Major and Minor Keys: Tonality in Music

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: Melody vs. Harmony: Definitions and Examples

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:47 Tonality
  • 1:39 Scales
  • 2:05 Major Tonality
  • 3:33 Minor Tonality
  • 4:51 Lesson Summary
Save Save Save

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Speed Speed

Recommended Lessons and Courses for You

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Liz Diamond-Manlusoc

Liz has taught music for K-12 and beyond. She holds a master's degree in Education Media and Design Technology.

How does a movie's soundtrack enhance our emotions? Watch this video lesson to learn how musical tonality can express feeling in everything from movies to rock songs to operas.

Music in Everyday Life

Music is a part of everyday life, and it has the power to influence our feelings. We can usually recognize the intended emotion of a song even without the words. The feeling of music can also enhance the way we feel about a visual connection.

Commercials make us feel positive about products being sold, and movies would not be the same without a soundtrack. The carefully-crafted music helps the audience believe the story and pulls at their emotions. Gamers can also relate, as the background music will tell you if your little Italian plumber is happily collecting coins or is destined to meet a mini-boss. But how do we know which emotion to feel when? How can music evoke our feelings?


The answer is tonality. Tonality is the character of the tones and harmonies of a piece of music. Tonality tells our ear if we are listening to cheerful, positive, joyful music or sad, dark, emotional music. What would it look and sound like if the character of the music didn't match the scene?

In the early days of film, music was an important element of foreshadowing the actions about to be seen onscreen. The damsel in distress is tied to the railroad tracks by the evil villain, just as the train is approaching in the distance. To most people, common sense would say that this is a serious or dramatic situation, yet the music implied a positive or pleasant situation. We still use tonality in movies today to convey a character's feelings or to foreshadow events. So how does tonality work?


Every tonality has its own special group of notes called a scale. The scale is a specific arrangement of notes. The arrangement of these notes is how we're able to identify a scale, both aurally and visually. The two most common tonalities in Western music are the major tonality and the minor tonality. You may think that 'major' and 'minor' are just words that go at the beginning of classical music pieces, but these words can help us describe the emotions we hear within the music.

Major Tonality

Listen to the major scale. The major tonality is generally thought of as cheerful, bright, majestic or joyful sounding. Songs that give a happy idea or a positive message tend to be major. Many pop songs, particularly by boy bands or artists looking to attract the hearts and dollars of young teenage girls, use the major scale. Several reggae songs also utilize the major tonality, which may make you think of relaxing on an island in the sun.

Even if these genres aren't your thing, you probably encounter the major scale on a daily basis. TV commercials will often use major music because they want you to feel good or think that you will experience positive results by using their products.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account