noun, plural keys.
- (in a keyboard instrument) one of the levers that when depressed by the performer sets in motion the playing mechanism.
- (on a woodwind instrument) a metal lever that opens and closes a vent.
- the relationship perceived between all tones in a given unit of music and a single tone or a keynote; tonality.
- the principal tonality of a composition: a symphony in the key of C minor.
- the keynote or tonic of a scale.
- a device for opening and closing electrical contacts.
- a hand-operated switching device ordinarily formed of concealed spring contacts with an exposed handle or push button, capable of switching one or more parts of a circuit.
verb (used with object), keyed, key·ing.
- to paint (a picture) in a given key.
- to adjust the colors in (a painting) to a particular hue: He keyed the painting to brown.
verb (used without object), keyed, key·ing.
- Football. to watch the position and movements of an opponent in order to anticipate a play: The defensive backs keyed on the star receiver.
- Also key in on. to single out as of prime importance or interest; be intent on or obsessed with: a company that is keyed in on growth.
- to bring to a particular degree of intensity of feeling, excitement, energy, nervousness, agitation, etc.: keyed up over the impending test.
- to raise (a piece of masonry) by the insertion of a wedge or wedges.
- to raise (the haunches of an arch) by the insertion of a voussoir.
Words nearby key
Idioms for key
Origin of key1
British Dictionary definitions for key up (1 of 4)
British Dictionary definitions for key up (2 of 4)
- Also called: tonality any of the 24 major and minor diatonic scales considered as a corpus of notes upon which a piece of music draws for its tonal framework
- the main tonal centre in an extended compositiona symphony in the key of F major
- the tonic of a major or minor scale
- See tuning key
- a hand-operated device for opening or closing a circuit or for switching circuits
- a hand-operated switch that is pressed to transmit coded signals, esp Morse code
verb (mainly tr)
Derived forms of keykeyless, adjective
Word Origin for key
British Dictionary definitions for key up (3 of 4)
British Dictionary definitions for key up (4 of 4)
Scientific definitions for key up
Cultural definitions for key up
The main or central note of a piece of music (or part of a piece of music). Each key has its own scale, beginning and ending on the note that defines the octave of the next scale. The key of C-major uses a scale that starts on C and uses only the white keys of the piano. In a piece composed in the key of C, the music is likely to end on the note C, and certain combinations of notes based on C will predominate.
Idioms and Phrases with key up (1 of 2)
Make intense, excited, or nervous. For example, The excitement of the gallery opening has really keyed her up. This usage alludes to key in the sense of “wind up a spring-driven mechanism such as a clock.” [Late 1800s]
Idioms and Phrases with key up (2 of 2)
In addition to the idiom beginning with key
- key up
- in key
- under lock and key