Major mode

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The major mode is the Western scale resembling the Ionian mode and consists of a specific arrangement of whole and half steps.

Associations and uses

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C-flat major

C Major Attributes

Relative minor: Ab minor
Parallel minor: Cb minor
Enharmonic: B major

  • Fr. do bémol majeur
  • It. do bemolle maggiore
  • Ger. Ces-Dur
  • Sp. do bemol

Cb major (or the key of Cb) is based on the tonal center of Cb. The scale and tonality are made up of the pitches Cb, Db, Eb, Fb, Gb, Ab, and Bb, while the chord comprises of Cb, Eb, and Gb. Its key signature consists of seven flats.

<music> \cadenzaOn \meterOff \key ces \major ces! des! es! fes! ges! aes! bes! \bar "|"<ces,! es! ges!>1 <es! ges! ces!> <ges! ces! es!> </music>

The Cb major scale and chord inversions

Instrumentation

A harps' strings are tuned to Cb major and are allowed to vibrate at their fullest length in this key, resulting in the most resonant sound.

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Association

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Examples

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C major

C Major Attributes

Relative minor: A minor
Parallel minor: C minor

  • Fr. do majeur
  • It. do maggiore
  • Ger. C-Dur
  • Sp. do mayor

C major (or the key of C) is based on the tonal center of C. The scale and tonality are made up of the pitches C, D, E, F, G, A, and B, while the chord comprises of C, E, and G. The key signature is indicated by an absence of sharps and/or flats.

<music> \cadenzaOn \meterOff \key c \major c d e f g a b \bar "|"<c, e g>1 <e g c> <g c e> </music>

The C major scale and chord inversions

Instrumentation

C major is often thought of as being the simplest key for any instrument to play in, owing to its lack of accidentals. Many instruments are pitched in this key, notably keyboard instruments such as the piano and organ, the flute and piccolo, and bassoon. A harp is also most versatile in C major, as in this key all the pedals are in the 'natural' or middle position, allowing for transposition of each string up or down a semi-tone at will. For string instruments the key is regarded neither as particularly difficult or overly simple. It is one of the brighter keys as all the open strings of the instruments can be used, however the violins does not have an open C string, so the tonic is often slightly warmer in colour than say, the dominant. Additionally, the sub-dominant, which is on F, cannot be played on any open string, making C major as a whole a slightly warmer key than D major or A major.

Many piano students begin first by learning to play the C major scale and simple tunes in that key. It is considered simple simply because the beginner need not worry about reading sharps or flats. While it may be the easiest to read, many composer-pianists and virtuosos, notably Frédéric Chopin have remarked of its difficultly in execution. Chopin and others claim that a key devoid of black keys is the least ergonomic for the hand and that keys such as B major fit much better to the natural curvature of the fingers.

Association

Many musicians associate C major with a simple and happy demeanor, though this could be in part due to its simple nature in which musicians are content not having to bother with many accidentals. Hector Berlioz in 1856 however described it as "serious but deaf and dull." Many other composers share the opinion that it is a dull and lifeless key, characterized by the careless nature of Mozart's popular Piano Sonata No. 16 in C major.

Most color scales and synesthetes including Alexander Scriabin report C as a distinctly red hue. Hermann von Helmholtz however theorized it to be of a simple yellow tone.

Examples

  • J.S. Bach - Prelude and Fugue No. 1, Book 1
  • JS Bach - Cello Suite No.3
  • Ludwig van Beethoven - Piano Sonata No. 21
  • Ludwig van Beethoven - Symphony No.1
  • Scott Joplin - The Entertainer
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - Piano Sonata No. 16 in C major, K. 545 "Sonata facile"
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - Piano Concerto No. 21, K.467
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - Symphony No. 41 "Jupiter"
  • Franz Schubert - Symphony No. 10
  • Jean Sibelius - Symphony No.7

C-sharp major

C# Major Attributes

Relative minor: A minor
Parallel minor: C minor
Enharmonic: Db major

  • Fr. do majeur
  • It. do maggiore
  • Ger. C-Dur
  • Sp. do mayor

C# major (or the key of C#) is based on the tonal center of C#. The scale and tonality are made up of the pitches C#, D#, E#, F#, G#, A#, and B#, while the chord comprises of C#, E#, and G#. Its key signature consists of seven sharps.

