Towards the Proper Pitching of 78 rpm Records.





Part 1.


There are many problems associated with the transfer, treatment and restoration of historic ‘78’ rpm recordings.

This first article is concerned with just one of them: namely, what speed should the '78' be played at? We put 78 in quotes here, because quite a variety of speeds were used. Sometimes, even, the rpm gradually varies as the record plays!

If we play it too fast, the pitch of the music will rise, and of course, the performance will be shortened. These are both distortions of what was originally recorded. The converse is of course also true: too low a rotational speed will lower the pitch of the music, song or speech, and also make it last longer than it should. Both these are wrong too.

This matter has occupied 78 enthusiasts for many years, and the author thought it might be of interest if he set down, in a light-hearted style, a few simple methods that - it seemed to him - might be employed to come to the most likely decision as to the True Pitch of certain 78 rpm records.

This article is specifically confined to early U.S. and British Jazz and dance band records because, as you will see, these are in general the easiest records to pitch. (But above all, they are the only sort of which the writer has much experience. Classical and Operatic specialists have, naturally, been involved in correctly pitching their ‘78’ sides ever since they first came out.)

You do not need extensive musical skills; but you do need to able to relate the music on the disc to some external reference. That reference might, most conveniently, be a keyboard. MIDI keyboards are now very cheap. They come with their own software, which enables you to create amazing music, the bounds of which are limited only by your imagination. But, more importantly, they are absolutely ‘in tune’, and therefore provide an inherent Standard Pitch Reference.

And what is this ‘Standard Pitch’?

For our purposes – U.S. and British Jazz & Dance Bands – it is A=440 Hz.

Quite simply, the note A above middle C on the piano (or any other instrument playing the same note) has a fundamental frequency of 440 cycles per second, or Hertz as they are called now (and have been called in Germany for a very long time indeed). Here is an mp3 file of 10 seconds of a 440 Hz tone:  click here . All other notes have fixed fundamental frequencies related to that 'master' note. And, of course, the frequency doubles when you go up an octave. The A an octave above our reference note is (naturally) 880 Hz: click here ; and the A an octave below it is (equally obviously) 220 Hz: click here . The ‘musical impression’ of these three notes is the same: they are all simply the note ‘A’, but in different pitches.

Here is a picture of part of my cheap midi keyboard. They’re all the same layout, however many keys they may have on them, and however big (or small) the actual keys may be. They simply must be like this, because of the way western music has evolved over many centuries. Unfortunately (and this is but the first of many inconvenient things we shall encounter), our basic scale does not start on A, our pitch standard, and for that matter the first letter of the alphabet. No; the basic scale starts on C, and goes up 8 notes - an octave you see? - before it gets to double the pitch of the note you started on. The whole keyboard consists of these repeating patterns of C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C. As does each string on the neck of a guitar, a violin, a mandolin, a ’cello or indeed whatever string or wind instrument we may consider, even though they are all vastly different in many ways.

I am not clever enough to make a picture of a keyboard such that you can click on each key and hear the note it plays; but I can provide you with a YouTube video of me playing and announcing these 8 notes shown in red on the above picture. Just click here .

But what, you ask, are the short black keys which interpose themselves between most - though not all - the basic white notes, or tones? Well, these black keys sound notes that are approximately half way between the main white notes. Why, you ask, is there not a black key between all the white notes? I cannot answer you, because I know little of the evolution of western music. In fact, I know little of music altogther; and indeed have some reservations about going into music at all in this article, as ‘a little knowledge is a dangerous thing’. But as our ultimate goal is to select the correct rotational speed of an old Jazz 78 rpm record, and not to launch you on a career as a concert pianist, I guess it will probably be OK for me to carry on. 8^)    Suffice it to say there are twelve semitones in an octave and not 16 as one might expect.

And it is possible to begin a ‘major scale’, of the format I played above, on any of these twelve semitones, and finish an octave higher. These give us the twelve major keys in which music may be performed. (There are minor keys too; we come to them later).

