Major Minor Difference

No, I’m not a musician. I don’t know much about the art form beyond listening and liking, or disliking as the case may be. If anything I’ve written in this post is ill-informed and you know better, I do welcome education.

As a writer, I’m fascinated by lyrics. While writing, I pick music that demonstrates the mood I want to capture on the page. One art form informing another. Circle of life and all that.

In all my years of listening to music, I’ve discovered a fascinating tactic that I like to call “Major in the Minor” or, the flip-side, “Minor in the Major”. This all goes back to scales and chords. And my ignorance is gonna start to show, but what I DO understand is that major chords/scales are the usually bright and cheery sounding tunes while minor chords/scales are (you guessed it) the somber, darker sounds. And you would expect a certain lyrical content with major chords and the same with minor ones. But every now and then an artists flips the…scale on us and gives us lyrics of a “major” nature in a tune that is in a minor key.

Time for a concrete example. So a YouTube troop took “Hey Jude” (a song normally in a major key, with pretty positive, cheery lyrics), and they put in into a minor key. The result is kinda haunting.

So that is the basic concept. Because I’m drawn to contrast (I can’t leave the house wearing dark on dark), this approach to music captivates me. Here are a few songs that are my all-time favorite instances of mix-matching lyrical content and key’s…

  1. “Dancing Queen” – Abba
    This one is kind of a toss up for me because while it is in key of A major, the lyrics to me are sort of tragic in a way. This song could be a jovial tribute to nightlife, but I just heart a sort of lament for something lost (lost potential; lost youth). I associate this song with the movie Muriel’s Wedding. And if you’ve seen that, you know the mood Muriel is in when she listens to the song: stuck, despondent, but defiant. So I will let others judge this entry.

  2. “Lonely Day” – Phantom Planet
    Sure, you know “California”. We all do, from that once-hit show The OC. You probably aren’t familiar with “Lonely Day” though, and shame! I’m not sure which key this is in, but the tune is definitely major. Once the lyrics hit there is a shift and the listener begins to hear a song that is not peppy as the sound would suggest. That is what makes this song pretty darn special, in my opinion.

  3. “You’re Not Alone (Clue Remix)” – Jose Amnesia & Una
    I know, EMD club jam. It’s a good song though. So mood…as the kids say. I’m not sure if electronic-based music has a particular key, but you can hear that it isn’t exactly upbeat and effervescent. Contrast the feel of the music and tone of the voice with the lyrics; those lyrics are deploying a hopeful message in a less-than bubbly tone. And I live for the contrast. Definitely a “Major in a Minor” moment.

Those are my top examples of contrasting music. Does anyone have a favorite? Have you never noticed this phenomena before?


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