Major Songs in Minor Keys! (Minor Key Concepts)

Lisa Witt  /  Theory / Sep 10

Have you ever wondered what songs in major keys sound like in minor keys?

In this video, Sam and I find out!

We’ll take some of the happiest songs we know and re-imagine them in minor keys. Songs like:

This requires a little theory, so if you have questions about the minor key concepts we’re using, keep reading!

Minor Keys

In Western music, major keys tend to sound “happy” while minor keys tend to sound “sad.” Scales (a sequence of notes) in either a major or minor key will follow a set pattern of whole and half steps.

Here’s the pattern of whole and half steps for a minor scale:

W – H – W – W – H – W – W

Using this formula, you can build a minor scale on any note.

This formula lets you build a natural minor scale, but there are other types of minor scales. To learn about harmonic minor and melodic minor scales, take a peek at Cassi’s lesson here.

🎹 Whole Steps vs. Half Steps: Half steps are keys that are right next to each other on the piano. A whole step consists of two half-steps.

Relative Minor Keys

All major keys have a relative minor key. And all minor keys have a relative major key. They’re “related” to each other because they both have the same number of sharps and flats!

If you’ve ever seen the Circle of Fifths, this is what it’s all about.

Circle of Fifths diagram with inner keys (minor) colored in red and outer keys (major) colored in burgundy.

But if you don’t want to carry a Circle of Fifths shaped frisbee everywhere you go, just keep these formulas in mind:

  1. To find the relative minor of a major key, count three half steps down from the starting note of the major key. For example, three half-steps down from C is A, so A Minor is the relative minor key of C Major. C Major and A Minor both have no sharps and flats.
  2. To find the relative major of a minor key, count three half steps up from the starting note of a minor key. For example, three half-steps up from E is G, so G Major is the relative major key of E Minor. G Major and E Minor both have one sharp (F#).
Keyboard diagram showing three half-steps down from C to A with arrows.

Parallel Minor Keys

A parallel minor key is a key that starts on the same note as the major key it’s “parallel” to.

So, for example, the parallel minor key of C Major is C Minor. And the parallel minor key of G Major is G Minor.

It’s easier to sing something in a parallel key because you’re closer to the song’s original key. But you have to watch out for key signatures. Parallel keys don’t have the same numbers of sharps and flats!

For example, C Major has no sharps or flats, but C Minor has three flats because its relative major key is E Flat Major.

G Major has one sharp, but G Minor has two flats because its relative major key is B Flat Major.

More Minor Key Concepts

If you want to learn more about minor keys, take a look at our other free lessons:

Otherwise, happy exploring and practicing!

Lisa Witt has been teaching piano for 19 years and in that time has helped hundreds of students learn to play the songs they love. Lisa received classical piano training through the Royal Conservatory of Music, but she has since embraced popular music and playing by ear in order to accompany herself and others.

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