[Smt-talk] the minor/major = sad/non-sad stereotype

Sean Sovine sovine5 at gmail.com
Mon Oct 5 06:42:51 PDT 2009

Dear list subscribers,

While reading discussions of Thelonius Monk and They Might Be Giants
regarding this topic, it occurred to me that country and jazz both have
roots in the blues, and that one of the defining features of the blues is
the use of melodic minor third intervals over dominant chords (other
possible defining features being the use of the 12-bar harmonic scheme or
some variation, and the use of swing eighth-note rhythms.)  I think it would
be interesting to look at blues in the context of this discussion,
particularly considering its influence on many of the styles and genres that
are essential to our popular music today (especially rock and roll music.)
The use of the blues scale, which is essentially a minor pentatonic scale
with a passing tone connecting the fourth and fifth intervals, over
progressions of dominant seventh chords, seems to offer an example of
major/minor tonality being used simultaneously.  Also, consider the lyrics
of many blues songs, which tend to contain many "sad" or sometimes ironic
elements.  The song "Please Love Me" by B. B. King contains these lyrics in
the first verse, which are sung over an upbeat standard blues progression of
dominant chords:

*I've been in love with you baby
Honey before I learned to call your name
Yes, was in love with you baby
Honey before I learned to call your name
Yeah, the way you treatin' me baby
Honey you gonna drive old me insane*

I think that blues is an interesting case for looking at the happy/sad
minor/major stereotype, especially considering its relevance to jazz, rock,
and country styles that are common today.

Sean Sovine
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