Major Versus Minor Key: A Case Study

 Posted by on 31 January 2013 at 2:00 pm  Emotions, Music
Jan 312013

I’ve never had a firm grasp on the emotional differences between major and minor key. Amazingly, I just learned a heck of a lot about it by listening to a version of R.E.M.’s song, “Losing My Religion” changed to a major key.

Here’s the original version in its minor key:

Now here’s the modified version in a major key:

It’s titled “Recovering My Religion” for good reason. As one commenter said, “I’ve never been so happy while losing my religion.”

Also, here’s another version.

  • Kevin Delaney

    Losing your religion is something to be happy about!

  • Jae Alexander

    Maybe I’ve heard the original too many times, but I experience a disconnect between lyrics and music in the “happy” version. Like the singer has no sincerity and the words mean nothing. It sounds so non-nonchalant and inexplicably not conflicted.

    Perhaps the second version should have been titled “(Not Really) Losing My Religion”.

  • JT

    Diana, I know what you mean when you say that you’ve “never had a firm grasp on the emotional differences between major and minor key.” Major key is brighter & sweeter or cheery emotionally; minor key is darker & bitter or mournful emotionally. I don’t understand why you’d find that complicated.

    • Diana Hsieh

      JT, your first sentence contradicts your last. In any case, there’s a world of difference between (1) knowing what’s generally said about major verus minor key and noticing that some music (of unknown key) seems more bold and cheerful, while other music (also of unknown key) seems more dark and (2) actually hearing the difference first-hand, particularly when done by varying the key of a well-known piece of music.

      So basically, I’m pretty illiterate about these kinds of points of music theory — and I like to grasp such things for myself, rather than just accepting conventional wisdom. There’s nothing so unusual or complicated about that!

      • John Pryce

        Don’t feel bad, Diana. I played guitar for 8 years, and many of the subtleties involved in songwriting never got through to me either. In fact, I didn’t understand that Music Theory was about WHY we play certain notes for a certain effect until after I gave it up.

        • Diana Hsieh

          I don’t feel bad in the slightest! I’ll figure this stuff out when I’m in my 70s, because that’s when I guess that I’ll have time to take up the violin. :-)

  • Ha’lidryn

    digital modification of keys: okay, I’ve seen/heard it all now… turn off the machine, back away slowly…

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