<music> \cadenzaOn \meterOff \key cis \major cis! dis! eis! fis! gis! ais! bis! \bar "|"<cis,! eis! gis!>1 <eis! gis! cis!> <gis! cis! eis!> </music>

The C# major scale and chord inversions

Instrumentation

All of a harps' strings vibrate at their shortest length in this key and produce a slightly less resonant tone.

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Associations

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Examples

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D-flat major

Db Major Attributes

Relative minor: Bb minor
Parallel minor: Db minor
Enharmonic: C# major

  • Fr. ré bémol majeur
  • It. re bemolle maggiore
  • Ger. Des-Dur
  • Sp. re bemol mayor

D♭ major (or the key of D♭) is based on the tonal center of D♭. The scale and tonality are made up of the pitches D♭, E♭, F, G♭, A♭, B♭ and C, while the chord comprises of D, F, and A♭. Its key signature consists of five flats.

<music> \cadenzaOn \meterOff \key des \major des! ees! f ges! aes! bes! c \bar "|"<des,! f aes!>1 <f aes! des!> <aes! des! f> </music>

The D♭ major scale and chord inversions

Instrumentation

Chopin considered D♭ major to be the easiest key to play on the piano due to the fact that all of the flattened pitches correspond to all five black keys on the piano. As such, D♭ major is a key that most often appears in piano literature. Chopin wrote his famous Prelude No. 15 ("Raindrop") in D♭ major. French composer Claude Debussy was also rather fond of the key and wrote his famous Clair de Lune from the Suite Bergamasque in this key.

D-flat major is enharmonic to C-sharp major. In music for the harp, D-flat major would be preferable, not only for the reason that harp strings are more resonant in the flat position, but also because modulation to the dominant key is easier (by putting the G pedal in the natural position, whereas there is no double-sharp position in which to put the F pedal for G-sharp major).

On a guitar with standard tuning, D♭ major is considered one of the hardest keys to play as neither the tonic chord or the scale utilize any of the open strings.

D♭ major is notoriously uncommon in orchestral writing and very few symphonies are based on the key. However, the key has shown up in some famous orchestral with a piano soloist work such as the second movement of Edvard Grieg's Piano Concerto and the famous 18th variation on Sergei Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.

Associations

D♭ Major is often considered to be the "saddest" major key or most pensive. Music in D♭ Major tends to be quiet, reflective, and thoughtful.

Hector Berlioz called this key "majestic" in his 1856 Grand Traité d'Instrumentation et d'Orchestration modernes, while having a much different opinion of its enharmonic counterpart. Charles-Marie Widor considered D-flat major to be the best key for flute music, though many beginners and amateurs cringe at the sight of five dreaded flats.

Examples

  • Claude Debussy - "Claire de Lune" from Suite Bergamasque
  • Sergei Rachmaninoff - Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini
  • Frédéric Chopin - Prelude no. 15, "Raindrop"

D major

D Major Attributes

Relative minor: B minor
Parallel minor: D minor

  • Fr. ré majeur
  • It. re maggiore
  • Ger. D-Dur
  • Sp. re mayor

D major (or the key of D) is based on the tonal center of D. The scale and tonality are made up of the pitches D, E, F#, G, A, B, and C#, while the chord comprises of D, F#, and A. Its key signature consists of two sharps.

<music> \cadenzaOn \meterOff \key d \major d e fis! g a b cis! d \bar "|"<d, fis! a>1 <fis! a d> <a d fis!> </music>

The D major scale and chord inversions

Instrumentation

D major is a key that is well suited for string instruments because their open strings (G, D, A, and E) provides an especially brilliant sound. Therefore, many composers have written violin concerti in this key including Mozart (No. 2, 1775, No. 4, 1775); Ludwig van Beethoven (1806); Paganini (No. 1, 1817); Brahms (1878); Tchaikovsky (1878); Prokofiev (No. 1, 1917); Stravinsky (1931).

