["The Key To Music" is a research project lead by Robert Fontana on the musical formulas that have made up the industry’s pop trends throughout these past decades.]
I’ve decided to take a photo to demonstrate exactly how I determine the keys of songs in my project. This particular one is in C.
Children as young as 3 years old could tell you that a major chord sounds happy and a minor chord sounds sad. I’ve always hated explaining it like that to my music students since it really depends on context. For instance, take a song like LaBelle’s “Lady Marmalade” or Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish” (both in a minor key) and tell me those songs sound sad. Even the theme from Rocky – one of the most motivational songs ever – was a major “minor” hit. It all depends on arrangement or what you do with the notes you have – a good lesson for life!
Listen to “I Wish” by Stevie Wonder in the key of E-flat minor
The Battle of the Keys: Minor VS. Major
One of the most apparent trends I’ve noticed after I finished analyzing the keys of the first 25 years of Billboard Hot 100 #1’s is that these chart-toppers are increasingly being composed with minor keys (see chart below). In fact, the 70’s were the first decade any minor key was used more than any major key (A minor was used more than G-flat major). If we continue at this pace, by the 2020’s, songs with minor keys will outnumber the major keys.
Results from the 70’s
298 total keys were identified out of the 258 songs
(32 more keys & 56 more songs than the previous decade)
This means less songs with long-running stays at #1
I decided graphs were more explicit than words, so here goes: