low, then shifting up by a fourth (G->C)  is equivalent, and is very similar, other than the finger pattern is mirrored to the other hands, which is a good practice exercise!

 

Very good advice - and from my experience as an EC player I would tend to say that (concering major keys) G comes very natural on a treble EC (feels even more like home than C I think), even with some accompaniment, and D (as a third standard key alongside C and G) can sound very nice and sweet...

 

Best wishes - 🐺

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