If you don’t have a keyboard, but play a musical instrument, that will often be convenient to use; I sometimes use my clarinet rather than a keyboard, but still the same thing applies: your instrument must be in tune.

I intend to enliven what might otherwise be a very boring subject with a variation: it will be cast as a series of supposed dialogues between a pupil and teacher, with some interludes. This has been a common form of teaching since Classical times, so who am I to argue? Here comes the first....


Dialogue #1.

[It is early Spring. The Sage and the Neophyte are seated in comfortable low chairs by the fireside. A bottle and glasses stand on a convenient table. Outside it is dark and stormy: rain sometimes patters on the windows, and occasional gusts of wind are audible.]

Neophyte. [Rather impatiently]: Very well then. But what do we actually need to do?

Sage. In a nutshell, adjust the pitch of the record until it comes into line with our Standard Keyboard.

N. But was their Standard the same as ours?

S. Ahh! There you have hit upon the keynote of the entire question! In the case of Jazz and Dance records made in the U.S.A. and Britain say from 1914 onwards, we have every reason to believe that it was. It may be difficult to prove as in a Court of Law, but much correspondence & research has indicated that A=440 was widely adopted in the U.S.A. from very early on... pre-WW1 in fact. It seems that the American standard was the one finally adopted in the Western world. It was actually A=439 in Britain from about 1890 until after WW2, but that 1 Hertz difference is not going to be a significant problem, as you'll see. Other countries did indeed have different Standard Pitches: at one time, France had a pitch around A=435, which would affect our techniques considerably; and many military and brass bands in England used an ‘old’ High Pitch of A=453, even into the 1950s. But the fact remains that U.S. and British Jazz & Dance records can be assumed to be made in the same pitch as they would be today. However, to be on the safe side, we'll again emphasise that this article applies to early U.S. and British Jazz and Dance Band recordings only!

N. Fair enough! Now what?

S. We need to find out what key the first part of our record is in.

N. But how can you find that out? From what you’ve already said, there are 12 basic keys, each only a one-half-note (semitone) apart! It might be one, but equally well the very-nearby key immediately above it, or the one immediately below! They would all sound really quite similar?

S. You are an adept pupil! Indeed, those keys you mentioned would sound relatively similar; but you have yourself gone straight to the Basic Tool we will be employing: because, you see, of those three keys you mention, only two are candidates for investigation, and most often only one of them would need evaluation!

N. Uuuh??? How can you possibly know that?

S. [Looking irritatingly smug and taking a sip of wine]: We have our methods! But don't worry; they will shortly be yours, too…

N. But look here, I didn't actually name a key, like C, or B! How can you say that sometimes only one of three (maybe more!) possible keys need be investigated? And this before we've even put a record on the turntable? When you've demonstrated how to test a record, and it comes out to the key of B, say, how can you be so sure it isn't B flat or C instead? That's three possibilities, every time!

S. You have never played in an old-style Dance or Jazz Band, I take it?

N. No.

S. I knew it already, before I asked! The whole point is, my dear young fellow, if a record played at 78 did come out in the key of B, it is almost certain that the pitch is wrong. Because it would be extremely unusual for a Dance or Jazz Band to play in the key of B – except perhaps at the point of a gun or unless some collective insanity had broken out! I don't say none ever did, but it is very, very unusual.  

N. Well, you can explain why that is later! But if B is 'right out', then the record is either too fast or too slow. Now if we speed it up it would go up to C, and if we slow it down it would go to B flat. Did bands play in those keys?

S. Indeed they did, and very frequently! So we would then proceed to thoroughly investigate those 2 keys!

N. [Excitedly]: What other keys did bands not play in, so that we can (largely) reject these keys at 78 rpm?

S. Dear me! Your enthusiasm is commendable, but really that's enough for one session! Come, your wineglass is empty; permit me to fill it for you. [He does so, then reaches down beside his chair, picking up some white-label 78s] Oh, by the way, have you heard these Odeon test pressings of The Goofus Five, made in Paris in 1926? I'm sure you'll find them interesting...

