I understand that they have the same notes so they "sound related".

Another factor that might be at play: perhaps it makes the life of the performer easier, not having to adjust back and forth between key signatures?

Which reason is more important? Are there reasons I'm missing here?

  • 4
    The main missing reason is the melody and harmony. They both happen to use notes and intervals from both scales. Nothing to do with making life easier for the performer, just the technicalities being exposed.
    – Tim
    Sep 5, 2020 at 7:07
  • Are you asking about scales or keys?
    – phoog
    Sep 6, 2020 at 3:13

2 Answers 2


Your intuition that it's due to the sound relationship is a good one. It's an "easy" transition for a listener, because the relative major and minor scales are built from the same basic set of pitches (notwithstanding some standard alterations in minor, like raising the seventh note to provide a leading tone).

There's also a historical reason. As major/minor tonality developed, instrument tuning was also developing. On keyboard instruments, for example, it simply wasn't possible to play in all twelve major/minor keys. Especially before Bach, composers generally had to stay within the boundaries of closely related keys, like tonic/dominant, tonic/subdominant, and relative major/minor, because the instruments couldn't manage other kinds of modulations. Classical-era composers had more flexibility, but it's not until the Romantic era that composers are able to fully stretch out and regularly use distantly related keys.


A major key and its relative minor are so close as to be almost the same key. You can 'stay at home' by sticking to them or you can travel further afield. Brief visits to another key won't need a new key signature, accidentals do the job just fine. It's nothing to do with making life easy for the performer (unless you're consciously writing elementary music for beginners).

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