“What key are we in?” the musician will ask, inquiring about the tonality of the piece of music she’s preparing to play. For singers, the key is vital, because it will determine whether the notes are too high or too low for the voice to produce. As a pianist, I’m also interested in key – music in certain keys has more “accidentals” than others, notes that have to be changed from the normal progression.
Most musicians have their “favorite keys.” Personally, I like the major flat keys, especially D flat. My fingers seem to naturally fit into that five flat pattern, and the tonality is especially pleasing to me, rich and full, with just a hint of melancholy.
Of course, it’s not difficult to see the corollary between life in general and a musician’s relationship with key. We all have certain patterns that best fit our moods, our inclinations, our desires. For some, life in C major, the simplest, most efficient of all keys, is perfect. While others thrive on life in g-sharp minor, with every key an accidental at least once (and don’t even ask me to explain double-sharping!)
Not surprisingly, I prefer my life to be similar to my favorite key. D flat major falls just slightly above “easy”, and is slipping toward challenging on the scale. Tonally, it’s pleasant, yet interesting, evocative yet accessible. And, as Goldilocks would say, it fits me “just right.”
Perhaps the key to happiness then, is identifying that “just right” tonality for your life. Naturally it’s fun to experiment with other keys once in a while. I’ve gotten great satisfaction from mastering a piece in the key of C flat major, even though my brain felt like it was solving one long algebraic equation the entire time I was playing it!
But I’m always happiest when I return to the “tonic” – home base, in musical terms. After spending the day meandering through life, like a jazz pianist will wander from key to key, following some wild, unexpected path so far from where he originally began, I’m comforted to find my way home, and let those odd chord progressions resolve into my own natural tonic “do”. The place that feels just right to my fingers and to my heart.
more keys are available on writer’s island