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
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    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
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    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
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    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. (archive.org/details/harmonielehre00schgoog) Some modern harmony texts follow that tradition and use all capitals for Roman numerals, such as the Aldwell and Schachter text (amazon.com/Harmony-Voice-Leading-Edward-Aldwell/dp/0155062425). – 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. – user28 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". – user28 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?

  • 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
  • The last part is slightly unrelated to the capitalization issue; since it's part of a title, all essential words should be capitalized. However, that is strange that they call it "in D minor". I wonder if the piece might be more accurately. analyzed in modern terms as minor or dorian. – awe lotta Apr 2 '20 at 19:24

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")


Most answers address the major/minor capitalization, but there's one vital reason, not yet discussed in this thread, for always capitalizing the tonic:

Imagine we're talking about the key of "a minor." If we don't capitalize that tonic, a certain subset of readers are destined to have some confusion (however momentary) when they read:

With the appearance of a minor, the sound of a minor triad is no longer unexpected.

As such, we capitalize the tonic A, even if it's in minor, to prevent any confusion between the tonic pitch "A" and the indefinite article "a":

With the appearance of A minor, the sound of a minor triad is no longer unexpected.


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).


In German songbooks it is still somewhat customary to write C and c for major and minor, respectively. This is somewhat annoying to accordionists who write C for a C bass note, c for a C major chord and cm for C minor (and c+em for Cmaj7 because there are only chord buttons for the former).

So the customary oom-pah accompaniment goes C c G c C c G c on accordion, with capital letters indicating single bass notes (in a lower octave) and lowercase letters indicating chords.

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