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?