Being a cello and violin teacher in Singapore, I usually get some sort of answer like “Major sounds joyful, and minor sounds gloomy.” Well, this is partly correct in that sense! I would like to break it down to a more simple form though.
Alvin from Strings Singapore spell out to us that the difference between major and minor chords and scales boils down to a difference of one essential note – the 3rd. The 3rd is what gives major-sounding scales their more cheerful sound, and what gives minor scales their gloomier sound.
All major scales have the same pattern. I believe at some point of time, you have heard or sang Do-Re-Mi-Fa-So-La-Ti-Do. If you don’t, check out the video below for the childhood classic:
If you learn violin or piano, then another way we can look at it is to see what notes are close together. In a Major scale the 3rd, and 4th note are close together (Mi-Fa), as well as the 7th, and 8th note (Ti-Do). The specific notes that are close together is what makes the major scale pattern.
Minor scales have a different pattern than major, but all minor scale patterns are the same. When we switched to d-minor we now have (E-F) the 2nd and 3rd note close, as well as (A-Bb) the 5th and 6th note close together.
Now the more obvious way was that you take major scale and lower the 3rd, 6th, and 7th note. For illustration purpose, we will show you how a D-Major changes to D Minor.
For D Major, we Start with D – E - F# - G – A – B - C# then D
Introducing…. relative minor. Let’s start with a major scale. Using the illustration above, D-Major has two sharps in it, i.e. F#, C#. Let’s not worry about how to find D-minor at this moment, but we will be going to use the concept of relative minor.
What that means is that we will not be altering a single note, all we are going to be doing is starting the scale on a different note. More specifically, we will be starting the scale on the 6th note. The 6th note is B. Now let’s play the notes that are in the D-Major scale, but go from B to B.