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In music, the adjectives major and minor can describe a scale, key, chord, or interval.

For intervals, the terms refer to a difference in their relative width, major referring to notes somewhat further apart; the other terms are classifications based on the use of certain intervals, especially the major or minor third.

To find the so called "relative minor" of a major key (i.e. the minor that has the same key signature), go down a minor third (three semitones), or go up to the sixth degree of the scale. For example, the relative minor of G major - G>F>E - would be E minor.

To find the relative major of a minor key, go up a minor third interval; for example, the relative major of F Minor - F>G>A - would be A major.

Major and minor are frequently referred to in the titles of compositions in their foreign language form, especially in reference to the key of a piece.

Contents

Intervals and chords

With regard to intervals, the words essentially just mean large and small, so a major third is a wider interval, and a minor third a relatively narrow one. The intervals of the second, third, sixth, and seventh (and compound intervals based on them) may be major or minor. See Interval (music).

Minor intervals Major intervals
minor second major second
minor third major third
minor sixth major sixth
minor seventh major seventh

The other uses of major and minor, in general, refer to musical structures containing major thirds or minor thirds. A major scale is one whose third degree is a major third above the tonic, while a minor scale has a minor third degree. A major chord or major triad, similarly, contains a major third above the root, whereas a minor chord or minor triad contains a minor third above the root. In Western music, a minor chord, in comparison, "sounds darker than a major chord".[1]

Major and minor scales

The minor scale can be described in two different ways. One way is to consider it as the sixth mode of a major scale, while the other is to call it a variation of the major scale, with lowered or altered third, sixth, and seventh scale degrees. However, the "crucial difference is that in the minor scale there is only a half step between the second and third tones as compared to the major scales where the difference between third and fourth note and between the seventh and the eighth note is half."[1] This alteration in the third degree "greatly changes" the mood of the music, and "music based on minor scales tends to" be considered to "sound serious or melancholic".[1]

The minor third is considered the hallmark of a minor scale, since the sixth and seventh may be variably raised while the third remains unaltered. Contrastingly, changes of mode, which would involve the alteration of the third, and mode mixture, are often analyzed as minor or trivial changes unless structurally supported as the root and overall key and tonality remains unchanged when compared to, for instance, modulation or transposition. These latter operations are done by moving all intervals up or down a certain constant interval, and does change key, but does not change mode, which requires the alteration of intervals. The use of triads only available in the minor mode, such as the use of A♭-major in C major, is relatively decorative chromaticism, considered to add color and weaken sense of key without entirely destroying or losing it.

In the German theory by or derived from Hugo Riemann, the minor mode is considered the inverse of the major mode, an upside down major scale based on (theoretical) undertones rather than (actual) overtones (harmonics). The "root" of the minor triad is thus considered the top of the fifth, which, in the United States, is called "the" fifth. So in C minor, the tonic root is actually G, and the leading tone is A♭ (a halfstep), rather than, in major, the root being C and the leading tone B (a halfstep). Also, since all chords are analyzed as having a tonic, subdominant, or dominant function, with, for instance, in C, A-minor being considered the tonic parallel (US relative), Tp, the use of minor mode root chord progressions in major such as A♭-major-B♭-major-C-major is analyzed as sP-dP-T, the minor subdominant parallel, the minor dominant parallel, and the major tonic. (Gjerdingen, 1990)


root of A minor triad third of A minor triad fifth of A minor triad fifth of A minor triad root of C major triad root of C major triad third of C major triad fifth of C major triad fifth of E minor triad fifth of E minor triad root of E minor triad third of E minor triad third of G major triad fifth of G major triad root of G major triad root of G major triad fifth of D minor triad fifth of D minor triad root of D minor triad third of D minor triad third of F major triad fifth of F major triad root of F major triad root of F major triad
Major and minor triads: The minor mode is considered the inverse of the major mode. (file)


Minor scales are sometimes said to have a more interesting, possibly sadder sound than plain major scales Craig Wright - Listening to Music. The minor mode, with its variable sixth and seventh degrees, offers nine notes, in C: C-D-E♭-F-G-A♭-A-B♭-B, over the major mode's seven, in C: C-D-E-F-G-A-B. The interval strength, or lowest possible location in the harmonic series, and thus consonance and "stability", of minor triads is less than that of major, which interprets major as more "stable", a major triad being found in the 4th, 5th, and 6th harmonics of a pitch, while the minor being the 10th, 12th, and 15th. This may explain the Picardy third, the use of a major tonic chord at the very end of a composition in minor, since it would be more stable and thus conclusive.

There are two variations of the natural minor scale: harmonic and melodic. In a harmonic minor scale, the 7th note is raised a semitone, both ascending and descending. In a melodic minor scale, the 6th and 7th notes ascending are raised a semitone, and descending, the 6th and 7th notes are normal.

C D E F G A B C
1 9/8 5/4 4/3 3/2 5/3 15/8 2

See also

Sources

  1. ^ a b c Kamien, Roger (2008). Music: An Appreciation, 6th Brief Edition, p.46. ISBN 978-0-07-340134-8.

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