Anyone who has ever studied music (whether in school / college or otherwise) would probably at some point have heard this statement: ‘Songs in a major key sound happy and songs in a minor key sound sad’.
Anyone who then continued to study music will also know that this statement is not necessarily true. There are plenty of examples of high energy, upbeat pop songs in a minor key e.g ‘Stayin’ Alive’ by the Bee Gees, ‘I Will Survive’ by Gloria Gaynor and ‘Happy Together’ by The Turtles. There are also a fair few sad songs written in a major key.
The majority of the time however, that statement does ring true and there is a clear relationship between major keys and happiness (Happy Birthday and the Wedding March being two such examples) and minor keys and sadness (Chopin’s Funeral March and every Adele song).
But how much can a key change really affect the emotional response of a song?
Well, thanks to digital processing it is now possible to transpose recorded material from major key to a minor key. Prepare for some pretty interesting (and exceptionally creepy) results.
Louis Armstrong – What a Wonderful World
Its difficult to see this song in a negative light due to the uplifting lyrics, but in this minor key version Louis seems more like he’s longing for a wonderful world rather than living in one.
John Lennon – Imagine
A little key change and one of the most inspirational songs of all time turns into a miserable guy singing ‘Imagine there’s no heaven’.
The Police – Every Breath You Take
For the pessimists amongst us, this song could already be viewed as having a pretty strong stalker vibe. This version however, is a whole new level of scary.
Radiohead – Creep
Radiohead are one of the greatest bands to have ever existed and definitely don’t deserve the rep they get for exclusively playing depressing music. That said, this one just sort of works.
Vangelis – Chariots of Fire Theme
This version still sounds beautiful, but would also be quite at home in a horror movie.
Can you think of any other happy songs in a minor key or vice versa? Any great examples of transposed songs we’ve left out?
Leave us a comment.