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I've heard of the relative minor of a major, but what is the relative major of a minor and how do you find it? I've tried searching it up, but all I got were some pretty vague results and a few not very helpful videos.

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7 Answers 7

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It's just the opposite way! If A minor is the relative minor of C major, then surely C major is the relative major of A minor?

To arrive at the relative minor, we look to the ^6 note as root of relative minor, from the major scale. So, from the minor scale, we look to the ^3 note to get the root of its relative major. Simple!

To provide a couple of examples: D major - ^6 is B, so relative minor is Bm. C♯minor, ^3 is E, so relative major is E. G major - ^6 is E, so rel. min. is Em. D minor, ^3 is F, so rel. maj. is F maj.

The tell is that both will have the same key signature, although the relative minor key may well contain different notes from its relative major! That's for technical reasons I'm not going into here, though!

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Although you have already accepted an answer I think a more detailed explanation is necessary so you truly understand how this works.

First, in order to understand relative majors and minors you need to learn and know about keys. The circle of 5ths chart below shows all 12 keys in both major and minor. Every point in the circle represents a relative major and minor key. Major keys are upper case in red and minor keys are lower case in green. It also shows the progression of zero to 7 sharps and flats. That actually makes 15 keys BUT three of them are represented in two ways each because they can be either flat or a sharp keys.

Db/Bbm (5 flats) is enharmonically the same as C#/A#m (7 sharps)

Gb/Ebm and F#/D#m are 6 flats and sharps respectively

B/G#m (5 sharps) is enharmonically the same as Cb/Abm (7 flats).

I manually added the relative minor keys for 7 sharps and flats:

enter image description here

The relative minor is built on the 6th degree of the major scale. You can get there by counting forward 1-6 (CDEFGA) or backward 1-7-6 (CBA).

The relative major is built on the 3rd degree of the minor scale. Get there by countng forward 1-2-3 (ABC).

The relative major and minor keys are always 2 scale tones and 2 letters away from each other, down from major to minor and up from minor to major.

Here are some examples:

C# minor: C#,D#,E; the relative major is E major

Ab major Ab,G,F; the relative minor is F minor

Bb minor: Bb,C,Db; the relative major is Db major

E major: E,D#,C#; the relative minor is C# minor

As you can see they are all 2 letters and 2 scale tones apart, as is everything else on the chart.

One thing to be aware of is do not combine sharps and flats, for example, D# minor is the relative minor of F# major, not Gb major.

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  • I guess that the 2nd para. down from the diagram, you missed a few words out?
    – Tim
    Jul 19, 2022 at 14:50
  • @Tim What is left out? Seems ok to me… Jul 19, 2022 at 15:31
  • 'backwards AGFEDC',1-7-6-5-4-3' maybe, otherwise 'or' is superfluous. Just trying to help - or not!
    – Tim
    Jul 19, 2022 at 15:39
  • @Tim I see your point, guess it didn’t read the way I intended. I re-worded it. I left out the backward counting because it is not as practical, Jul 19, 2022 at 15:45
  • Only trying to help! There's way too much info for OP , which is why I tried to keep it simple, but it does cover all stations.
    – Tim
    Jul 19, 2022 at 15:50
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For the relative keys you go up or down a whole step and then a further half step to ANOTHER! letter name.

So for instance if you have C Major and you want to know the minor you go down a whole step to Bb and then another half step to ANOTHER! letter name and then you get A. A minor is the relative key of C Major.

If you have C minor and you want the relative Major then you go up a whole step to D and then up another semi-tone to ANOTHER! letter name and then you get Eb. Eb Major is the relative key of C minor.

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  • (Just to explain: the emphasis on "ANOTHER!" is because you can't, for instance, go from C minor, up a whole step to D, then up a half-step to D#. Yes, D# and Eb are "equivalent," but you can't say that "D# is the relative major of C minor.") Jul 18, 2022 at 16:04
  • Also I think that going down first and half step and THEN a whole step, which removes the need for using the Bb accidental, would be better
    – nuggethead
    Jul 18, 2022 at 17:23
  • Is it not simpler to say that they are separated by a minor third? It doesn't matter if you go a minor second first and then a major second, or vice versa; it's always a minor third. (The interval from D to D sharp is not a minor second.)
    – phoog
    Jul 18, 2022 at 20:35
  • Either is fine, of course; both avoid introducing a flat-7 to the conversation that could only confuse things!
    – nuggethead
    Jul 19, 2022 at 13:17
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Relative major and minor are explained in music theory firstly as relative keys where the two related keys share the same key signature.

