Musical Composition, Theory and Songwriting/In the Key of...???


QUESTION: I am only a person who enjoys listening to music---not a composer. I'm gaining some sketchy understanding of keys/scales through reading. What is meant when we say a Symphony is written in D Minor? When I research that, D Minor (only an example) is a range of notes with a specific number (and location) of half notes. Okay, but how does one write an entire symphony with 12 notes? (or whatever the number is)  How can understanding this add to appreciation as a listener?

Thank you,

ANSWER: Dear Chris:
you do ask a good question... and I hope my  answer helps, (esp. in the appreciation to the listener)
   If the composer wrote a composition in D Minor, it is the''title'' (since they didn't give ''names or words'' to the composition TITLE) of the piece to IDENTIFY it from others compositions in other keys, (a prolific composer might have written a piece in D Major or maybe a 'DANCE IN d minor'' OR THE LIKE, so when we ''title'' beethovens ''ode to joy'' it was originally written as SYMPHONY NO. 9 (beethoven didn't ''title'' it with words)
    The definition of a D Minor 'scale' is the list of 'notes COMMON to that piece/scale..
the scale of notes used makes it have a 'key' sense (like the maniquin to put your clothes style on) (by the way, ''keys'' to music are like paint color choices to a room color/decor)
    The 'entire symphony' uses these D Minor notes in all the octaves and all the COLOR sounds of the various instruments... so that we only have 7 note ''names'' in a choice of 'scale' choices... but we have 8 octaves of notes (8 x 7, the entire piano range)to choose from, meaning that of ALL THE NOTES ON THE PIANO, ONLY THE NOTES IN THAT KEY (basically) are used in that composition...
      The appreciation aspect is not the key used, not the notes used, not the knowledge of what the key is, but the appreciation is built around the ''music'' product you hear, ... so that your knowing what key, a piece is in has NO RELEVANCE to your appreciation of the piece, but merely giving you the I.D. for that particular composition you are listening to so you'll remember the ''title'' of the piece.. You might check out the differences of these musical styles
  Symphony, Concerto, Suite, Oratorio, etc..
might prove interesting..
thanks for the great question

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

Thank you so much. This is very, very helpful. May I summarize to be sure I've got it?

1. The key is used to identify a piece (As Opus, K#, or Symphony 7, etc.)
2. The key is primary 'color' of the piece in that it is built around, but not limited to that key
3. Having this information is interesting but not particularly valuable to a listener

Have I got that right? Finally, if I played Beethoven's Symphony 7 to you, and you'd never heard of it, would you be able (or is it even possible) to say "That piece is in A Major) by listening? (Other than the last note trick I've read about)

Thank you so much Chuck


   your three points of summary are correct..
  ''have you got that right?  yes,
finally, if Beethovens' 7th symphony were played (only a musician familiar with the music could tell you the key of the piece) so if you were purchasing a cd of the music, and you liked symph. no. 7 that is what would be printed on the 'label' so you'd select your piece by the title (beeth. symp. no. 7) (with todays internet, i'd assume you can find out lots of info about a piece by putting in the title)
    incidentally , a person with PERFECT PITCH, most likely could tell you the key of 'A MAJOR'' where as other musicians might hazzard a GUESS to the key, but it makes no diff. unless it is a ' bet' in progress, or the like (much like knowing the year, model , make, of a car you see, but few would know how many were in production of that car) so
  ' if Beeth. symphony no. 7 were played and you'd never heard of it'' you'd NOT BE ABLE TO KNOW THE KEY, (NOR would it be of value to know this) but
thanks for asking, it is most interesting to help out in your quest to know

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I am a professional musician, I can play by ear, I arrange music write music, teach music in the public school system, and teach privately. My father was a school music teacher, and I have written three volumes for teaching beginning string players, taking them from scratch to high school level. I have performed in a local production of Music Man (musical) with celebrities John Davidson/Susan Watson and have my masters degree in education. I retired from the classroom in 2004 with 38 yrs. experience-now still substituting for music- and writing arr. for my cello trio(with two audio cd's and one dvd of a performance) I have directed church choirs and am principal cellist in our local community orchestra. I really love to arrange music for the groups I perform in and sing and have music in my life every day. A day without music, is a mistake, like having a day without sunshine.


Employment history: I have been employed by our local school district since 1967 as a music teacher from grades 1-12 Organizations: I play cello principal chair in the local community orchestra, and sing in a chorus,and perfom in a barbershop quartet

Education: My early life in high school and college was summer workshops in choral conducting with founder of Westminster Choir College (N.J.) Dr. John F.Williamson (in Who`s Who in Music) and summer workshops with Robert Shaw in San Diego Grad. of Sacramento STate Univ.and masters from Univ. of La VErne, ca

Awards: awarded the Bank of America award in my high school senior year for music

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