How to find whether the song is in minor scale or major scale

Discussion in 'Beginner's Q&A Forum' started by KShan, Aug 19, 2007.

  1. KShan

    KShan New Member

    Can someone suggest how 1 can find out whether the song is on minor scale or on major scale, considering that we have the tabs of a song.
  2. alpha1

    alpha1 I BLUES!


    Because both are same.

    C major = A minor scale.
    and so on ...
  3. jimmy_cool

    jimmy_cool The Coolest One!!

    the best way to figure it out....i mean it works 90% of the time....if the song is sad song then most of the time it will be in a minor scale like woh lamhe, aadat, tera mera rishta and so on........if its a happy song...its mostly in major.......but there r exception to this ada from garam masala is nt sad but still in Cm so u'll have to judge it .....
  4. srakshit

    srakshit New Member

    Why do you want to know?

    Generally songs tend to be referred to a 'Key' when they resolve to the chord, or want to resolve to a particular chord. There's no way to easily explain without listening.

    I don't agree that Am=Cmaj, just try this:

    Play the following sequence:

    C F G G7 C, 4 bars each chord

    And then

    C F G E Am, 4 bars each.

    In both cases the first three chords are identical, but the colour of the song is completely different. In a very traditional sense I might say the first song is in C, and the second in Am. The final chord nails the key I will be composing the melody in, and is referred to the key of the song.

    Usually the starting chord dictates the key, or the ending chord. This is not always true, specially in Jazz or Classical, where there are many key changes through a song - but there are exceptions in modern music too. Hotel California does not end in the root chord tones but in the 5th, and One Headlight - well, no one really knows what key it's composed in, but it's either D or Bm.

    Back to the first question: why do you want to know? If just for tabs, it doesn't matter. For composing, it's one big decision.
  5. KShan

    KShan New Member

    But then what about chords...

    Does this mean if smone knows the notes then one can try different chords on the basis of those notes and should not be too worried about the minor or major scale. Is this what u r suggesting.
  6. jazzbox

    jazzbox His X Ln C 1000CC

    yes exactly when u find actual notes of a song u can assign them chords..

    for example some song u have got its starting from E

    you can assign Emaj if its nop matching perfectly you can try Em also

    keyboard is best for giving chords to a song
  7. srakshit

    srakshit New Member


    Songs are not built on chords, they're built on scales. Always remember that. Chords only tell you what the harmony is, not the key of the song. That is hidden in the melody.

    The best way to figure out that is not the chords, but the bass. 99% of the time if you're having problems with figuring out a song, the bass will tell you, and for most songs the third will tell you if the key is major or minor.

    I assume now that the reason you need to know this is to figure out the 'next' chord, which becomes easier if it's in A minor versus A major.

    The best tools for this are the bass, which will always be in key. Once you get the notes the bass is playing, try the thirds on each note, to decipher the scale. The third of Cmaj scale is E, but the third of the Cmin is Eb. Once you play both the notes you can immediately tell which of the two is harmonious with the melody, and you've nailed the key.
  8. KShan

    KShan New Member

    thanx people...
  9. alpha1

    alpha1 I BLUES!

    Why do you say that first sequence is in C major, whereas the second sequence is in A minor?

    Do you mean to say that the notes in the scale of C major (Ionian) differ from notes in the scale of A minor (Aeolian)
  10. srakshit

    srakshit New Member

    Though the Aeolian and Ionian are modes, not scales. They are played over a root major chord.

    Scales are defined not by the notes, but by intervals - this sound hocus pocus, but to hear the difference you have to play it over a root.

    So if you play the notes CDEFGAB over a C major scale, it is Ionian.

    To hear the Aeolian mode you play CDEFGAB over an A MAJOR (not minor) scale).

    Scale of A minor is not Aeolian mode, they're two slightly different concepts. Actually, the key of A minor has two scales. One is used for ascending (harmonic) and the second for descending (natural), but this can be varied for great success.

    What you are saying is that the notes comprising the A minor natural scale are the same as the Cmajor scale. Whereas theoretically that is correct, they sound different as a song composed in Aminor will (or should) harmonise differently from a song composed in Cmajor.

    Else imagine how boring it would be. Hotel California is in Bm, and Summer of 69 is in D. They are definitely not the same.

    In the end, it's always about the music.
  11. srakshit

    srakshit New Member

    I just read my post, and it's confusing me too. I'll try to be simpler.

    Aeolian and Ionian are fundamentally modes, to hear them you have to play them over their corresponding major scale. To hear G mixolydian you play it over G major, and for Aeolian over A major.

    The notes of C major and Am natural are the same, but the scales will sound different even as you play them because the sound of scales is based on intervals. Go play them, don't read them off a book. They will sound different even if the notes are the same.

