Major Versus Minor

Kurt Cobain is such a happy guy.Some insane genius in the Ukraine (Oleg Berg, to be precise) has been spending his free time digitally adjusting songs written in a minor key to sound like they’re in major, and vice versa. It’s delightful and hilarious.

If you’re not very familiar with music theory, check it out: To Westerners, major keys are traditionally associated with happy emotions, while minor keys are associated with sadness. This is crazy oversimplified, but there you have it. When Berg changes a popular track to possess its opposite harmonic quality, it does more than change the melody — it changes the emotional content of the song.

For example, listen to this adjustment of the always-happy Hey Jude, which is now in a depressing minor key:

And who could doubt the freewheeling nature of Material Girl? In the minor, it sounds like Madonna is not so much celebrating her love of money and things but plotting the way she’ll steal them.

On the other hand, turning a song from minor to major can give something with depth and drama a sort of Disneyland feel. Take the theme from The Godfather, for instance:

And doing the same to the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Californication bumps the song from the grunge era to that weird span of years where everyone sounded like Blink 182.

There are many more on Berg’s YouTube page. Did I just make your Friday afternoon? I think I did.

Ashley Hamer

Ashley Hamer (aka Smashley) is a saxophonist and writer living in Chicago, where she performs regularly with the funk band FuzZz and jazz ensemble Big Band Boom. She also does standup comedy, sort of, sometimes. Her tenor saxophone's name is Ladybird.

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  1. Okay, wow! The “Hey, Jude” version is great. My second daughter, Jude, was named “Jude” because this song came on when my husband and I were discussing what name we should name her after we had the sonogram and found out she was a girl. She said the minor version sounded like a “bunch of ghosts” calling for her. She thought it was hilarious!

  2. His “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is also interesting — I was surprised by how much more the verses were affected by the change than the chorus.

    Back in college we did something like this with Schumann; the teacher brought in a pianist and would ask her “play that section but with E-flat changed to E-natural”. Changing a single note of the scale would have a noticeable effect on the whole mood. (I also remember being insanely jealous that she could do that sort of thing with a piece of music she’d hardly seen before.)

  3. Wow! It’s as if my brain expects, and keeps trying to hear, the familiar tones, and gets confused when the audio input keep refusing to comply. Weird!

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