Minor is perhaps one of the most popular words you come across when you start making music. It is a fundamental musical term, which you often find in combination with other musical concepts like: 

  • minor key
  • minor intervals
  • minor chords
  • minor scales

Minor key

In general, the term minor describes the key of a piece of music. Does the music you’re playing, hearing or composing have minor vibes? In other words, does it sound melancholic and sad? If so, we say, “This music is in a minor key.”

Examples of minor keys are A minor, B minor, D minor, E minor, G minor etc.

What’s a key signature?

The key is referred to in sheet music notation with a key signature. The key signature is a combination of sharps (#) and flats (b) placed on the staff lines right after the clef. The symbols are placed on those lines that correspond to the notes of the scale that are pitched higher or lower. 

For example, the G natural minor scale (the aeolian mode) consists of the following notes: G, A, Bb, C, D, Eb, F. As you can see in the image below, this is indicated with the key signature of two flats (b) placed on the staff lines that correspond to the B and E. 

The key and the tonic center

The key also marks the tonic center and tonic chord of a musical piece. Chord progressions in songs and compositions often end on the tonic chord. This chord will sound very stable because of its direct connection with the key of our song. 

If, for instance, our song is in the A minor key, then the tonic chord will be the A minor chord. If our song is in the G minor key, then the tonic chord will be… Right! The G minor chord.

What is the difference between the major and minor key?

First of all, there’s a difference in the main mood. We experience the major key as uplifting, happy and cheerful, while the minor key is characterized by an experience of melancholy and sadness.

The major key is characterized by the main major scale and the major tonic chord. The minor key is characterized by the main minor scale and the minor tonic chord.

What are minor intervals?

Minor is related to four music intervals: the second, third, sixth and seventh. Each of these intervals has two versions: smaller or larger. The difference between smaller and larger versions is the number of tones and semitones between the notes. The word minor stands for the smaller version; the word major for the larger. 

For instance, the minor second consists of just one semitone, while the major second consists of one tone (two semitones). 

Here are the minor intervals: 

Here are examples of minor intervals on piano:

What is a minor chord? 

A minor chord sounds melancholic and sad. A basic minor chord consists of three notes that create two intervals: a minor third and a major third. It is this sound that our ear perceives as a minor tone. 

In a minor chord the first note (known as the root note) and the second note create a minor third interval. The second note and the third note create a major third interval. When a minor chord consists of just these three basic notes it is called a minor triad. 

For instance, the A minor chord (minor triad) consists of a root note A, a second note C and a third note E. In the picture below, you see how an A minor triad is played on a keyboard.

The minor third is a very important interval within this chord because it forms these melancholic, sad minor vibes. Simply put, we perceive it as a minor sound because of this minor third interval between the first (root) and second note.

Here is an example of the A minor seventh (Am7) chord on piano with the minor third interval indicated:

What’s the difference between a major chord and a minor chord?

In terms of sound, major chords create positive, joyful vibes. Minor chords create melancholic, sad vibes. Technically, the difference between major and minor chords is in the interval between the first (root) and second note of the chord. In the case of major chords, this interval is a major third. In case of minor chords, it’s a minor third. 

Major or minor intervals create the main sound of a chord, thus making it major or minor.

Minor scales

Minor is connected to the characterization of a scale. The simplest example of a minor scale is the A minor scale, which are all the white keys on the piano keyboard from one A note to another A note one octave higher. 

Again, minor scales have “minor” vibes. Play and listen to any minor scale on your instrument and you’ll recognize the melancholic tone it sets. One of the characteristics of the minor scale is the minor third interval between the root note and the third note of a scale.

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