The Beatles’ “Hey Jude” Reworked from Major to Minor Scale; Ella’s “Summertime” Goes Minor to Major

A com­mon­place in rock and pop song­writ­ing: minor keys are sad (or dark or soft) and major keys are hap­py (upbeat, extro­vert­ed, etc.). Want to add some com­plex­i­ty? Set hap­py lyrics in a minor key or vice ver­sa. You don’t need much the­o­ry to grasp the con­cept (apply­ing it effec­tive­ly is anoth­er mat­ter). But even for clas­si­cal­ly trained com­posers, the why of it all is still a bit of a mys­tery. Guardian clas­si­cal music blog­ger Tom Ser­vice sug­gests that since the 17th cen­tu­ry, it’s become learned behav­ior, as is our ten­den­cy to fall into minor thirds when com­mu­ni­cat­ing sad­ness through speech. Whether a nat­ur­al or cul­tur­al phe­nom­e­non, there’s no doubt that trans­pos­ing tonal­i­ty can give a song vast­ly dif­fer­ent emo­tion­al res­o­nance.

Which is exact­ly what hap­pened with a recent viral dig­i­tal exper­i­ment: a tweak of R.E.M.’s tor­tured “Los­ing My Reli­gion” from minor to major so upset reli­gious blog­ger Matthew Lin­der, he com­ment­ed that the “change in tonal­i­ty white­wash­es the sor­row­ful song and brings in the Pollyan­naism of REM’s much derid­ed ‘Shiny Hap­py Peo­ple.’” Now I hap­pen to think “Shiny Hap­py Peo­ple” is a com­plete­ly stu­pid yet love­able song, but he does have a point. The tonal­i­ty hack, orig­i­nal­ly per­formed by MajorScaledTV, has also been done sev­er­al times by Ukrain­ian YouTube user MajorVs­Mi­nor, real name Oleg Berg and his daugh­ter Diana. The Bergs take songs like the godaw­ful “Final Count­down” by Europe and make them almost lis­ten­able, or ruin songs like “Hey Jude” (above).

And some­times a fas­ci­nat­ing thing hap­pens. Remem­ber that coun­ter­point between tonal­i­ty and con­tent I not­ed above? In some cas­es, the entire effect of a song depends upon that ten­sion, as is the case with George Gershwin’s “Sum­mer­time” from Por­gy and Bess. In the tweaked Ella Fitzger­ald ver­sion above, the lyrics—“and the liv­ing is easy”—lose their sex­i­ness, their melan­choly under­tones and strained irony, when the tune sounds as hap­py and straight­for­ward as the words. This is not an improve­ment, of course, but an inter­est­ing exam­ple of how form and con­tent push against each oth­er in com­po­si­tions more musi­cal­ly sophis­ti­cat­ed and emo­tion­al­ly com­plex than “Final Count­down.” Once these tweaked ver­sions of pop­u­lar songs lose their appeal as viral curiosi­ties (if they haven’t already), they’re sure to make excel­lent teach­ing tools for musi­col­o­gy pro­fes­sors.

MajorVs­Mi­nor have applied their treat­ment to over two dozen pop­u­lar songs and film and video game themes. Want to know how they do it? Watch Oleg and Diana reveal their secrets in the video above. There’s quite a bit more to their process than assumed about MajorScaledTV’s REM exper­i­ment.

via Boing­Bo­ing

Relat­ed Con­tent:

R.E.M.’s “Los­ing My Reli­gion” Reworked from Minor to Major Scale

Bob­by McFer­rin Shows the Pow­er of the Pen­ta­ton­ic Scale

His­to­ry of Rock: New MOOC Presents the Music of Elvis, Dylan, Bea­t­les, Stones, Hen­drix & More

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Wash­ing­ton, DC. Fol­low him @jdmagness

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Comments (8)
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  • David Bradley says:

    Always amus­es me that peo­ple crit­i­cise Shiny Hap­py Peo­ple as bub­blegum, where­as it’s actu­al­ly about the advent of Prozac as the legal drug of choice for the chat­ter­ing class­es…

  • Randolph Peters says:

    How about a lit­tle jour­nal­is­tic skep­ti­cism here?

    Olga and Diana do NOT have the abil­i­ty to sound like John Lennon, Ella Fitzger­ald and count­less oth­er unique voic­es.

    They might be able to access or cre­ate sep­a­rate tracks that can be auto-tuned or oth­er­wise manip­u­lat­ed, they might play some replace­ment tracks, but you can tell from the sound and the poor lip synch­ing that the claim that they can mim­ic these famous voic­es is not to be believed.

  • Josh Jones says:

    Hi Ran­dolph: I thought it was pret­ty obvi­ous that the “secrets revealed” video is a joke.

  • Randolph Peters says:

    Point tak­en, Josh.

    I plead tem­po­rary humor impair­ment and will now go check to see if some­one replaced my espres­so with decaf.

  • Josh Jones says:

    Heh, no wor­ries, Ran­dolph. It’s kin­da sub­tle. I should have stuck a *wink wink* in there some­where.

  • D. Johnson says:

    Mr. Jones and Mr. Peters, your inter­net com­ment civil­i­ty does not go unno­ticed. It’s a rar­i­ty these days but you both prove it still exists. :-)

  • Diana Berg says:

    This “secrets revealed” video was pub­lished on April Fools day, and of course it was a joke. All the time peo­ple ask us about our work process, and we record­ed this video just for fun.

    Ran­dolph, there is no way to cre­ate sep­a­rate tracks. We do not use mul­ti-tracks (there are so few of them avail­able), instead we work with sum.

  • Pete Selletti says:

    Utter­ly stu­pid, worth­less.. just MORE garbage on the inter­net.

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