In conjunction with its suitability to the fiddle, many fifes and tin whistles are pitched in D.

The key is also well-suited for guitar in Drop D tuning (D, A, D, G, B, E) as it will have two open strings in the pitch of D. It is thus no coincidence that many compositions that include the use of guitar (particularly metal where the murkier sound of the Drop D tuning is appreciated) are written in D major and its parallel D minor.

Associations

D major is generally thought to be a bright and happy key. The majority of Haydn's symphonies are written in D Major with a total of 23 symphonies out of 104; more so than any other key. Also, more Mozart pieces are written in the key of D major than any other key.

In the Baroque era, D major was thought of as "the key of glory". Many trumpet concerti in this era were written in this key such as those by Fasch, Gross, Molter (No. 2), Leopold Mozart, Telemann (No. 2), and Giuseppe Torelli. In the Baroque era these parts were played by trumpets in the key of D, very few of which are still made today, usually being substituted with the C trumpet. "The Trumpet Shall Sound" and the "Hallelujah" chorus from Handel's Messiah are also in D major.

Alexander Scriabin, who reportedly suffered from synesthesia, thought of the key to be golden-brown in color, an opinion shared by Sergei Rachmaninoff.

Examples

  • Johann Pachelbel - Canon and Gigue in D
  • Igor Stravinsky - Violin Concerto
  • Ludwig van Beethoven - Violin Concerto
  • Jean Sibelius - Symphony No.2
  • Johannes Brahms - Symphony No.2

E-flat major

Eb Major Attributes

Relative minor: C minor
Parallel minor: Eb minor

  • Fr. mi bémol majeur
  • It. mi bemolle maggiore
  • Ger. Es-Dur
  • Sp. mi bemol mayor

E♭ major (or the key of E♭) is based on the tonal center of E♭. The scale and tonality are made up of the pitches E♭, F, G, A♭, B♭, C and D, while the chord comprises of E♭, G, and B♭. Its key signature consists of three flats.

<music> \cadenzaOn \meterOff \key es \major ees! f g aes! bes! c d \bar "|"<ees,! g bes!>1 <g bes! ees!> <bes! es! g> </music>

The E♭ major scale and chord inversions

Instrumentation

In the 19th century, the valveless trumpets and horns came in many keys. Eb was one of the most popular keys because it was found that instruments in Eb at the time yielded the most satisfying tone colour and so music utilising a large brass complement was often written in Eb. Although the trumpet today is most common in Bb, Eb trumpets and cornets are still in use. The horn however, historically popular in Eb, is now built exclusively in the key of F. Three of the four horn concerti of Mozart in the key of Eb and are today played on the F horn.

Many instruments today are built exclusively in the key of Eb. These include the Eb sopranino clarinet, the Eb alto clarinet, the EEb contra-alto clarinet, the Eb alto saxophone, the Eb baritone saxophone, and the Eb alto horn. Music written in Eb for these instruments involves most of the simplest fingerings and is very suitable to amateur wind ensembles at the middle and high school level which are chalk full of these instruments. It is also a very simple key to play in for the Bb instruments (trumpet, trombone, euphonium, tuba, clarinet, tenor sax) which will all read it as F major with a single flat (noting that the trombone usually doesn't transpose, despite being a Bb instrument—read more here).

For the strings, Eb is a somewhat bright key, as it involves several potentially open strings, such as C, D, G, and sometimes A, although the tonic, dominant, and sub-dominant are stopped notes, so it is not as bright as keys such as A major or D major. When played on all stopped strings, Eb major can have a very rich, sonorous sound that blends well with the winds.

Associations

Many musicians have throughout the past identified with Eb major as "a heroic key, extremely majestic, grave and serious: in all these features it is superior to that of C." Relative to this, much heroic, majestic, and "over the top" music has been written in this key.

Most color scales and synesthetes report Eb as a yellow-orange hue, being a tone between D and E which are orange and yellow, respectively. Alexander Scriabin, however, described Eb as "steely with the glint of metal."