N. But everybody knows The Goofus Five never went to Paris!

S. Ahh! Everybody thinks The Goofus Five never went to Paris! But I can assure you that they did. Their version of 'Static Strut' is really rather fine! Come into the music room and I'll play them for you...

[Both exit]



Demonstration of how to get into the key.

We always start by playing the record at 78. After all, we have to start somewhere, and the record might even be correct at 78, right?

And, for at least two important reasons that you have probably thought of already, we always begin at the beginning of the disc, not halfway through or at the end?

Let's pick a well-known record. The February 1917 record of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band playing 'Dixieland Jass Band One Step'.

What's that? You don't like it?  Pray, please bear with the eccentricities of the admitted dotard writing this stuff! In any case, you may be required to transfer it some day, (at a suitable fee, I trust). Where would we be if people refused to transfer 78s just because they don’t like them? At least you've heard it before, so that is a good start!

Having readied our keyboard, it's now time to play the record itself, as we said, at 78 rpm. (Actually 78.26 rpm, but that’s not important right now.)

We'll just familiarise ourselves with the first section, which is always where we start our investigation.

Click here to play the first section .

It's just a short section of 16 bars, made up by the band playing an 8 bar fanfare-like theme twice. Play it several times, if you like, to get used to it (even though you may not like it!)

You notice that this small section which we've isolated sounds quite complete in itself? In particular, that each of the 2 identical 8-bar phrases musically 'comes to rest' at its end, albeit very briefly at this fast tempo?

In other words, it 'resolves'.

A Rule of Thumb is that sections of music tend to 'resolve' like this, and come to rest at their basic key.

It’s known as the 'tonic'. Or in other words, the 'Home Key'.

It's true, many melodies start on the tonic chord, too; but by no means all.

However, virtually everything ends on the tonic. That's why we're interested in the end of this short section.

If we can identify the note on our keyboard that corresponds to the 'tonic' of our sample, we shall know what key it is in!

Now click this YouTube link and we'll try to do just that!


Dialogue #2

[The Sage and the Neophyte are reclining on couches outdoors on a hot afternoon on a legendary island in the Aegean. In the shade of gracious trees, each is attended by several Nymphs. Two gently agitate the air with peacock-feather fans; another carries a silver pitcher filled with the enchanted cold white wine of Thramnos, which brings intellectual focus and detachment. The Sage, ever and anon, sips from his goblet. A fourth bears a tray of delicious fruits. Débussy’s 'La Prelude à l'Apres-Midi d'un Faune' plays in the background, even though it would not be written for nearly 2,000 years. The Neophyte, propped earnestly on one elbow, his wine untasted, impatiently waves away the last-named Nymph, and eagerly addresses the Sage...]

N. Well, we found out that the key is B flat at 78 rpm. You already said before that B was a 'Forbidden Key' for Jazz bands, so that gets rid of the key above. But what about A, the key below?

S. [Rather sententiously] The key of A may be considered, for our purposes, to be a 'Forbidden Key' also. I'll explain more about this later.

N. O.K.: not B, or A. But what if it were further away still? What if it was the next key lower, say in A flat? Or the next key above, higher still, like in C?

[The Sage rolls his eyeballs upwards, as if in the grip of a transient indisposition. Depositing his goblet on a nearby marble table, he makes a magical pass with his hand. The Debussy is instantly stilled, and the previous sample is heard again, but now in the key of C…]

To hear it yourself, click this link

N. Hey! Something's gone wrong with the speed control!

S. No: not really; except that it's obviously far too fast in C! We don't need any frequency counters to tell us that, do we? It just sounds plain silly doesn't it?

N. [Humbly] Yes. And so I guess I don't need to hear my other suggestion of A flat...

S. [Michievously] Oh, but you do! [Makes pass with his hand, and the sample is heard again, this time in A flat] Click here to listen to it.

