So, typically you compose a happy song in a major scale, or, in my case Progressive House, in a Major scale.

But, if C# major's relative key is A# Minor, what exactly is a major scale and how do you compose a song in a major scale?

Have I misunderstood something and maybe you have to write a happy song in MAJOR CHORDS, or what?

  • Many times the easiest way to describe major scales/chords is saying that they sound happy and sad or moody for minor scales/chords. Although they could be used to make a happy song, so can minor chords. It is a just a matter of musical taste.
    – Caleb
    Commented May 24, 2016 at 14:13
  • 2
    I may be out of touch but I don't think of progressive house as being solely or even typically associated with the major scale or major keys... Commented May 24, 2016 at 14:30
  • A song can be in a major key but still have minor chords in it, and vice versa. For example if a song is in C major, the most likely chords are C, F, G, Am, and Dm.
    – nnnnnn
    Commented May 24, 2016 at 14:43
  • 1
    I think your actual question is "What exactly is a major key?" A key and a scale are two slightly different things. Commented May 24, 2016 at 17:32
  • @ToddWilcox I think the OP writes his music in 'riffs' or 'licks' and is therefore maybe indeed mixing up scale with key because it comes down to the same thing - in his case?
    – mbauwens
    Commented May 24, 2016 at 17:53

5 Answers 5


C# major's relative minor key is A# Minor. These two keys both contain the same notes but a different tonic (in this case the tonic being C# and A#, accordingly)

C♯(i) D♯ E♯ F♯(iv) G♯(v) A♯ B♯

A♯(i) B♯ C♯ D♯(iv) E♯(v) F♯ G♯

This doesn't really have any bearing on how you write a song in a major key, but it does help us to understand the relationship between them.

To put it very simplistically, to write a general "pop" song in C# major you will root your melody (riffs and hooks) and harmony (chord changes) around the C#. This is usually manifest in starting and ending on the I (home) chord of C#maj, with support from the IV and V chords of F#maj and G#maj. This should sound kinda happy.

To write in A# Minor you use all the same chords and notes, but rooted around the A#. So try starting on the I (home) chord of A#min, with support from the IV and V chords D#min and E#min. This will sound kinda sad.

Once this basic idea starts to make sense, throw some extra chords in to each framework, remembering to anchor around the I, IV, and V.

C#maj(i) D#min E#min F#maj(iv) G#maj(v) A#min B#dim

A#min(i) B#dim C#maj D#min(iv) E#min(v) F#maj G#maj

This is a very simplistic explanation which I'm sure will not hold up to any great scrutiny, but I offer it up as a basic answer. Full disclosure, I'm not a trained musician, this is how I understand these things to hang together.

  • "These two keys both contain the same notes but a different tonic (in this case the tonic being C# and A#, accordingly)" That is not true a sharp minor has a G double sharp that C# Major definitely does not have.
    – Neil Meyer
    Commented May 24, 2016 at 15:53
  • minor key have raised leading tones
    – Neil Meyer
    Commented May 24, 2016 at 15:54
  • A# Minor Natual does not, it contains the same notes as C# Major. A# Minor Harmonic has a G## but this is way outside the scope of my answer see: basicmusictheory.com/a-sharp-minor-scale and: basicmusictheory.com/a-sharp-harmonic-minor-scale Commented May 24, 2016 at 15:58
  • 4
    @NeilMeyer What constitutes "a real scale"? The natural minor scale is A) used by musicians when performing, B) used by composers when composing, C) taught and used in music theory, D) documented and discussed in many areas and formats. What else does a scale have to be to be "real", in the sense that you mean in your comment? I absolutely improvise with the natural minor scale without using the melodic minor at all - I was just doing so last night. So it's super darn real to me. Commented May 24, 2016 at 17:29
  • 1
    @NeilMeyer - you may need to refer to theory more carefully.The natural minor is as real a scale as any. It's the one using the same notes as its relative major. It is in a lot of exam syllabi, so must be 'real'. There are 3 other full minors, harmonic, with a raised leading tone, classical melodic, which I'm sure you are aware of, and jazz melodic, using the ascending melodic both ways, up and down. We try to be extra careful on this site when answering questions, so that the OP isn't led astray. Misinformation is not the thing to give here.
    – Tim
    Commented Sep 10, 2016 at 15:00

Something that's related to your question is the mode theory. Here's a nice article on that! It boils down to:

> If you play your scale (e.g. C major [C D E F G A B]) on a set of chords
with a tonal centre of C major, and you focus on the relative position of the notes
towards the C in the scale, it will sound happy (Ionian)

> If you play your scale (e.g. C major [C D E F G A B]) on a set of chords
with a tonal centre of A minor, and you focus on the relative position of the notes
towards the A in your scale, it will sound sad (Aeolian)

So for a 'happy' song, you can also add minor chords, but be sure to construct them around a tonic centre of a major chord. Of course, in the end, it also comes down to personal preference where some people find that minor chords can also sound happy - as Caleb pointed out in the comments. It also depends a lot on which notes of the scale you're most focusing on. If you target the specific minor notes the most, then of course it will sound more 'minor'/sad in general. If you want your specific song in C#major to sound very happy, maybe try to focus on the major 3rd of the chord (F) and see what that produces.

This can also be an interesting read.


Scales are in essence a series of notes a certain amount of intervals / semitones from each other. You can have the semitones in any place in the scale. You can have various amount of notes in the scale. 8 notes in the scale is common as it represents all the scale degrees.

Major Scales have the semitones between the third and fourth scale degrees and the seventh and eight scale degrees. You can start on any note in the chromatic scale and play 8 notes from that note and as long as you have 8 notes and the semitones at those places you will have a Major scale of some sort.


Do you know what a half-step and a whole step is? Start on any note on any western tonal instrument and follow this sequence:

whole -> whole -> half -> whole -> whole -> whole -> half

You've just played a major scale. The name of the note you started on is the name of the key you're in. If you follow that pattern of whole and half steps you will always get a major scale.

Play it a few times. Give each note a number: 1 -> 2 -> 3 -> 4 -> 5-> 6 -> 7

Start on note # 6 and follow this sequence of whole/half steps:

whole -> half -> whole -> whole -> half -> whole -> whole

If you did it correctly you just played a minor scale. This is the major scales 'relative' minor (they have the same notes) Notice where the half steps occur in the major scale vs the minor scale.

Might be a good place to start..

  • It's unfortunate using a '#' sign for 'number' in music quotations... And the minor you quoted is only one of four...
    – Tim
    Commented Sep 10, 2016 at 14:50

In my own experience, I used to think that in order to compose a happy tune, one must stay away from minor chords. This is NOT the case at all. The diatonic 6 chord (in c major, scale degree 6 is pitch A.) One can construct the diatonic chord (a chord that uses only notes that belong to the key one is using) with 'A' as the root (the pitch on which the chord is built) A-C-E . This minor chord will not necessarily make one's music sound sad. Rather, it will serve as a sort of a transition between the more important chords of the key. Listen to Pachabel's Canon In D ]and listen for the "sad" chords: b minor, and F# minor. Also keep in mind that it is common practice to begin and end on the major tonic chord, however this is not always the case depending on the type of music one is writing. Music in a minor (sad, gloomy, mysterious) key can still have an overall effect of being happy. Brahms' Hungarian Dance no. 5 is one of many examples as for its dance quality.

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