Examples

  • Ludwig van Beethoven - Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, Op. 55 "Eroica"
  • Ludwig van Beethoven - Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat major, Op. 73 "Emperor"
  • Ludwig van Beethoven - Piano Sonata No. 26 in E-flat Major, Op. 81a "Les Adieux"
  • Frédéric Chopin - Nocturne in E Flat Op. 9 No. 2
  • Frédéric Chopin - Andante spianato and grand polonaise brilliante in E-flat Major, Op. 22
  • Franz Liszt - Piano Concerto No. 1
  • Gustav Mahler - Symphony No. 8, "The Symphony of a Thousand"
  • Jean Sibelius - Symphony No.5
  • JS Bach - Cello Suite No.4
  • Robert Schumann - Symphony No.3 "Die Rheinische"

E major

E Major Attributes

Relative minor: C# minor
Parallel minor: E minor

  • Fr. mi majeur
  • It. mi maggiore
  • Ger. E-Dur
  • Sp. mi mayor

E major (or the key of E) is based on the tonal center of E. The scale and tonality are made up of the pitches E, F#, G#, A, B, C# and D#, while the chord comprises of E, G#, and B. Its key signature consists of four sharps.

<music> \cadenzaOn \meterOff \key e \major e fis! gis! a b cis! dis! \bar "|"<e, gis! b>1 <gis! b e> </music>

The E major scale and chord inversions

Instrumentation

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Associations

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Examples

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F major

F Major Attributes

Relative minor: D minor
Parallel minor: F minor

  • Fr. fa majeur
  • It. fa maggiore
  • Ger. F-Dur
  • Sp. fa mayor

F major (or the key of F) is based on the tonal center of F. The scale and tonality are made up of the pitches F, G, A, Bb, C, D, and E, while the chord comprises of F, A, and C. Its key signature consists of one flat.

<music> \cadenzaOn \meterOff \key f \major f g a bes! c d e \bar "|"<f, a c>1 <a c f> <c f a> </music>

The F major scale and chord inversions

Instrumentation

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Associations

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Examples

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F-sharp major

F# Major Attributes

Relative minor: D# minor
Parallel minor: F# minor
Enharmonic: Gb major

  • Fr. fa dièse majeur
  • It. fa diesis maggiore
  • Ger. Fis-Dur
  • Sp. fa sostenido mayor

F# major (or the key of F#) is based on the tonal center of F#. The scale and tonality are made up of the pitches F♯, G♯, A♯, B, C♯, D♯, and E♯, while the chord comprises of F#, A#, and C#. Its key signature consists of six sharps.

<music> \cadenzaOn \meterOff \key fis \major fis! gis! ais! b cis! dis! eis! \bar "|"<fis,! ais! cis!>1 <ais! cis! fis!> <cis! fis! ais!> </music>

The F# major scale and chord inversions

Instrumentation

F# major is a comparatively rare key and is not often used in any medium. One of the few famous symphonies written in the key is Gustav Mahler's infamous Symphony No. 10. As far as can be seen, Mahler (who often made it a point to end his symphonies in a different key than they start) intended for the symphony to both start and end in F# major. Alexander Scriabin's Prometheus: Poem of Fire is also notable in that, while the majority of the piece is highly dissonant and considered atonal, it cadences on an F# major chord (the only diatonic chord in the entire piece).

F# major is considered a rather friendly key for piano (however not as friendly as Db major) as all five black keys on the piano are utilized. Curiously though, F# major does not often appear in piano literature either. One notable exception is Alexander Scriabin's piano works who wrote three of his sonatas in F# Major (No. 3, 4, and 5). Reportedly, Alexander Scriabin's favorite chord was F# major and his fondness for it is shown in many of his piano works.

For guitar and orchestra strings, F# major is a very rarely used key as its tonic chord does not utilize any of the open strings.

Associations

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Examples

  • Gustav Mahler - Symphony No. 10
  • Alexander Scriabin - Sonata No. 5

G-flat major

Gb Major Attributes

Relative minor: Eb minor
Parallel minor: Gb minor
Enharmonic: F# major

  • Fr. so bémol majeur
  • It. so bemolle maggiore
  • Ger. Ges-Dur
  • Sp. so bemol mayor

Gb major (or the key of Gb) is based on the tonal center of Gb. The scale and tonality are made up of the pitches Gb, Ab, Bb, Cb, Db, Eb, and F, while the chord comprises of Gb, Bb, and Db. Its key signature consists of six flats.

