K is for … Key Change

April 12, 2012

I don’t mean the keys and change you have in your jeans pocket. In music, “key” refers to where a song sits on the musical scale. Singing or playing something in a different key allows a melody to have the same melodic pattern, but be sung higher or lower than the original. It also provides a readily understood shorthand for communication between, for example, a singer and an accompanist. “That’s not lying comfortably for my voice. Let’s try it in A flat,” a singer might say, and the accompanist (if skilled at transposition!) will adjust the notes that are played.

Simple songs usually stay in one key throughout. Easy, straightforward, no surprises. More complicated music often has key changes, in which the foundation that the song is built on shifts to a new foundation. Although some music is written so that key changes are intentionally jarring, usually the change seems smooth and inevitable.

But what has that to do with writing?

Writing has key changes, too. A shift in scene, a shift in mood, sometimes even a shift in point of view, may be necessary in the telling of a story. Unless one’s intention is to jar the reader with something that is purposedly written as if out of place, one wants to make such transitions as smooth and inevitable as a key change in well-composed music. This takes practice, but it’s worth it.

If you’ve read books that make sudden changes so that you’re left wondering “where are we?” “whose story am I reading now?” then you know the value of working hard to make these changes seem natural. A reader that has to keep flipping back to try to figure out what’s going on in the book is not a happy reader, and may in fact leave the book half-read.

Key changes are important.

Could we try this post in the key of C?

 

A to Z Challenge

13 People reacted on this

  1. Yes. We can try this post in the key of C for comprehended. It is true that key changes in a book are a necessity. They help to prevent the feel of monotony, can show change, maturation in a character and more.

    1. Thank you, Angela, for the way your comments take each post and build on it. I always appreciate what you have to say.

    1. LOL! Indeed it is. Suddenly I feel like bursting into a chorus of Do Re Mi!

      On a side “note” — I used to have a placemat given to me by a friend that said this (written in music notes rather than words)

      Never B sharp
      Never B flat
      Always B natural

      🙂

      1. I have a bag that says nearly the same thing. I think The never B sharp was sometimes B sharp though. I should check tonight so I can confirm it one way or another 🙂

  2. Jarring changes in music are not pleasant at first – but it sometimes makes you sit up and take notice!

    Likewise, with book plotting.

    However, with a book – if the writer goes off at a tangent and doesn’t fully explain the change in the plot I lose patience with trying to keep the plot straight in my head. The longer the time between changing tack and returning to the original idea, the more chance I have of dumping the book !

    SueH I refuse to go quietly!

  3. Oh Beth, I loved this post! What a cool analogy!
    Guess what my K-post was? Key signature! But mine is a musically-themed fiction piece.
    I’ve linked this comment directly to my K-post.

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