N. [Tentatively] Well, although it sounds a bit slow, it's not as 'off-the-beam' as the last sample... Could this be the true key?

S. For reasons which will appear fairly soon down the page, no. Just take my word for it at this stage.

N. O.K., Sage! So there's really only one choice!  'Dixieland Jass Band One-Step' on Victor 18255 is in the key of B flat! Just by checking out the end of one little section with a keyboard, I can tell that for a fact! That's tremendous!

[The merest suggestion of a frown crosses the brow of the Sage. As if to gain time for thought, he motions to the pitcher bearer to refill his golden goblet, inlaid with silver wire spelling out proverbs in a language so old that it was virtually unknown even to the people who used to speak and write it...]

S. [With a trace of asperity] Hardly! All we may dare to say at this early stage in our investigation is that the disc begins in B flat! But, have we not also established something else, almost equally important, eh?

N. Duh...

S. [In his usual kindly tone] What we have established (assuming only that A=440 was used in the U.S.A. as a standard) is that....

N. Duh... it starts in B flat...?

S. Y-e-e-s; but beyond that, what? Look: what speed did we play the record at?

N. 78 rpm.

S. Right! And it was in a proper, valid key - namely B flat - at that speed, wasn't it? So what does that mean?

N. [Inspirationally] Victor recorded it at 78 rpm?

S. [Exultantly] My Son! Excellent! You surpass yourself! Well done! Yes, the 'official ' speed of 78 rpm is indeed (in this particular case) the correct speed for the passage we tested! [Becomes businesslike] And now, enough work for today! Pitcher-bearer! Take away that cold, drab white wine and bring us the rich dark fuming red wine that bespeaks of Earthly Pleasures!

[He indicates to a young Nymph to attend the Neophyte more closely. Smiling, he beckons towards himself Another, admittedly no longer in the first bloom of her youth, but who bears a striking resemblance to Walt Disney’s ‘Tinkerbell’…]




Rather than, as the Neophyte suggested, compile a list of keys that bands didn’t play in during the 1920s & early 1930s, it is simpler to list those in which they did play, as these are relatively few. Here they are:





B flat

E flat

A flat

D flat

These are the 'preferred keys' for Jazz and Dance Bands. You'll notice that they are biased toward the keys that have flats in the ‘key signature’ as it’s called. The reason for this was almost certainly the rise of the trumpet, clarinet and saxophones in popular music. These are usually pitched in B flat or E flat. Previously, stringed instruments reigned supreme, and these favoured keys such as E, A, D, G, C. But in any case we don't really have to 'get into' all this technical stuff. Just a few simple guidelines should suffice.

An important one is that the 7 keys above are laid out in a specific order, or progression.

G has one sharp. C is the 'basic' key, without sharps or flats. F has one flat. B flat has 2 flats. E flat has 3 flats. A flat has 4 flats. D flat has 5 flats. Let’s present that more clearly:




B flat

E flat

A flat

D flat

1 sharp

No sharps or flats

1 flat

2 flats

3 flats

4 flats

5 flats

 This 'standard progression' of keys is central to our immediate purpose, as we shall now see.


Dialogue #3

[A dirty wooden peasant shack; the floor littered with old newspapers and empty tin cans. The temperature is well below zero. The windows are thick with grime, and the only illumination is from a 40-watt light bulb so dirty and fly-blown that, when switched on, it makes the room darker… (Spike Milligan invented that last one, bless him!)]

S. [huddled in a threadbare military greatcoat bearing tarnished Imperial Russian insignia] Would you care to sum up progress so far?

N. Yes; it's very simple! Dixie Jazz Band One Step was correctly recorded by Victor at 78 rpm, and is in the key of B flat!

