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EMT Lesson Four  How to understand keys and key signatures

Relative minor keys

Each major key has a ‘relative’ minor. This means that there is a minor key based on a different note which has the same seven notes as that major key. The relative minor key is three semitones below (or an interval of a sixth - nine semitones- above) its relative major .

Here are a few examples;

C major/A minor
D major/B minor
E Major/C# minor
F major/D minor
Bb major/G minor

These relative minors are shown against their relative majors in the circle of fifths diagram.

Figure 21.   (Enlarge)

Figure 21.

[Note: Looking at the table of minor scales, in Figure 21 above, you can see that the relative major is three semitones above its relative minor – an interval of a minor third.]

As you can see from the examples above, the key signature for C major is the same as the key signature for A minor. Neither key has any sharps or flats.

Although both keys contain the same notes, they sound very different. In the key of C major (with the root note of C), the chord of C major (C, E, G) will sound like the root, or ‘home’, chord. The music will have a major tonality. In the key of A minor (with the root note of A), the chord of A minor (A, C, E) will sound like the root, or ‘home’, chord. The music will have a minor tonality, which is more melancholy than the major key.

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