Sometimes when I'm stuck in my songwriting, I do something very simple: I take the melody I'm working with and try it with both major and minor tonal centers underneath.

For example: in the below video I take a piece of the folk song "Shenandoah", which is traditionally in a major key. Just to shake things up, I try it using the relative minor.

If your song is in C Major, try it in A Minor. If your song is in D Minor, try it in F Major. And so on.

To find relative minor or major keys, see the circle of fifths.

In fact, the circle of fifths is a personal favorite item of mine. When I get stuck, I use it to experiment with all sorts of chord progressions. I look across the circle, I close my eyes and point, I go as far away from the tonal center as I can and see how I can get back, etc. Whatever strikes my fancy. My students call the circle of fifths "The Vortex", because the longer you look at it, the more relationships start appearing. It's a lifetime of never-ending learning and fun!! (what can I say, I'm a bit of a theory dork).

At any rate, see below for a simple example. (When I say "Make a melody major", what I mean is, make the harmonies underneath it major, etc). Enjoy!

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Comment by Deidre Rodman Struck on November 26, 2013 at 8:56pm

Zack this is an excellent point. And WHOA what an interesting listen. Major vs Minor could be a fun late-night listening hang, don't you think?

Comment by Zack Sulsky on November 26, 2013 at 2:57pm

This is a great suggestion, Deidre! For those of you looking for another challenge in working with major and minor, you might also try moving a melody between parallel major and minor. Where relative major and minor share the same key signature, parallel major and minor share the same root, so C major and C minor are parallel keys. Moving a melody between parallel major and minor will take more tweaking than working with relative keys, since the melody will also have to change, but the results can be pretty striking. 


This video comes from a really interesting series on YouTube that takes popular songs and moves them between parallel major and minor just by manipulating the audio. I think it's incredible how much the mood of "Hey Jude" shifts by moving it to minor, at least after you convince your brain to accept that the notes aren't just plain wrong!

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