S. No: remember that only applied to the beginning: the first sixteen bars to be precise.

N. You mean something's going to happen?

S. [Irritably] Something will certainly happen unless we get out of this dump soon! [He pours the last few drops of vodka from a bottle into a filthy, chipped enamel mug. He does not drink, but merely glowers at it...] In the meantime, we'd better play the next section and see, right? Please click here

N. It doesn't sound all that different...

S. Well, let's get to work on it with our keyboard and see...

Click this link for the YouTube video of testing this section...

N. Great Scott! It's in another key!

S. Absolutely! The first section was in B flat, and now this section is in E flat! Variety is the spice of life you know!

[As if to underline - or possibly mock - his words, a ragged fusillade of distant shots is heard from outside, accompanied by the stutter of a machine gun, which immediately ceases, it having evidently jammed. The two men instinctively shrink in their seats, as a couple of shots thud into the roof of their shack. Nothing else happens, except for the tinkle of falling icicles, and  trickles of dust slowly descending from the roof to the floor.]

N. When do you think General Denikin will reach here to rescue us, Sage?

S. Never mind about that now! We must press on, or else this web-page will become intolerably long! The record we are considering actually then goes back to the original key, repeats the whole procedure, and eventually ends up with this final theme. Click here to hear it.

N. It sounds as though it's gone into another, new key!

S. Ah! You're learning fast! Click here for the YouTube video of the final theme.

N. Wow! That's three keys in this piece! B flat, E flat and A flat! We've analysed the record at last! By the way, I noticed this latest (and last) test section was the conclusion of the record. The ODJB play that final 32-bar theme three times: why did you pick the last of those three instead of the first? You said that we should always start at the beginning of sections, didn't you?

S. Yes, I did! But now you must listen very carefully, for there are two very important things interwoven here. Firstly, when bands repeat themes, they do not completely resolve; they..

N. But you said that everything always resolves at the end and...

S. SILENCE! [The Sage, exasperated, shouts so loud that further trickles of dust descend, though no icicles. The Neophyte is suitably abashed. The Sage continues, suddenly weary] If another of the same theme is to follow, the general rule is that they resolve briefly, but then introduce a different chord (maybe two or three) to lead into the repeat theme. It's sometimes called a 'turn-around'. I picked the last of the three themes because the end of that one is the end of the whole piece; at which, of course, it resolves completely. And for our purposes at this stage, things that resolve completely are much easier to analyse! Moreover, the ODJB has the commendable habit of playing a little 'tag' on the end of their numbers which repeats the resolution. This makes it easier still for us to check the key!

N. [Humbly] The second interwoven thing?

S. The record we have been studying can genuinely be held up as an excellent example of the sound recordist's Art. The band played a piece with sections in B flat, E flat and A flat, and these keys are consistent throughout the record, to the extent that we were able to use the last chorus as an evaluation of the final key. Do you realise what this means?

N. Er... er... I think so, yes! Does it mean that the record kept up the same speed (established as 78) from start to finish? While if the last theme (or indeed any intervening theme) had gradually gone out of tune, we would have had to conclude that the original speed of the record, established carefully by us, was changing and was likely to need final graded overall correction, depending on whether it was playing gradually faster... or, (as is almost always the case) slower? [With alarm...] Master! What's wrong?

[Tears are running down the wrinkled cheeks of The Sage. He lurches out of his chair and tenderly holds the Neophyte by his shoulders, looking into the Neophyte's young, concerned face with a mixture of exaltation and respect. His lips move, but only after some time, do articulate sounds emerge....]

