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Generally I get what transposing from major to minor is about, I know I have to flatten by a half step a 3rd, 6th and 7th degree.

However if I have a chord progression in C major that goes like that: C major, D minor C major, in minor it will be C minor, D dim, C minor?

I struggle with the 2nd degree in minor scale. This diminished chord just sounds kind of weird, not as good as C maj to D min in C major.

Is it how it's supposed to be? What are your thoughts?

  • How about Bb/D instead of Ddim, does it do what you want without sounding weird? What are you really trying to achieve, and did someone promise that it’s going to be possible? – piiperi Reinstate Monica Mar 15 at 12:28
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    No, nobody promised me anything, I'm just trying to make sense of these connections between chords and yes, Bb sound better here. Thanks. – Ronx Mar 15 at 12:54
  • (C - Dmin - C) sounds good, but (C - Dmin - G7 - C) probably sounds better (if a little trite). So instead of (Cmin - Ddim - Cmin) we can try (Cmin - Ddim - Gmin7 - C). A bit better? Maybe. We're missing that B, though, so we can also try (Cmin - Ddim - G7 - C) and (Cmin - Ddim - G7(b9) - C). This last one can be spelled (Cmin - Ddim - Ddim7/G - C), so we could also try (Cmin - Ddim - Ddim7 - C) and (Cmin - Ddim - Ddim/G - C). These are all reasonable options in different styles. Maybe one of them is helpful to you. – Adam Chalcraft Mar 15 at 22:56
  • @AdamChalcraft I believe that Cmin - Dmin - G7 - C sounds well. – trolley813 Mar 16 at 10:37
  • @Adam Chalcraft thank you for mentioning all of those possibilities. They are indeed helpful. Cheers! – Ronx Mar 16 at 10:41
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I would just like to add something to Tim's answer.

I do not think it's good to think of natural minor in the way you do ("I'm going to flatten the 3rd, 6th and 7th degree"). I was taught to think of minor keys in terms of their relative majors, not their parallel majors, and I think it's a lot better, especially when you start to get into modes (natural minor is the Aeolian mode of its relative major).

Since Tim has already answered this question, I'm just going to add that i→iio→i is a weird progression indeed. iio is generally not the easiest chord to stick into a minor progression. It kind of only works well after i or after VI/#vi°.

A more sensible (and common) progression for minor would be i→III(+)→i. The "+" is in brackets, because III becomes III+ in harmonic minor. The III(+) chord is a lot more versatile as well.

Also, take a look at the notes...

  • C (C-E-G) → Dm (D-F-A) → C raises (and then lowers) 2 notes by a major second (C→D, G→A) and 1 by a minor second (E→F).
  • Cm (C-E♭-G) → Do (D-F-A♭) → Cm also raises (and then lowers) 2 notes by a major second (C→D, E♭→F) and 1 by a minor second (G→A♭).

Notice how the minor second (a strong dissonance) change is the 3rd of the chord for the major progression and the 5th for minor.

I'm not going to go too deep into magic and witchery, but another thing that happens is that for the major progression the chord "outline" (the interval between the root and the top note) stays the same, while in the minor progression it changes.

All of those little details and many others (including surrounding harmony, inversions and so on) affect how a progression sounds.

To adequately transpose a natural major progression to a natural minor progression, retaining its sound qualities, you would need to transpose it to a relative minor (A in this case), which would be down 3 semitones or up 9.