<music> \cadenzaOn \meterOff \key ges \major ges'! aes! bes! ces! des! es! f \bar "|"<ges,! bes! des!>1 <bes! des! ges!> <des! ges! bes!> </music>

The Gb major scale and chord inversions

Instrumentation

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Associations

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Examples

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G major

G Major Attributes

Relative minor: E minor
Parallel minor: G minor

  • Fr. so majeur
  • It. so maggiore
  • Ger. G-Moll
  • Sp. so mayor

G major (or the key of G) is based on the tonal center of G. The scale and tonality are made up of the pitches G, A, B, C, D, E, and F#, while the chord comprises of G, B, and D. Its key signature consists of a single sharp.

<music> \cadenzaOn \meterOff \key g \major g' a b c d e fis! \bar "|"<g, b d>1 <d g b> </music>

The G major scale and chord inversions

Instrumentation

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Associations

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Examples

  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - Violin Concerto No. 3 K. 216
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - Serenade for Strings No. 13 K. 525 "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik"

A-flat major

Ab Major Attributes

Relative minor: F minor
Parallel minor: Ab minor

  • Fr. la bémol majeur
  • It. la bemolle maggiore
  • Ger. Aes-Dur
  • Sp. la bemol mayor

Ab major (or the key of Ab) is based on the tonal center of Ab. The scale and tonality are made up of the pitches Ab, Bb, C, Db, Eb, F and G, while the chord comprises of Ab, C, and Eb. Its key signature consists of four flats.

<music> \cadenzaOn \meterOff \key aes \major aes'! bes! c des! es! f g \bar "|"<aes,! c es!>1 <c es! aes!> <es! aes! c> </music>

The Ab major scale and chord inversions

Instrumentation

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Associations

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Examples

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A major

A Major Attributes

Relative minor: F# minor
Parallel minor: A minor

  • Fr. la majeur
  • It. la maggiore
  • Ger. A-Dur
  • Sp. la mayor

A major (or the key of A) is based on the tonal center of A. The scale and tonality are made up of the pitches A, B, C#, D, E, F# and G#, while the chord comprises of A, C#, and E. Its key signature consists of three sharps.

<music> \cadenzaOn \meterOff \key a \major a' b cis! d e fis! gis! \bar "|"<a, cis! e>1 <cis! e a> <e a cis!> </music>

The A major scale and chord inversions

Instrumentation

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Associations

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Examples

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B-flat major

Eb Major Attributes

Relative minor: G minor
Parallel minor: Bb minor

  • Fr. si bémol majeur
  • It. si bemolle maggiore
  • Ger. B-Dur
  • Sp. si bemol mayor

B♭ major (or the key of B♭) is based on the tonal center of B♭. The scale and tonality are made up of the pitches B♭, C, D, E♭, F, G and A, while the chord comprises of B♭, D, and F. Its key signature consists of two flats.

<music> \cadenzaOn \meterOff \key bes \major bes! c d ees! f g a \bar "|"<bes,! d f>1 <d f bes!> <f bes! d> </music>

The B♭ major scale and chord inversions

Instrumentation

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Associations

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Examples

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B major

Eb Major Attributes

Relative minor: G# minor
Parallel minor: B minor
Enharmonic: Cb major

  • Fr. si majeur
  • It. si maggiore
  • Ger. H-Dur
  • Sp. si mayor

B major (or the key of B) is based on the tonal center of B. The scale and tonality are made up of the pitches B, C#, D#, E, F#, G#, and A#, while the chord comprises of B, D#, and F#. Its key signature consists of five sharps.

<music> \cadenzaOn \meterOff \key b \major b cis! dis! e fis! gis! ais! \bar "|"<b, dis! fis!>1 <dis! fis! b> <fis! b dis!> </music>

The B major scale and chord inversions

Instrumentation

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Associations

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Examples

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