S. [Brokenly] Wonderful...  intuitive thought... future of human race secure... potential Sage material, will go far..!

[This admittedly embarrassing interlude is interrupted by the sound of a motor-lorry floundering in the snow, but undoubtedly nearing the shack. The Sage rushes to the window, squints out through the grime. Aghast at what he sees, he tears off his greatcoat, desperately motioning the Neophyte to do likewise. Beneath his army coat, the Neophyte is wearing an anonymous grey shirt and white(ish) trousers. The Sage, sans his greatcoat, is seen to be wearing the full regalia of an Archbishop of the Russian Orthodox Church. Doing a double-take worthy of Tex Avery at his best, he scrabbles out of it, while under his panic-stricken direction, the Neophyte stuffs both greatcoats and the Sacred Apparel down under the rotten floorboards in a corner of the shack. The Sage is now clad only in an old sack, but which bears on each side a large, crudely-painted hammer and sickle , plus a five-pointed red star for luck. The door of the shack bursts open and a small but exceedingly well-armed and truculent rabble of Bolshevik irregulars enters in confusion]

S. [In a great and confident voice]: Fraternal Greetings, tovarischi of the deservedly Glorious Red Army! I, Fyodor Andropovich Andropov, congratulate you on your intrepid dexterity in recapturing so much of our Beloved Motherland, until recently temporarily held by the abominable General Denikin! I, and my assistant here, have been held prisoner by him and his cowardly forces in this disgraceful hovel for many days. An indignity which, as personally-appointed representative and plenipotentiary of Bronst.. I mean the great Leon Trotsky himself, you will assuredly deplore as much as I do! [Here the Sage waves an impressive piece of typewritten paper covered with many writings in violet and green ink. Actually, it is a 1950s provisional discography of The Blackbirds of Paradise, annotated by Brian Rust and John R.T. Davies]. Accordingly, I command that bread, meat and especially vodka be brought here at once, so that all these Great Events may be fittingly Celebrated – naturally, you, as well as us, will participate in this Great Celebration!

Rabble: [Greatly impressed] We hear and obey, comrade!




Did you notice something? What, that my mind is seriously deranged? Good heavens, it's been like that for decades! No, I meant about the keys we discovered were used in this record?

Let's set them out in comparison with the previous table of 'preferred keys':





B flat

E flat

A flat

D flat





B flat

E flat

A flat



1 sharp

No sharps or flats

1 flat

2 flats

3 flats

4 flats

5 flats

The keys, in the order they were used, ‘climb up the ladder’ of preferred keys!

Many early compositions used this ‘standard progression’ of keys. Marches and Ragtime pieces especially. And so, also, early Jazz compositions, which of course drew (in large part) from these same sources.

On the other hand, it's quite possible to have a piece with two, three, even four or more sections that are all in the same key. But early on (don't ask me when), it became customary to change to a new key. The spice of life and all that. And the most obvious (or perhaps fundamental is a better word) key change is to ‘climb up to the next rung of the ladder’.

If you look for some 'reductio ad absurdum', it would be perfectly correct if you wrote a piece with seven themes, each one in the next key 'up the ladder': six steps from G to D flat. Doubtless a number of such pieces have been written; but they evidently languish in the obscurity they probably deserve, because I've never heard of one in the field of Jazz or Dance Music. (Remember, this whole page is confined to that genre). Writing a mediocre piece in many keys is no substitute for writing a really good piece in one key!

When the Neophyte suggested that 'Dixie Jass Band One Step' just might have started in A flat (necessitating, mind you, a reduction in speed of around twelve per cent from 78!) the Sage was able to blow that one out of the water, by the fact that if it had done so, it would have progressed 'up the ladder' from A flat to D flat to G flat. That last key I haven't even bothered to include in the ladder. While Duke Ellington probably wrote stuff for his band in that key in the 1930s (or even in the late 1920s) it's such a rare key for 'basic' use that the Sage was quite justified in rejecting the suggestion. Be sure, G flat is effectively a 'Forbidden Key', for our purposes.

Let me emphasise that this progression of keys only held sway early on. You really can't have hard and fast rules in this game. Only guidelines. We'll go into other key changes later, on the second page in this series.

But right now, let's have a list of a few early Jazz type numbers that change key 'up the ladder'...

'Buddy's Habit'. This has two themes in B flat and the third and final theme in E flat. (Note: you don't have to change key when you introduce a new theme!)

'Ostrich Walk'. E flat and A flat.

