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Blog #39: The Emotional Side of Music

Some of you may know that I play regularly at the Alberta Ballet School (and company when Covid isn't wreaking havoc) in Calgary, Alberta. Lately, I've been playing for someone named Mr.Aram Manukyan. A lot! It's awesome. He is one of the most expressive teachers that I have ever played for.

If I play music he loves, he reacts and gives me a thumbs up or comes over and says something about how awesome it is! If it's music he doesn't like, he's equally expressive! lol. There is no wondering whether what I've played is what he was thinking or wanting. lol.

Now the reason I bring this up is that one day we were chatting about music because I had played something that he didn't want, though it was beautiful. The issue was that it was in a minor key. In fact, he came and requested that I write a blog post on the topic, so, here we are!

Major, Minor and Atonal keys Explored

Music can be in 3 different types of keys: major, minor or atonal.  Let's take some time to talk about them and how they can be used.. or not used at all.

Major Keys

Major keys are a delight. They feel happy! What makes them feel happy is the space between the note that sounds like home and the 3rd note up! (In this picture, C to an E)

Do you know the movie, The Sound of Music? Or perhaps you learned Solfège at some point in your life. In any case, a major key sounds pleasant and happy. Lovely. Here is a song in a major key that you can listen to. Do-Re-Mi (It's from the Sound of Music).

You'll notice how the 'Mi' (or the 3rd note up the scale) is happy sounding in relation to the 'Do' (or the first note of the scale). It brings a smile to your face! Music in major keys is pure joy for students and dancers of all ages.

Minor Keys

Minor keys are sad, angry, introspective, ferocious, thoughtful, depressed.. very very emotive! This is because instead of the major 3rd note that gives the listener comfort, it has a MINOR 3rd. This merely means it's a half step LOWER (or smaller interval) on the piano than the major 3rd version.

So instead of feeling happy, it feels not happy.  There are some other notes that can change at the top of the scale (notes 6 and 7), but this minor 3rd really does set the tone for the emotive qualities within a minor key.

Here is an example of a piece of music in a minor key. Sunrise Sunset from Fiddler on the Roof. 

Did you hear how the music sounds sad? It's beautiful but.. sad feeling. Music in minor keys cause deep feelings often and it is not recommended for dance classes for students.

Especially now during covid.. so many of us, especially students, are feeling down already! Home life is harder for many. School life is harder. Dance life is on zoom half the time, that's harder! There is little happening in life, with other people, that is pleasurable right now.

By intentionally sticking with music in major key signatures, you can help buoy the feelings of your students, subconsciously.Your little dancers will especially thank you since they can become very sad by minor music and not understand why!

This concept, the impact of major and minor music on people, was something that Aram felt extremely strongly about and wanted me to drill home! Music for dance classes for students needs to be primarily in major key signatures.


Atonal Music


Avoid. lol. I personally don't love atonal music. lol. I like my order. I like notes to make sense with other notes.

Atonal music has little to no rules. There are no notes or harmonies that are wrong. Music that is atonal has no key signature because it is NOT tonal. Drives me crazy! Here is a collection of examples for your enjoyment, should it be your thing.


As a bit of fun, I'd like to close with The Teddy Bear's Picnic!  This song is super fun and was first pointed out to me by yet another awesome teacher at Alberta Ballet School who I have had the pleasure of knowing yet longer than Mr.Aram M., his name is Mr.Edmund Stripe. Another excellent ballet teacher who is a treat to work with at the Alberta Ballet School.

The Teddy Bear's Picnic is a delight BECAUSE of the fact that it starts in a minor key and then flips into a major key! Have a listen! It's so fun! Enjoy! (Also, notice it's a 6/8 march! So much fun!)

As you select music for unset classes, recital or competitive dances, etc, please keep this information in mind. Your dancers will dance to anything, but if you can select music that lifts them up, that will help you and them make it through many a dark time. Speaking of, if you haven't yet, be sure to grab my free recording of Blue Moon!



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