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Topic: key signatures for harpsichords

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  1. #1
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    key signatures for harpsichords

    I was just thinking about the reality of writing for this instrument.
    Since this instrument isn't tuned as the piano, will all keys be playable?
    It's been awhile since I've heard about the equal temperament 1st available on the piano. As I remember, the pure temperament would
    be increasingly noticeable as you approach remote keys, #'s & b's.
    Gary

  2. #2
    Senior Member rpearl's Avatar
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    Re: key signatures for harpsichords

    Gary,

    The Well-Tempered Clavier aside ( and a few other examples), music in the 18th century rarely used more than 4 accidentals - Ab/f and E/c# were kind of the practical limits. If you look at the output of Mozart and Haydn, keys beyond 4 sharps/flats are very rare. They certainly used those keys in modulatory passages, but as the basic tonality, no.

    The whole issue of tuning is a large one, and the idea of equal temperment took quite a while before it was universally accepted (if, indeed, it is). Chopin complained about not being able to fine a good tuner, as he was not a big fan of equal temperment (where all keys sound the same).

    Doesn't really answer your question...well, sort of.

    Have a great holiday!
    Ron Pearl

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  3. #3
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    Re: key signatures for harpsichords

    Thanks Ron,
    It's very much like playable keys for most amateurs today.
    Gary

  4. #4
    Senior Member rpearl's Avatar
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    Re: key signatures for harpsichords

    Yes, agreed! Interestingly, Chopin thought that the first scale one should learn was a B-Major, as it fit the most gracefully under the fingers (not being a pianist, I'll just have to take his word for it...). Our hands and and our eyes are not always in sync.
    Ron Pearl

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  5. #5
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    Re: key signatures for harpsichords

    I never actually pursued this, but some people think that relative key difficulty is learned. We think 5 sharps is harder than no sharps.
    The idea suggested is to teach from tetra chords learning half-step whole step settings which apply in all keys.
    I do know that tension from thinking something is more difficult creates problems that go away after you are familiar with the key.
    Gary

  6. #6

    Re: key signatures for harpsichords

    Quote Originally Posted by rpearl View Post
    Yes, agreed! Interestingly, Chopin thought that the first scale one should learn was a B-Major, as it fit the most gracefully under the fingers (not being a pianist, I'll just have to take his word for it...). Our hands and and our eyes are not always in sync.
    Actually F# and B majors fit best under the hands, because the fingers play exclusively black notes whilst the thumb falls on the white notes, which makes the turn-unders considerably easier, and means that the hand can simply glide up the keyboard with no forward or backward movement.
    David

  7. #7

    Re: key signatures for harpsichords

    Just remember to play the black keys!
    We dream to write and we write to dream.

    Challenge #10 Winner

  8. #8

    Lightbulb Re: key signatures for harpsichords

    Quote Originally Posted by garymosse View Post
    I was just thinking about the reality of writing for this instrument.
    Since this instrument isn't tuned as the piano, will all keys be playable?
    It's been awhile since I've heard about the equal temperament 1st available on the piano. As I remember, the pure temperament would
    be increasingly noticeable as you approach remote keys, #'s & b's.
    Gary
    Hi Gary,

    Actually, all keys are playable on the harpsichord -- its just that some may require a bit of retuning. If you are playing a piece in B major, you just tune the harpsichord so that it sounds good in B major. If you have several pieces to play, for example in B, A, E, and D, you pick a compromise, say optimizing the A and trusting the remaining keys to be close enough. If you have pieces in B, A, Eb, and Bb, you put them in different halves of the program, and use the intermission to retune.

    If your piece modulates from, say, A to Eb, you may experience some discord...

    Enjoy,

    Grant
    ==============================
    Grant Green ||| www.contrabass.com
    Sarrusophones and other seismic devices

  9. #9

    Re: key signatures for harpsichords

    Quote Originally Posted by wrayer View Post
    Just remember to play the black keys!
    Why, when you can transpose your midi keyboard?

    Maybe all off those other fingerings for different keys will become obsolete as more people move to digital pianos.

  10. #10
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    Re: key signatures for harpsichords

    Quote Originally Posted by wrayer View Post
    Just remember to play the black keys!
    Oh Yuss! And don't think volume - think tutti.

    Great instrument and far too forgotten in my view. One of the things that's easy to fall into with the harpsichord is this attitude that because it has keys it should be played like a piano. And a piano should not be played like an organ - and so on.

    Some people think it's the sound of two skeletons copulating on a corrugated iron roof - but I think it's a great sound and an entirely different technique to any other keyboard quite naturally.

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