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    Great answer. I've got a question though. If I'm in the melodic minor and get rid of the dimnished 2nd degree then I get two new dimnished chords and that is the ones on 6th and 7th degree. Does it work if I use these chords just as minor/minor chords and not dimnished? – Ronx Mar 15 at 13:13
  • @Ronx, the melodic minor has an ascending and descending form. 6th and 7th triads will be diminished when ascending and major when descending. And, as mentioned before, the sound depends on the context (surrounding harmony). To me personally, i-VI-VII-i sounds more consonant than i-vi°-vii°-i or i-vi°-VII+-i (yes, the 7th can also be augmented). But I'd use diminished chords for a cadence (ending the piece) in the minor key and major chords for a bridge within the composition. – Pyromonk Mar 15 at 13:34
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    Makes sense, thank you for your insights. – Ronx Mar 15 at 14:09
  • @Ronx, there is also a reason why both the blues hexatonic and the blues heptatonic minor scales don't have a ii degree ;) – Pyromonk Mar 16 at 20:48
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The problem is that you cannot transpose from major to minor. You can observe the analogies and differences between parallel keys, but they are not supposed to work interchangeably.

Playing a sequence of chords in a key or mode does not guarantee you a similar effect in any other key or mode, because you are playing completely different notes.

Of course you can get similarities: V7 to i will give you a similar sense of resolution as V to I in major.

TL;DR to play triads built on degrees 1, 2 and 1 of the natural minor scale yelds minor / diminished / minor. Just don't play that if you don't like it, nobody forces you to : ))

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  • It seems there are always some compromises to be made in transposing piece from major to minor. Damn those diminished chords I wish they weren't there at all hahaha :) – Ronx Mar 15 at 12:34
  • @Ronx, that's because you're using triads. If you use a half-diminished chord instead in between 2 7th minor chords, it will sound a lot better. – Pyromonk Mar 15 at 13:20
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    @Pyromonk thanks I'll check it out. – Ronx Mar 15 at 13:22
  • @Ronx, it generally sounds better for the same reason I've mentioned in my answer: the chord "outline" doesn't change if you stick 7th's on top of the minor and diminished chords, making them minor 7th's and a half-diminished chord instead. The interval between the root and the top note for those chords is the same (10 semitones). – Pyromonk Mar 15 at 13:43
  • @Pyromonk thanks for the explanation! – Ronx Mar 16 at 12:00
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This is not remotely a complete answer, but just a hint: There are many "flavours" of minor that you can mix and use in various combinations.

For example, try this. (And do try it now, if possible, before you read further, so the first impact is not influenced by the theoretical aspect)

Take your C minor scale, and see how it sounds over this progression: Cm Dm Cm.

In other words, plain D minor instead of D diminished.

Doesn't it sound reasonable? Focus on the first notes of the C minor scale in particular...

Now the reveal...

Cm Dm are the first two chords of D minor Dorian mode. And even though you play a C natural minor scale (i.e. C minor Aeolian) over it, you'll probably agree that it sounds reasonably OK.

The take-away of this hint, the bottom line, is that the minor third of a minor scale is the only thing that you cannot change without losing the "minor" flavour of the whole thing. Everything else is open to (tasteful) change.

The learning curve on this subject starts with learning the major scale modes (especially Dorian and Aeolian) very well, then the minor harmonic scale, then the minor melodic scales, and then their respective modes, roughly in that order of importance.

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  • Yes it makes sense, thanks for this tip. I gotta say I've tried changing this 2nd diminished chord to minor before and came up with similar conclusions - it indeed sounds better. Thanks! – Ronx Mar 15 at 12:31
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Literal transposition from major to minor doesn't work very well. You have discovered one of the reasons.

You seem to think minor' just means 'natural minor'. There's the Harmonic and Melodic minor scales as well. Those non-flattened 6ths and 7ths are very useful options when attempting functional harmony.

