I understand the difference between the A minor and C major scale. They both incorporate the same notes but begin on different frequencies. Yet, given a sequence of notes from the set {C,D,E,F,G,A,B} , what allows us to tell whether a given sequence in C major and A minor?

  • Yeah I agree it is a duplicate, although those answers aren't exactly what I was looking for. I was hoping for something more systematic that explains how to measure / predict the moment at which our expectation of which key it is in shifts. Sep 27, 2015 at 5:56
  • Krumhansl's probe tone method for example sorta delves into this but she seems to be the only person I can find doing extensive work on this subject. I was hoping someone else might have ideas related. Sep 27, 2015 at 5:57
  • Then why don't you use that question as a starting point for what you want to know? You can always reference an old question and use it to shape the question you want to ask.
    – Dom
    Sep 27, 2015 at 5:58
  • If the last note is A, it's almost definitely in A minor. If the last note is C, it's almost definitely C major. But in neither case is it certain. I'm not sure if there are reliable rules that exist. Once you bring chords into the mix then it gets a lot easier. Sep 27, 2015 at 13:37
  • You are making the assumption that "our expectation" is a meaningful concept. I don't see any reason why my expectation should be the same as yours, since we most likely have had a completely different set of musical experiences to form different expectations from. (I don't have a problem considering the chord progression Ab7, Bb9, C as a cadence in C, for example...)
    – user19146
    Sep 28, 2015 at 23:41

1 Answer 1


You should focus your hearing on tonics, dominants, subdominants and accents and the chord progression and the general mood of a major versus minor. When focusing on a cut sequence on notes there is no difference in C major versus A minor by definition of a circle-of-fifth ideas.

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