Beyond Major and Minor…

“Making comparisons, knowing what something is not helps us to know what it is…. Imagine a whole world in which everything were purple: purple sky, purple water, purple grass and trees, purple food, everything. anything purple? Would we even coin the word ‘purple’? No, we wouldn’t need it. But imagine, in all that purple, you came across a single yellow flower…. All of a sudden, yellow and purple have meaning. What is purple? Everything that isn’t yellow. And now imagine a multicolored world in which our understanding of purple is dramatically more precise because we now have so much more to compare it with.”

– Eric Bluestine in The Ways Children Learn Music (p. 69)

Just as we learn to identify colors by making comparisons, our tonal audiation (i.e., inner hearing and understanding of musical syntax) is greatly enhanced when we are exposed to a variety of tonalities (traditionally referred to as “modes”). If we only hear and sing in major tonality, we won’t have as rich an understanding of what “major” truly is as we would if we heard many other tonalities with which to compare it.

Although most traditional music theory textbooks define tonalities/modes simply as the white keys on the piano between any two octaves (e.g. Dorian is the white keys from D to D on the piano), tonalities/modes are more about the relationship of pitches around the tonal center.

Popular Songs in Varied Tonalities

Below are some songs that are in tonalities other than major or harmonic minor. Click the caption below each video to reveal the answer and more examples of that tonality!

What tonality is this song in? (Click to reveal answer and more examples!)

What tonality is this song in? (Click to reveal answer and more examples!)

What tonality is this song in? (Click to reveal answer and more examples!)

What tonality is this song in? (Click to reveal answer and more examples!)

What tonality is this song in? (Click to reveal answer and more examples!)

What tonality is this song in? (Click to reveal answer and more examples!)

Click here for a list of more songs in varied tonalities!


Recreation of a bulletin board I used to have in my music classroom.
The kids used to love inquiring about the tonalities we hadn’t formally labeled yet and what a familiar song would sound like if we tried singing it in that tonality!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s