'Fidgety Feet'. B flat, E flat, A flat.

'Memphis Blues'. F and B flat.

'Panama'. *Five* themes, the first 2 in E flat, the next 3 in A flat.

'The Pearls'. Three themes, two in G, one in C.

'Froggie Moore'. Two in B flat, one in E flat.

Johnny Bayersdorffer's 'I Wonder Where My Easy Rider's Riding Now' (OKeh, 1924) seems to be a rare example of a three-theme tune that goes from C to F to B flat. It's using the 'ladder' but this is the only Jazz tune I've ever come across that uses those particular keys. Of course the perennial 'Alexander's Ragtime Band' has the verse in C and the chorus in F, but then again, Irving Berlin will always surprise you!

(By the way, the Neophyte can't read these notes! He has to learn the hard way!)

I wonder where they'll turn up next?

Let's see...


Dialogue #4


[A modern executive's office looking out over a prosperous city. Both our heroes are clad in dark business suits and wearing those patterned ties that all business people seem to have to wear now. Of course the Sage has a larger (and somewhat more elaborate) pattern on his tie than the Neophyte's...]

S. [Buzzes intercom] No more telephone calls please, Gloria...

N. I didn't know there were still secretaries called Gloria! I mean our surroundings are apparently early 21st century, and..

S. You're right; the scene was indeed supposed to be set around 2010. Alas, a small and hopefully inconsequential glitch has incorporated some 1940s elements into this particular parallel universe. I doubt if they will be a problem, however. Anyhow, let's apply all you've learned to check out another record!

N. Oh, great! Which one is it?

S. 'Clarinet Marmalade' by the ODJB, recorded in 1918.

N. Couldn't we get away from the ODJB, or at least out of the acoustic era?

S. Hmm; important as they are in the origins and evolution of Jazz, there is no especial need for us to dwell overlong on this extremely early period; but as I have already prepared the samples and burned a CDR of them...[he makes a Gallic shrug....]

N. O.K. I'll just click this link to activate the first section.....

S. This is a short 8-bar introduction. You'll by now recognise the fact that it resolves quite firmly. So it should be easy to find the home key!

N. [Confidently] Yep: should be pretty easy now we know what we're doing.....

[The Sage turns away and waggles his eyebrows.....]

Here's the video link for this evaluation.

N. The record wasn't recorded at exactly 78 rpm!

S. No: recording speeds were often quite variable, even with major companies – like Victor. We'll need to test further...  Now what speed did they record it at? Let’s look at it again.  Well, we had to reduce it by 2.5% to get the introduction in the key of F, so what speed was it recorded at?

[The Neophyte repeats this question into his wrist-wradio-tv (plus mobile 'phone plus personal organiser plus wrist-top). A tiny voice replies: '76.05 rpm'. A thin thread of music begins, and the voice continues: 'This calculation was brought to you by courtesy of Acme Finance. Right now, Acme Finance have unrivalled Loan packages...erk.!!' The voice disappears as the Neophyte stabs at the minuscule buttons on the wrist-wradio]

S. We must press on! Having re-pitched the whole side 2.5% slower, let's first hear the next section....

... and then analyse it.

N. So this first theme is still in the key of F.

S. Correct. The introduction to a piece and its first theme are generally in the same key, but don't rely on it. Don't rely on anything: check it out! F'rinstance, the introduction to the tune 'Eccentric' is in F but the first theme is in C; things like that...  There follows a little bridge passage, which we will ignore, and go to the next section: click here to listen to it. And now let us check the key: click here for the video link

N. Looks like the whole side is going to be in the key of F! Are there any more themes?

S. Yes, but as we've nearly finished this chapter, let's get some refreshment! [He crosses to a discreet cocktail cabinet, opens it and continues speaking, his voice accompanied by the agreeable tinkle of ice falling into expensive crystal glasses, and the burble of liquor being poured thereon...] Yes, the very normal and common key of F has been used throughout the record so far. Let's see if it carries on

N. Hey! It sounds similar and different at the same time!

S. [Placing glass in front of Neophyte, and taking a sip from his own] Mmmmm! That's good!

N. You mean it's good for things to be similar and different at the same time? But the Most Sacred Principles of our Order would be defied! Chaos, anarchy and eventual oblivion would surely follow.....?

