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I was taught when I was young that minor key names should be written with the note in lowercase, as well as the word "minor". Nowadays on recordings, etc., I usually see both capitalized.

What was the original reason for this rule, and why has it (apparently) fallen out of favor?

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I have the same experience. When I was younger I found it made sense. About the recordings, there is a general sloppiness (lots of typos, incorrect indexing or tagging of digital versions, ...) that, as an old, passeist and angry purist, I believe is increasing. – ogerard May 18 '11 at 6:43
I thought the point of using C and c was to let go of the description Major/minor altogether. But it seems not. – Raskolnikov May 18 '11 at 8:35
tangential to the specifics of key names, but capitalization continues to matter in things like II vs ii or DM7 vs Dm7; with regard to key names, I recall seeing C vs c mostly in the context of German key names – James Tauber May 18 '11 at 14:36
I wouldn't be surprised if it came from the misunderstanding of record producers about what's supposed to be capitalized. Usually, in song titles every thing is capitalized: "Please Please Me" unless it's a small word in the middle "The Long and Winding Road." I can easily see producers thinking "c minor" is supposed to be capitalized and just editing it. – SRiss May 18 '11 at 16:53
@James Tauber For Roman numeral analysis, capitalization still depends on who is writing. See e.g. Schönberg's Harmonielehre. ( Some modern harmony texts follow that tradition and use all capitals for Roman numerals, such as the Aldwell and Schachter text ( – Andrew May 20 '11 at 16:58

If you actually write out "C major" and "C minor", then there's no need to further distinguish them via capitalization; your meaning is already clear. So I agree with Raskolnikov in the comments that "C/c" is useful when you drop "major/minor" altogether. However, to make it more clear, I usually use and see used "C" (or rarely "CM") for the major and "Cm" for the minor.

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well, just because there's no need to further distinguish, doesn't mean there isn't a house style particular music publishers use (or once used) that required it. I assumed the question was about when and why the "convention" changed. – James Tauber May 21 '11 at 2:23
@James I've known what I said to be the convention, I am not familiar with the C/c distinction. I don't see why the redundancy couldn't be the reason it fell out of favor, if it was ever in. – Matthew Read May 21 '11 at 2:30
C and Cm for chords, do you see that for keys too? – Gauthier May 25 '11 at 8:25
@Gauthier I'm not sure whether I've seen Cm, but I've definitely seen "C" stand for "the key of C Major". – Matthew Read May 26 '11 at 18:21

I still see it applied for modes in chord notations, and it echoes the use of the distinction of M/m for Maximum and minimum in mathematical shorthand.

It might be a kind of political correctness: all modes are created equal, they should not be typographically discriminated. None of them should have an initial uppercase when others have only lowercases, c minor is as respectable as A Major, and there are other scales and modes.

A related question is do you use a uppercase or a lowercase "d" with Bach's Toccata in Dorian mode BWV 538? Most recent recordings do not respect Dorian as a mode, they only present it as a surname, like a dedication:

Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 538 "Dorian"

Perhaps one will someday ask : Who was Dorian? And who was she to J.-S. Bach?

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+1: "who was Dorian?" :) – Gauthier May 25 '11 at 8:23
Note that BWV 538 is only written the "Dorian" way, (i.e., d with no flats/sharps). The music is genuine d minor. – memerhausen Oct 9 '14 at 8:29

As suggested in my comment on the question, it seems to be a German key naming convention.

If you look at

they call it "c-Moll" (note lowercase) or "c" (note lowercase) or "Cm".

In contrast:

is called "C-Dur" (note uppercase) or "C" (note uppercase).

In other words: c-Moll vs C-Dur or c vs C or Cm vs C.

That would suggest the convention is still alive in Germany (and was possibly always considered the "German style")

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I think it comes from the German practice as well, since German musicians were quite the standard-setters up to the 19th century. That said, even though it's implied in the 'shorthand' notation that C represents a major and c a minor chord, I prefer to use C and Cm when writing, for absolute clarity. The 'shorthand' notation, however, still pops here and there, when space is limited (e.g., when picking patch/combo names to save to my keyboard).

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