Major = Happy, Minor = Sad.
This has served for generations as a first step to aural identification of the two basic chord types.
Major = Reliable, Minor = Slippery Customer. How’s that, then?
The makeup of a major scale, once learned, remains learned. The minor scale, once conquered, simply grows another head and reappears in disguise. Brought about by historical change and (multi)cultural influence,* these changes have resulted the existence of (at least) 3 types of minor scale. ** Let’s take the alphabetical key of A:
A Natural Minor = A, B, C, D, E, F, G
A Harmonic Minor = A, B, C, D, E, F, G#
A Melodic Minor = A, B, C, D, E, F#, G# ***
Most of it remains the same, but the endings change – does this remind you of another subject? Zut alors! Verb endings – the stem remains the same, the ending changes e.g. the French verb Baigner – To Bathe
je baigne nous baignons
tu baignes vous baignez
il/elle baigne ils/elles baignent
Simply noticing the similarity between verb and scale, will not effect much change. Thinking about the way most pupils would write a new verb (or verb type) gives us a way in. Most, I imagine would, after a while, write the stem quickly and reflect for slightly longer on the ending. They would create thinking time. Thinking time does not occur naturally in music and has to be inserted in the preparatory stage. One way to do this is to leave an empty beat for thinking (or better still, announcing one’s intentions for the following beat).
We would, for example, practise the harmonic minor as follows:
A B C D E – F – G# -A- G# -F – E D C B A
This may seem like quite a headful but some comfort can be drawn from two facts:
- this is not the content of a single lesson – the first five notes (pentachord) will have appeared in the early days
- scales would be learned in one direction at a time (ascending first – so that fluency in reversing the alphabet is not added to the cocktail)
- the triad (the basic building block of Western harmony) resides in the reliable stem of the scale – and so basic harmonic competence is rarely endangered by the fickle higher notes in the scale
* e.g. the Moorish culture in Spain
** there are also minor modes, but let’s not confuse the issue too much
*** this is the ascending form of the scale which then descends in the same way as the natural minor (aka Aeolian Mode)