So, take any key signature, ex. two sharps, F# and C#, the major key is D major and the minor key is B minor, D major is the relative major or B minor and B minor is the relative minor of D major.

That is the "original" meaning of "...the relative of..."

But, it is very common to speak of relative major/minor in terms of chords. You could think of that in three ways:

  • think of the two tonic chords or the two relative keys,
  • think of the either the mediant chord of the minor key or the submediant chord of the major key,
  • or (in my opinion the worst way) think of the two chord roots as separated by a minor third and the lower chord being a minor triad and the upper chord being a major triad.

This forum attracts a lot of questions that seem to stem from people not understanding key signatures and the structure of diatonic chords in a key (tonic, supertonic, mediant, etc...) The third bullet point method is a sort of key signature avoidance strategy, and so that's why I don't like it. Learn key signatures and diatonic chord, learn to recited the pitch letters in perfect fifths ascending and descending, it will take you a long, long way in understanding music theory.

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The relative keys/scales are essentially the ones that have the same notes in a scale or respectively the same key signatures. The difference is that they are shifted towards each other so that different notes now have different functions.

If in doubt you can easily construct a circle of fifth to find out which is which. The circle of fifth is essentially the sequence FCGDAEB repeating (from left to right you move up by a fifth, hence the name).

The scale of the next letter in line would always have 1# more or 1b less than the previous and so conversely the previous letter would always have 1b more/or 1# less than the current one (so 1b+1# = 0 or natural). So it's essentially:

FbCbGbDbAbEbBb FCGDAEB F#C#G#D#A#E#B#

Now if you memorized FCGDAEB once and remember that idk C has no sharps or flats you can easily construct that circle. How many flats has Ab major? Well just count, F=1b, Bb=2b, Eb=3b, Ab=4b. And so on.

Now the relative minor is pretty much the same just that instead of C being the one without flats or sharps it's a:

FCGDAEB

DAEBF#C#G#

As you can see it's the same sequence, but the starting point is 3 places further to the right. So if you want to go from A major to A minor you'd remove 3 sharps/add 3 flats and vice versa. Or if you want the relative major or minor you'd go 3 steps to the right for major or 3 steps to the left of minor.

So all you need to remember is the sequence FCGDAEB or CGDAEBF# that left is flat and right is sharp and one major key and it's relative minor so idk C/A would be ones that you probably know already.

Edit: Also as a bonus if you want to know not only how many sharps and flats are in a key but also what and in what order. Well it's also FCGDAEB for the sharps, so for example D(major)=2# would be F and C, from left to right, in that order. While for the flats it's the reverse order BEADGCF so idk Eb(major)=3b so the b's are applied to b, e and a.

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It is actually very simple to find the relative minor of a major or the other way around. But before we dig deeper into that, let me explain what is a relative first. For example, let's take C major scale, which has no sharps or flats. What is the minor key you can think of that doesn't have sharps or flats? A minor, right? So that means they are a relative. A relative is a major scale that has the same notes with a minor scale. So G major is the relative of E minor, meaning they have the same notes. Having that, if you know all of the scales you already know which is the relative of a certain scale. But if you are a beginner, the circle of fifths will help you when it comes to relatives. I hope this helps.

The Circle Of Fifths

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A musician joined the army and achieved the rank of Major. When he retired, he worked as the manager of a coal mine, which naturally enough employed a miner (just one, it was a very small mine).

With me so far?

The Major's office is at ground level. When he needs to visit the Miner he must go down some steps. How many steps - and this is the only bit you have to remember - THREE. (I said it was a very small mine.)

Major to Minor. Three steps down. Spell it so the interval is a 3rd, encompassing three letter names. Minor to Major, three steps up.

C major. Step down to B, down again to B♭, the third step is to A. C major = A minor. Not much scope for spelling that wrong, but let's just check: A, B, C. Three letters, a (minor) 3rd.

C minor. Step 1 up to C♯/DE♭. Step 2 up to D. Step 3 up to - well, shall we call it D♯ or E♭? The interval needs to be a 3rd, three letter names. C, D, - yes, it must be E♭. C minor = E♭ major.

Major above, Minor below. Distance apart, three steps, three letter names, interval is a minor 3rd. Got it?

(OK, this might be a bit confusing for Americans, who call 'semitones' 'half steps'. Modify accordingly.)

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    Very disappointed to learn that this was a legit explanation, not a pun! You might add that the miner always wore a jacket and tie in the mine, so when his manager came down he would say, "see, sharp minor." (C# minor). There, I fixed it
    – nuggethead
    Jul 19, 2022 at 19:22

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