S. [Impishly] Actually, I was talking about this very welcome bourbon! As to the key you just heard, permit me to introduce to you a very nice key. It's one of the family of minor keys! It's time we met them. After all, the keys we've dealt with so far have all been major keys.

N. [Aghast] Another whole family of keys? But this is going to make things really complicated! How many of these families are there, for heaven's sake?

S. Just two for our purposes, you'll be happy to learn! Just major and minor! Let's check out this one...

N. [Crestfallen] So it's D minor. Big Deal! Probably any minor key could have come up: this means there will always be many tedious possibilities to explore! I certainly don't like these minor keys!

S. No, no, no, no, no! Minor keys, in Dance, Jazz and many other musics, most often bear a definite and specific relationship to the major keys. This key of D minor has a specific relationship with F. Indeed, D minor is called 'The Relative Minor' of F. They go together, as a pair. Many tunes use D minor and F as their main keys! This relationship actually makes stronger and more plain the true key of a record; if a minor key appears, it may well be the relative minor.

N. [Brightening] I would have thought F minor would have been the Relative Minor of F!

S. [Refilling their glasses] No. But a *very few* tunes do change key in that manner: B flat to B flat minor, F to F minor, G to G minor and so on. A very famous one to do so is 'St. Louis Blues'. It's normally played in G, and the minor 'tango' part is in G minor. Here is a list of our ladder of 'preferred keys' with their relative minors:

Major Key

Relative Minor


E minor


A minor


D minor

B flat

G minor

E flat

C minor

A flat

F minor

D flat

B flat minor

And, we know by listening to it, that this record of ‘Clarinet Marmalade’ by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, though it plays various themes, and in various orders, is all in the same key of F except for one interlude that is in D minor, that being the relative minor of F. Also, the record stayed pretty well in tune throughout, so that playback speed of 76 rpm we arrived at is good for the whole side.

N. Usually it's you who call an end to the proceedings... but today it's me! My brain will need time to digest all this!

S. That is in fact the end of the page! In any case, it's necessary not only to call a halt because WE both need further refreshment, but mainly because Norman Field, the guy who's actually writing all this garbage, has got into such a mess with his filenames, links and so on that he needs some time to sort them all out. Actually, I doubt he'll ever get it all up onto the 'net... and if he does, it will never work; I’ve seen this sort of over-ambitious web-page before!

Field: [suddenly appearing] Oh, yeah? Wise guys! We'll see! Moreover, you two may be called back to elaborate on this business some more! Come on, Gloria! I’ve got two tickets for the Darktown Strutters’ Ball, and I wanna be the foist one to ‘shake a leg’!

[The office door opens, and the secretary enters]

Gloria: Hi, Norman!

[The secretary, admittedly no longer in the first bloom of her youth, bears a striking resemblance to Walt Dinsey’s Tinkerbell. The Sage’s jaw drops…]

Norman and Gloria: ’Bye now….

Norman: [thinks] We must build more of these 1940s anomalies into future universes!

[All Exit]


This page, complete with all its errors, omissions, mistakes and misapprehensions, is offered purely as a way to help you to ‘come to grips’ with a few of the problems of pitching 78s of British and U.S. Dance & Jazz bands. And also, of course, if you have smiled at all, that’s a bonus! It’s certainly not an exhaustive manual on the topic (which indeed I am not qualified to write).But if it has served to interest you or help you on this topic in any way, then it has fulfilled its purpose! Nevertheless, please let me know of any mistakes you find, or suggestions for improving the page. I’ll be happy to hear from you!

…and to go to Part 2 of this article, just click here.




1st January 2010.