Posts Tagged ‘minor key’

[“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.]

Introductory post
Part one on the keys of the 50’s
Part two on the keys of the 60’s

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.

headphonesChildren 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

Most used key: C Major
(50’s: E-flat Major; 60’s: G Major)
As with the previous two decades, the most predominant key was found nearly 14% of the time

Number of different minor keys used: 57
(27 more than the previous decade)
A rising trend, probably due to exhaustion of major key progressions and a desire for deeper exploration of tonalities

Number of songs that employ a key change: 61 or nearly 24% of all songs
(About the same percentage as the previous decade)
A steady trend that states about 1 in 4 hit songs from 1955-1979 utilize a key change

The least used major key: G-flat Major (used 9 times)
(60’s: B Major, used only 9 times; 50’s: G-flat Major, used once
G-flat is not a popular key on the major side

The most used minor key: A minor (used 11 times)
(60’s: A minor, used in 7 songs)
Similar to C Major, this key uses no sharps or flats, which may have contributed to its popularity for songs originally written on the piano


I decided graphs were more explicit than words, so here goes:



Robert Fontana
Editor – Music Resource Group

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