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  • When I'm in melodic minor then the raised 6tb and 7th degree mean I have two more dimnished chords to work with. Does it work to make them into minor/major chords or are they easier to deal with as they are? – Ronx Mar 15 at 13:20
  • You're approaching this from the wrong direction. As in any music, you have ALL possible chords to work with. Pick the ones that sound good, not ones that fit some pre-conceived system. This means that in a broadly C minor environment you're likely to choose G major over G minor (unless you want the 'modal' vibe) and Ab major over Adim. (And in C major we often throw in a Bb chord, and it really needs no special excuse.) – Laurence Payne Mar 15 at 21:44
  • @LaurencePayne then why did you mention melodic minor in your answer? I think there is a good answer from theory in this case: if you're dealing with a song written in a melodic minor tonality, then it doesn't work within traditional harmony to change the diminished chords (which occur on the 6th and 7th scale steps of a melodic minor parent scale) to major, because this introduces notes that conflict quite a bit with the parent scale. Of course, any rule we can write down in music theory can and has been broken, but this would be rarer than the instances where the rule is followed. – jdjazz Mar 18 at 4:21
  • There's almost ALWAYS a 'good answer from theory' if you look hard enough! Which very often just means 'there's a label you can stick on it'. – Laurence Payne Mar 18 at 21:23
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It is not quite clear to me what you are trying to do but I think you are transcribing or changing the progression to a minor key from a major. So, in C major the I and ii chords are C maj and D min. As 7th chords they'd be C Maj7 and D min7. All you need to do to get the correct chords in sequence in a major or minor key is look at the triads created by the scale, taking every other note in secession.

In any major key we start with the major scale (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, repeat) or (Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, Ti, repeat).

The chords corresponding to each degree are:

I --- Maj --- (1, 3, 5)

ii --- min --- (2, 4, 6), which is a (1, b3, 5) relative to the ii

iii --- min --- (3, 5, 7) same as above rel to iii

IV --- Maj --- (4, 6, 8) which is a (1, 3, 5) relative to the IV

V --- Maj --- (5, 7, 9 or 2) same as above rel to V

vi --- min --- (6, 8, 10 or 3) minor (1, b3, 5) relative to the vi

viii --- dim --- (7, 9, 11) or (7, 2, 4) which is (1, b3, b5) relative to the vii

To get the chords in any minor key you can do the same with the minor scale or realize that the minor starts on the vii degree of its relative major scale. Hence the order of the chords in a minor key (built on the natural minor scale) are:

i --- min

ii --- dim

III --- Maj

iv --- min

v --- min

VI --- Maj

VII --- Maj

Notice that it's the same sequence but shifted. For a major key {Maj, min, min, Maj, Maj, min, dim} for minor {min, dim, Maj, min, min, Maj, Maj}. You get different chords using the harmonic or melodic minor scales.

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  • Thanks for the answer. So what chords would you use if you were to transpose Cmaj to Dmin progression from C major scale to C minor scale? – Ronx Mar 15 at 14:16
  • @Ronx, why not Cmin --> D dim? It sounds cool. Also, the second is a substitute for the IV chord. A vamp from C maj to D min7 is identical to C maj to F maj6, hence C --> F is "similar" to C --> D-. The proper 7th chord on the second degree of a minor scale is a -7(b5) and it is almost identical to the minor iv chord. So you could do C- to F- in place of C- to D dim. – ggcg Mar 15 at 22:16
  • Great response, thanks for explaining it to me! – Ronx Mar 16 at 11:56
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It's always going to be a compromise going from major to minor. Mainly beause minor consists of one change in the lower 5 notes of the minor scale - the 3rd, going major to minor. The defining note.

Still going up the scale(s) gives lots of options. In fact all the remaining notes chromatically! So you stating flatten the 6th and 7th doesn't have to be the only way.

As far as C>Dm>C changing to Cm>D0>Cm goes, the Do works fine as a simple triad. Adding the next note in the harmony can be a problem - so don't!

'Rules' aren't there, of course - there may be guidelines, but as ever, ears are the best for that. It may depend a lot on the preceding and following harmonies as to what you use as the chord in the parallel key - you might even, on a Dm change, put in V/V - D7. Especially if the next is V (G) - which, let's face it, doesn't necessarily have to end up as Gm just because we're now in C minor!

