How Do Major And Minor Chords Affect Emotion?

Jordan Leibel - Aug 10, 2018

In the simplest of terms, the emotional center of music comes from one of two places: the major chord or the minor chord. Bold statement huh? Hear me out, because this just might change your life and your connection to music and how you learn songs.  

 

If you’re listening to music and things feel happy and mellow, you’re probably listening to a song that mostly uses major chords to create that feeling.  An example of a major triad would be the first chord most piano players learn: a C major triad (C - E - G)

 

So you play that chord a few times along with some other major chords and you’ve got a pretty happy little jam going on.  

 

Artistic representation of "Hey Jude." Note the butterfly.

 

Once you’re tired of listening to that chord, try contrasting it with this one: The A minor triad (A - C - E). This chord is known as the relative minor of C major. That means that the C major chord and the A minor chord are kind of like siblings: very different yet quite similar in a lot of respects.

 

So what does this all mean? Well, it means that ANY chord you can think of has a relative major or minor version as well! This is HUGE for anyone looking to make a creative alternate version of any song at all!

 

To show this off, let’s look at "Hey Jude" in the major key. The verses of this song are made up of the chords F - C and Bb. And for every chord, there’s a minor version that will completely reshape the melody.  Let’s take a look at this by first determining how to find the minor notes so we can build the minor chords.  

 

To find the note to build the minor chord off of, all you’ve got to do is count up 6 notes in the scale. If you count up 6 notes in the F major scale, you’ll find out your relative minor note is D, and if you build a basic triad using the SAME ingredients as the F major key. So, in this case, it’ll be D - F - A, aka the D minor triad.  

 

The next question is to find the relative minor of C major, which is A - C - E. We get to that chord by the same method: by counting up 6 notes.  

 

Wanna find the relative minor of Bb? You guessed it. Count up 6 notes to land on G minor (G - Bb - D).

 

Now you have everything you need to play each "Hey Jude" chord in its minor form. If you keep the melody intact, but change the chords down into these minor shapes, you have a really cool example of how major and minor keys affect the emotion of a melody. This new version sounds familiar yet unique! And way more moody!

 

How does this new version of Hey Jude make you feel?  Do the new chords change how you perceive the melody? Let me know in the comments.

 

Have fun with this!

 

Jordan

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Hi, I'm Jordan Leibel

I've worked as a composer for film, commercial, and theatre projects as well as a session musician and producer for recording projects. And now, I'm super excited to teach you a thing or two through Pianote!