Major and Minor

Introducing the idea: I’m having too many “if I were teaching (insert subject), I would use (insert example) to explain (insert principle)” moments. But my teaching days are on the left hand side of the timeline. It’s a bit deflating to find something so usable and yet have no way to use it. So I blog.

Background: Today (6/28) is Tau Day. What?  Tau (τ) is the circumference of a circle divided by the radius, approximately 6.28.  [Pi Day was 3/14, celebrating π, the circumference of a circle divided by the diameter.]  Michael John Blake has put Tau, the infinite number, to music on this video. The tune is the wistfully mysterious; for me it also captures the order and structure and design in something as elementary as a circle.

Getting closer to the point: I am a sucker for the sidebar.  After I watched the Tau video I noticed a video posted by the same musician/guy: Carol of the Bells (major key).

Bring it home: The familiar Carol of the Bells is, of course, written in a minor key.  [If you were sitting next to me, we’d hum it together.]  The carol has such a different mood played in a major key.  Raising or lowering the third, the middle note in a chord, greatly alters a tune.  This video would be a perfect way to teach major/minor keys to piano students. I have this urge to round up the street urchins and explain it to them. 

Winding down: When I play the piano, I often take a familiar song written in a major key, say Great is Thy Faithfulness or even The Star Spangled Banner, and play a middle verse in the minor key. Because life is sometimes that way. In a minor key. And the music captures that sense of struggle and strain and difficulty.  The video above, however, goes in a different direction: the minor to the major.

Concluding question: Minor keys make a lot of people gag. They complain, “What is with the dirge?”  I’m quite fond of minor key tunes.  But that is a topic for another time. Which version of Carol of the Bells do you prefer: major or minor?



8 thoughts on “Major and Minor

  1. I have to say, in all honesty, the major one makes my teeth itch. Hearing it in minor confirms a muscle memory — hearing it in major is so wrong at a cellular level. strange.and you KNOW how I love minor tunes…..

  2. Why aren’t you teaching piano anymore? By choice? And it’s curious that none of your sons play piano, but I guess the hunting held more charm for them growing up? My kids all grew up knowing how to play several instruments, but none of them play anymore, either. Makes me sad.

  3. Well, I figured I’d hate it and I didn’t like it right at first, but by the end I did like it — I like it as a different song though, not as a substitute for the real thing.  Sort of like watching a movie based on a book that’s a good movie, even though it’s not the same story — you just have to mentally separate the two.

  4. “Because life is sometimes that way. In a minor key. And the music captures that sense of struggle and strain and difficulty. ” Like Di, I love this thought. So true.And I kept thinking throughout reading “I love minor keys” until I got to your line expressing fondness. I don’t see them as sad or dirge-ish, rather contemplative and thoughtful.And Steph’s “makes my teeth itch” gave me one big smile after a long hard day. Thanks, Steph!

  5. I like songs in minor keys! When I was in high school I worked about 15 minutes from home. I would sing songs from church and from school choir all the way to and from work and I loved to play around with them and often changed certain intervals to minors. I love the way it makes a familiar song change to an intriguing, mysterious, sometimes mournful tune. Yes, I prefer the Carol of the Bells in a minor key!Sancy

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