theory question major/minor

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by ryanbeighss, Jan 27, 2013.

  1. ryanbeighss


    Jan 27, 2013
    so I'm learning major and minor scales to be able to read bass guitar music without tabs right now....I started making flashcards of key signatures.....but how do I know if the key signature is telling me major or minor ?, being as the key signature for certain major notes is the same as the key signature for certain minor notes.......
  2. Clef_de_fa


    Dec 25, 2011
    It's the chords that will tell you if you are in major or minor.

    Exemple : a simple I-IV-V progression type. If the I is always Gmaj7 ... with G major accidential ... you can bet it is in G major. But If the I is Emin7 and you have a F# in the key ... well you can bet you are in E minor.
  3. Bainbridge


    Oct 28, 2012
    The key signature gives you no indicator of the modality of the music, only the notes which constitute the natural scale. A key signature of two flats will tell you that the key is either B♭ major (B♭ C D E♭ F G A, 1 2 3 4 5 6 7) or G minor (G A B♭ C D E♭ F, 1 2 ♭3 4 5 ♭6 ♭7). What you can look for, though, is an artificially created leading tone.


    Check out the first measure. That F# is a dead giveaway that we are dealing with G minor. Pieces in minor keys will often have the seventh degree raised - and that won't be accounted for in the key signature - so you can look for accidentals to determine whether you are in a major or minor key. We call that raising of the seventh degree in minor keys by a specific name: "harmonic minor" (G A B♭ C D E♭ F#, 1 2 ♭3 4 5 ♭6 7). That E before the F# on the treble staff is also a feature of minor keys called the "melodic minor" (G A B♭ C D E F#, 1 2 ♭3 4 5 6 7). No accidentals? Probably a major key. Accidentals? Check if it's a leading tone (scale degree 7), and you might have a minor key.

    Note: I'm giving you a limited perspective on the reality of the situation, but as you become more familiar with our system of notation, you will surely learn all of the little exceptions.
  4. joebar


    Jan 10, 2010
    excellent description.
  5. thewildest

    thewildest Supporting Member

    May 25, 2011
    Hmmm, when you mean minor... do you mean the natural minor scale?. Actually the natural minor scale is a mode of the major scale... it is the same. C Major is A minor and vice-versa. Em is GM and so on. The answer above (very well explained) would be when you are talking about the minor harmonic scale, which is the natural minor with a raised 7th (or major 7th). In that case, the risen notes give the scale identity away.

    The key signature is referred to its major mode, so if you see (for example) 2 sharps (F and C) you are in the tonality of D Major, or B minor. To discern if this is a tune in Bm or DM you have to read the sequence of chords and see where the main parts start/land. In any case, it is the same exactly.

    I hope I am not confusing your more... I thought pertinent to share.
  6. MalcolmAmos

    MalcolmAmos Supporting Member

    Have you been introduced to the Circle of 5ths? If not.....
    Key of C at the top.
    It's relative minor key is inside the circle, i.e. the A or Am scale. Let's take a deeper look.
    Notes for the C scale are; C, D, E, F, G, A, B
    Notes for the Am scale are...................A, B, C, D, E, F, G

    Chords from the C scale are C, Dm, Em, F, G, Am, Bm7b5
    Chords from the Am scale are...................... Am, Bm7b5, C, Dm, Em, F, G

    Same notes in both, same chords in both. If the song's harmony (chords) revolve around the C, F & G chord or the major chords in the key of C then your song will be, and sound, major. If the song's harmony (chords) revolve around the Am, Dm & Em or the minor chords in the key of Am then your song will be and sound minor.

    You gotta look at the music and see which way it's using the major or minor chords. The key signature tells you the major and relative minor key. You look at which set of chords are being used to decide if the song is major or minor.

    Where is the A (major) on the circle? Answer; at 3:00 O'clock. How many sharps does the A (major) scale have? Answer; three. Question: Why is the bottom of the circle so crowded? Answer; there are 7 notes in each scale so they have to wrap around 6:00 O'clock.

    Lot of good stuff hidden within the circle --- if you know what to look for. Here is a 20 minute video on the Circle - lot of good information - stick with him as long as you can.
  7. ryanbeighss


    Jan 27, 2013
  8. bander68


    Jan 29, 2013
    Excellent description. Another thing that I was taught was to look at root notes in the first and last measures. In measure 1, your very first bass note is a G. Most tunes start and end on a I chord, so (by knowing the circle of 5ths), I knew immediately that it was in g minor with that note and that key signature.

    If you don't know your circle of 5ths, it's paramount to understanding SOOOO many things in music. Learn the majors first, then when you know those it's not a big jump to add the minors. They're in the same order, just turn the clock 3 spots to the left.
  9. zfunkman


    Dec 18, 2012
    Each key as a relative major and minor chord. In this case you have the key of G (1 #) which can also be Em (1 #). If you have 1 # in your key signiture and the root note is E you are in Em; if its G you're in Gma. G is the I chord and Em is the VI chord. The relative major and minor in any key is usually the I and VI.