Favorite Key Signatures

Front Ensemble/mallet keyboard arrangers and performers,

What are you favorite key signatures in which to arrange, and why?  Ergonomics obviously play a large part in making those choices. Just curious about how those preferences might differ between people.
I love Eb and Ab personally. Bb is ok. C is hard to sightread given the bars are so far from the page. (especially those of us doomed to wearing glasses and can't see the naturals when we're reading. (stupid eyes that don't work with contacts...) Plus runs are a little tougher at fast speeds. C is also tough for doing most rock songs :) I still have nightmares about my first arrangement of mission impossible with  Bb, B, C parallel 5ths....
That was more geared towards Eric Rath, but I guess you also seem to adopt that philosophy :-)

Thanks for the kind words.  I think Constitution (the winter percussion unit) also did an arrangement of it a few years back, courtesy of our forum's own Fred Smith.
[quote author=Bryan Harmsen link=topic=3440.msg18085#msg18085 date=1259946042]
Eric, I'm right there with ya on the ";get the key signtature";.
[/quote]

I was hoping you would.

I was surfing your website the other day, and was both shocked and appalled that you arranged ";Serenada"; by Danny Elfman.

Appalled ONLY at the fact that I won't be the first to professionally Arrange it.

Great job on that by the way !
Eric, I'm right there with ya on the ";get the key signtature";.
I'm probably a bad person for suggesting this, but when it comes to stuff I write for only percussion, I try to stay within the keys that the students see most commonly in band (everybody together, say it with me: F, Bb, Eb, Ab...). The exceptions I'll make to this are the other keys that I think are easy to physically play in, but may take a little more work to ";get the key signature:";

D - like to use this when I know that I am going to be relying on a harmonic structure that uses B and C# a lot. Everything is going to use the dominant, so on a 4 1/3 octave marimba, I have all of those options. Plus, the lower you voice chords or arpeggiated writing on marimba, the more likely you are to get a muddy sound or a ";cluttered"; sound. Writing in D, keeps you out of that lowest extreme, making it possible to write low chordal or arpeggiated stuff without the risk of the cluttered sound you get when you voice a root position Bb chord down there.

G - To me, G and F are easier keys to play in than C major. Having that one sharp or flat to visually anchor patterns is really helpful, especially if the music has a lot of scalar passages. Another thing I like about it is that you are dealing with so many natural notes, that if the student has been trained to confidently play in the center of the bars on ALL notes, you won't hear a discrepancy between the lower and upper manuals. To me, when I hear keys with at least three sharps or flats, in the wrong hands, I start to hear a lot of unnecessary timbre changes. We're all guilty of that at some point in our lives, right?!? (I judged this year's All-State etude last night and it's in Ab major. There was a lot of nodal or near-nodal point playing that was REALLY distracting!).

Then there's C major...

My little disclaimer about writing for full band is that I NEVER think about the key when it comes to the percussion, only the winds. There are just too many other instrumental considerations to take into account with the wind instruments that keeps the keyboard writing a low priority. I'd rather fight the battle with my percussionists, than fight the battle with the rest of the band!
I am a fan of angry music, minor seconds, dissonance is chords, that sorta stuff.

I'm usually one to write without thinking, then handing out music and kids going, ";Huh? You want me to play with HOW many sharps ?"; With that being said,  I'm a huge fan of writing in E, or C# minor. C# minor is very dark and ominous, and I'm a huge fan of that kind of stuff. Though once you put winds into the equation, your easy 4 sharps for the keyboards becomes 6 sharps for some of the instruments (trumpets), and 5 for the french horn.

But hey, it's their fault they didn't get into percussion ;-)
I also dislike angry music :)

Ab and Eb have been favorites or mine as well, for the same reasons - mainly because those chord voicings tend to work well for 4 mallet stuff.  I'm all about getting kids to come out of their comfort zone.  A few people actually asked me for stuff with at least 4 flats or 3 sharps, just for the sake of exposing the kids to stuff they normally don't see - especially the key sigs with sharps.
Facebook not drawing enough replies? :)

I usually take the size of keyboards into consideration. Most schools I write for (until recently) have low A's, so I would write in A, Bb, D, Eb, or E, to make use of the lowest notes (then again, the sharp scales are horrible for winds!). If you have low F's or low C's, then I'd pick keys that would make use of those as well.

If it's a younger group, I write for the dominant band keys (F, Bb, Eb, maybe the occasional Ab). This stays within their comfort zone.

If just for schlitz and giggles, I seem to be going through an Eb phase. It's just a happy key that feels good in the hands. I'm not much for the angry music:)

Login or Signup to post a comment