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  • Great answer, thank you. – Ronx Mar 15 at 14:13
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There are two parts to your question though that may not be obvious. First, "How does one compose in a minor key?" (even if only for a few bars). Second, "How does one re-write a given piece from a major to minor key?" The answer to the second requires answering the first.

Melodies are not generally too much a problem. One can often tell by ear whether one should raise scale steps 6 or 7 in the minor. Chords are a bit different; there are more chords available in the minor (as usually used) but most are used similarly to their corresponding major chords.

Tonic minor i: same as tonic in major. Sometimes one may end a piece or phrase with a major tonic for coloristic purposes. (If it sounds good, it works.)

Subdominant minor iv: same as in major.

Sub-Tonic VII: No real analogue (outside of sequences) in major. IT's a strong sounding chord mainly used in sequences, to move to III, and often to move to the tonic as a "modal" dominant; the lack of a 5-1 scale step give this a different sound. THe vii0 on the raised seventh step acts the same as in major. It's often treated as a dominant with the bass omitted.

Mediant III: No real analogue with the major keys. This being the tonic of the relative major can be tricky to use. As always, it's good in sequences. The common movement VII-III does sound a lot like an authentic cadence in the relative major. (The augmented III+ is rare except when generated by chromatic voice movement. I does occur in late romantic period and modern music but the sense of key is a bit different from earlier.)

Sub-Mediant VII: Tends to be uses similarly to the vi in a major key. It makes a nice target of a deceptive cadence V7-vi6 or V7-VI6 with the doubled third.

Super Tonic ii0: (part of the original question.) It's use is almost the same as that in major. Being a diminished chord does require some voice leading care. Usually the ii9 occurs as a ii06 with the third in the bass. (As in major, the vii0 often occurs as vii06). Early harmonic theory, using only intervals above the bass, treated a first inversion diminished chord as non-dissonant (there is a tritone but not with the bass). The minor or major forms ii or II (or their sevenths) are sometimes used in cadences. The cadential ii06-V-I has been popular for several centuries.

The dominant major, V or V7: Used identically as in the major. Normally proceeds to i or even VI. The v chord doesn't really act like a dominant. It's common as a color chord when voice leading works. Sometimes (often in repeated sequences or repeated phrases) the v chord will be used until the last time through the the V or V7 is used. (Even sleepy listeners will notice something changed.)

Harmonic sequences can usually use any form of the chords (if done consistently with good voice leading); the Cycle of Fifths i-iv-VII-III-VI-ii9-v-i (or ...V-i) works very in minor keys. So do things like i-VII-VI-V and old things like the folia or passamezzo antoci or romanesca (which underlies Pachelbel's Canon). One nice thing about sequences is that even root position diminished chords sound fine in general.

Melodically, scale passages using any combination of lowered and raised steps 6 and 7 can be used interchangeably, depending on the sound. The raised 6 and lowered 7 together are not as common as these sound like a Dorian piece with another tonic.

Modern pop music (and jazz) may use more exceptions but the basics are similar.

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  • Wow such a great, extensive and informative answer! Thank you a lot for taking time to write it! – Ronx Mar 16 at 12:15
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The diminished triad doesn't give a strong sense of having a root. Depending on how it's treated, the diminished triad can sound like an incomplete dominant 7th, e.g., D F Ab might be used/perceived as a Bb7 without the root.

It's hard to say much about I ii I as a progression, because it doesn't come off as functional harmony. A better example might be something like I ii V I.

In jazz, it's common to see a the minor version of this, i ii V i, which in C minor might be voiced like Cm Dmø G7 Cm or something similar. (Here Dmø is a half-diminished, D F Ab C.) If the bass clearly outlines the roots, then this sounds pretty convincing -- in context, in the style -- as a ii V I progression. The ear accepts D as the root of the Dmø because of a combination of the style, emphasis on D in the bass line, and the fact that this is an extremely common, stereotyped chord progression.

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  • Nice, now I get it more. I learnt from your answer, thank you. – Ronx Mar 16 at 12:24

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