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RedDeerGuy1's avatar

What is the major and minor in music?

Asked by RedDeerGuy1 (19445points) December 30th, 2019

What is it?

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14 Answers

SergeantQueen's avatar

It is different keys. It depends on the third note and the pattern. A major scale pattern is whole step, whole, half, whole, whole, whole, half while minor is whole, half, whole, whole, half, whole, whole.

So an A major is A-B-C#-D-E-F#-G#-A
And an A minor is A-B-C-D-E-F-G-A
I believe that taking the third of a scale, and making it flat (among some other things) is what makes it a minor scale instead of a major.
A minor scale is usually “sad” sounding and a major is usually “happy” sounding

gorillapaws's avatar

@SergeantQueen Has it right. It’s the 3rd note that’s flat. If you can hear “Do, Rey, Mi” in your head, the “Mi” in a minor scale is lower in pitch.

Demosthenes's avatar

Major and minor refer to different musical scales and the keys based on those scales. Scales are defined by the intervals between the notes.

Note that major and natural minor scales use the same notes in the same sequence, just with a different start point:


LostInParadise's avatar

I am trying to make sense of these answers, having no musical ability or knowledge of music theory. I found this page, giving the notes and their frequencies.

This is what I learned. The same note in the neighboring octave has twice the frequency. Including the sharp (#) notes, there are 12 notes in an octave, with the ratio of frequencies of neighboring notes being the same, making it equal to the 12th root of 2. I have no idea why some notes have sharps and others don’t.

According to @Demosthenes , A minor and C major both span an octave, but the intervals between neighboring notes is different. For example, C major starts with 3 equally spaced notes 2 intervals apart, but in A minor, A to B covers 2 intervals, but B to C covers just one.

SergeantQueen's avatar

@LostInParadise you are correct, there are intervals between the notes that form a pattern when building scales, and it has to do with the way the notes are on the piano. I honestly was never to good at music theory to be enough to be really specific here, but
C to D is a whole step (There is a black key between them on the keyboard)
D to E is a whole step (Black key)
E to F is a half step (NO black key between them on the keyboard)

and so on. E to F and B to C are half steps, meaning there are no black keys between them (the black key is a sharp or a flat, an A to an A# (A-sharp) is a half step and a Bb(B-flat) to a B is a half step)
Then you have things such as chromatic scales, built all on half steps, such as
(I hope I remembered that right, I have it memorized but it’s easier with an instrument)
But that is another thing

RedDeerGuy1's avatar

@SergeantQueen @LostInParadise @Demosthenes I don’t understand. Is it only for piano? I don’t understand any of the answers.

SergeantQueen's avatar

No. It’s based off the piano because it is in the Key of C.
Other instruments transpose so that when played together in a band, it sounds correct.
Reference this for more about transposition because that’s where I got lost in school.
Basically, a D scale on a Bb instrument, would be my A scale, on my Eb saxophone.
It’s very confusing to me once we get to transposing

SergeantQueen's avatar

Instruments are in different keys, and because of that, if all the instruments in a band were to play a certain scale with no transposition, it would sound bad. That’s why there is a concert pitch which is like the “base” for all instruments to go off of.
So for alto saxophone, a concert Eb scale would be C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C
But a Concert C scale for alto would be A-B-C#-D-E-F#-G#-A
One last edit, sorry.
It’s Eb because my instrument is an Eb instrument, so a concert Eb is my C which is the no flat no sharp scale

SergeantQueen's avatar

Music Theory – Transposition: Part 1

Music Theory – Transposition: Part 2

Music Theory – Transposition: Part 3

The Major Scale Formula: Lesson 1 Music Theory

Minor Scales – Everything You Need To Know In 7 minutes

The Circle of Fifths made clear

Learn music theory in half an hour.

This will explain 100x better than I can because it’s been a while since I’ve been in band.

Thank you for asking this @RedDeerGuy1 I had fun researching this stuff again. Makes me want to start playing again, it’s been a bit

Kardamom's avatar

I feel like I have just been given a lesson in Russian, translated from Chinese, into Klingon, about string theory.

SergeantQueen's avatar

@Kardamom tell me about it…. My thoughts all through the music theory unit in high school…

LostInParadise's avatar

Here is the simplest way to think about it. Imagine the 12 notes of an octave as the hours on the face of a clock. The notes keep increasing by the same factor as you go from one to the next. Starting at the 12 and going around the clock, the next time you hit 12, the frequency will be twice as great.

Let 1 be the starting note of a major chord. The major chord would be 1, 5 and 8. The minor chord would be 1, 4 and 8. Someone correct me if my numbering is off, but that is the basic idea.

You don’t have to start at 1. You can choose any start note. What matters is the two differences between the next two notes. In the major chord the differences are 5–1=4 and 8 – 5 =3. In the minor chord the differences are 4 -1 = 3 and 8 -4 =4.

Strauss's avatar

The simple answer is, it is either the diference in the sound of the chord (Major vs Minor), or the difference of the key, or tonality of a particular piece or section of music.

@RedDeerGuy1 “I don’t understand. Is it only for piano? I don’t understand any of the answers.”

All music (European/American especially) is based on the piano. The other comments about transposing instruments and such, while they are accurate and interesting, may cause confusion. It’s like trying to explain string harmonics to someone who just wants to learn a few chords on guitar.

I could go into an in-depth “lecture” on music theory, but I see that’s already been done.

Here’s a YouTube video showing the C Major scale.

Here’s a YouTube video showing the C Major chord.

Here’s a YouTube video showing the C Minor scale.

Here’s a YouTube video showing the C Minor Chord.

Kardamom's avatar

Backing slowly out of the room. The math explanations just make it worse.

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