    As for my post, the sequence is written so that the ending chord defines the key. This is not necessary, just one way to do it. The 'key' chord can be the beginning chord, the ending chord or one in the middle - it depends on the chosen harmony, but for most pop music it's the beginning of the first verse or the last chord of the chorus.
  12. alpha1

    alpha1 I BLUES!

    The reason I wrote aeolian or ionian was to make it clear that I was referring to the minor scale which has same intervals as aeolian mode.

    I was not referring to modes per se.

    Anyway lemme put this more clearly.

    There is a chord progression - where the chords are built on notes from A minor scale. now compared to a situation where the chord is built on notes from C major scale.

    Will those two be different?

    If such a sequence is given - how will you label one as A minor and other as C major.
  13. srakshit

    srakshit New Member

    OK I'll try to answer that.

    In the natural minor scale, the intervals are Maj 2nd, Min 3rd, Per 4th, Per 5th, Min 6th, Min 7th.

    In the major scales, the intervals are Maj 2nd, Maj 3rd, Per 4th, Per 5th, Maj sixth, Maj 7th.

    So yes, they are different. At least theoretically.

    Now let's take music. I will again pull two examples, from the keys you provide.

    1. The song 'Imagine' by John Lennon, is built on chords in the key of Cmaj. Chords used are C, CMaj7, F, Am, Dm, G and G7.

    2. The song 'Don't Cry' by GNR, is built on chords in the key of Am. Chords are Am, C, D, F, G, E and a bunch of stacked fifths in the chorus.

    Will (do) 1. and 2 sound different? Are the progressions different? You can look at hundreds of examples where a song built in the relative minor key will sound different, and have a different structure, from a song in the related major.

    This has a lot to do with the structure of the scale system and the way it is used in western music.

    OK let's go to the next possibility, of two songs using exactly the same chords.

    Since I can't think of any off the bat, I'll take some pieces of two songs that I have heard - I don't know if you have, but I'll hope you can listen to them somehow.

    1. Sting: Fields of Gold, verse. The chords are Bm, G, A and D (not in that order, but you get the idea)

    2. Bryan Adams: Summer of 69, chorus is Bm, G, A, D (again the order is little different).

    You get the idea - they're no way the same sound.

    The basic concept behind any scale is intervals, NOT notes and chords. Notes only can be seen on paper, what the human ear hears as music is intervals - the movement of melody from one note to the next, and its underlying harmony. Then there's tempo, meter and pitch.

    So to your question

    the answer is yes.

    To your second, much tougher, question

    the answer is neither, unless you actually know the key and harmony. A pretty good indication is the last note of the melody line, which either resoves to the root or fifth, but there are as many examples of violations of this 'rule' as there are conformations.

    If you're familiar with western classical music, there is a key signature on the notation. Since we have gotten used to crutches like TAB (hey, even I use it) we miss all of that information, and need to tell by our ears, chord charts, our friends, anything.

    Notes on a page are representations of reality, the reality is the music we hear. We have to separate the two concepts. Understanding how scales work in the real world is critical, so I've tried using examples to illustrate.

    I hope that is a little clearer, sorry if I confused you earlier.
  14. srakshit

    srakshit New Member

    I'll try and second-guess the OP. He wants to know once he has the TAB, how will he know what key to play it in, so he can guess the next set of chords.

    The answer is you can't, not without listening to the song and figuring it out by ear. Not easy at all, but really, unless someone tells you upfront through a chord chart, the only way is to do it yourself.
  15. alpha1

    alpha1 I BLUES!

    I got it.
    I think what you are saying is that you will call one variation of a chord progression as say C major.

    And another progression as A minor.

    What I was taking it to be C major = A minor based on notes.

    Anyway as a last clarification what would you call this progression: Am G F C

    And this one: C Am G C
  16. srakshit

    srakshit New Member

    If I had to solo over those progressions, I would do it in C major, as both the sequences end in C. Which means my ending note would either be C or G, in a pinch E would also work.

    The first progression leaves my ear thirsty though. I don't have a guitar in hand and I don't have a quick resolve, but I need one more verse to really seal the end. Or switch the F to Fminor, which helps the resolution.

    But yeah, both would be C based purely on the last chord.

    In the examples in my long post 2 posts above, the first set is to show the difference between minor and major, the second is two songs with the same key and a different melody line, to illustrate that even like chords can harmonise differently with melodies.

    One can usually tell minor and major keys from listening to the song. They just 'feel' different.

    But you're right, the notes are the same. Which can be very confusing, because they don't sound the same and don't look the same when printed on a sheet of music.
  17. alpha1

    alpha1 I BLUES!

    Minor and major keys can be distinguished by the mood they set.
  18. elfascinating

    elfascinating risqué

    What kinda mood?
  19. zing

    zing Machine Head

    as sum1 mentioned if its sad/melancholy its a minor, happy/bright its a major
  20. elfascinating

    elfascinating risqué

    What bout the happy songs in minor scale and sad ones in major?

    e.g. Tanhaayi (DCH) - Sad - E major

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