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C major

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C major
{ \magnifyStaff #3/2 \omit Score.TimeSignature s2 \clef F s }
Relative keyA minor
Parallel keyC minor
Dominant keyG major
SubdominantF major
Component pitches
C, D, E, F, G, A, B

C major (or the key of C) is a major scale based on C, consisting of the pitches C, D, E, F, G, A, and B. C major is one of the most common keys used in music. Its key signature has no flats or sharps. Its relative minor is A minor and its parallel minor is C minor.

The C major scale is:

\omit Score.TimeSignature \relative c' { \time 7/4 c4 d e f g a b c b a g f e d c2 } }

On the piano, the C major scale can be played by playing only the white keys starting on C.

Scale degree chords[edit]

The scale-degree chords of C major are:


Twenty of Joseph Haydn's 106 symphonies are in C major, making it his second most-used key, second to D major. Of the 134 symphonies mistakenly attributed to Haydn that H. C. Robbins Landon lists in his catalog, 33 are in C major, more than any other key. Before the invention of the valves, Haydn did not write trumpet and timpani parts in his symphonies, except those in C major. Landon writes that it wasn't "until 1774 that Haydn uses trumpets and timpani in a key other than C major... and then only sparingly." Most of Haydn's symphonies in C major are labelled "festive" and are of a primarily celebratory mood.[1] Wilfrid Mellers believed that Mozart's Symphony No. 41, written in 'white' C major, "represented the triumph of light".[2] (See also List of symphonies in C major.)

Many masses and settings of the Te Deum in the Classical era were in C major. Mozart and Haydn wrote most of their masses in C major.[3] Gounod (in a review of Sibelius' Third Symphony) said that "only God composes in C major". Six of his own masses are written in C.[4]

Of Franz Schubert's two symphonies in the key, the first is nicknamed the "Little C major" and the second the "Great C major".

Scott Joplin's "The Entertainer" is written in C major.

Many musicians have pointed out that every musical key conjures up specific feelings.[5] This idea is further explored in a radio program called The Signature Series. American popular songwriter Bob Dylan claimed the key of C major to "be the key of strength, but also the key of regret".[6] Sibelius's Symphony No. 7 is in C major and that key was of great importance in his previous symphonies.[7]

Notable examples[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ H. C. Robbins Landon, The Symphonies of Joseph Haydn. London: Universal Edition & Rockliff (1955): 227. "In the course of composing his first symphonies, the tonality of C major became indelibly impressed on Haydn's mind as the key of pomp, the key of C alto horns, trumpets and timpani, the vehicle for composing brilliant and festive music, although at least during this period [the 1760s] he did not always reserve the tonality of C major for this particular kind of symphony: Nos. 2, 7 and 9, and possibly Nos. 25 and 30 ... are C major symphonies without the psychological manifestations inherent in most of the later works in this key. For the rest, however, the C major path is astonishingly clear; it can be traced from its inception, in Nos. 20, 32 and 37, through No. 33 and the more mature Nos. 38 and 41 to its synthesis in the Maria Theresia (No. 48) and No. 56. It continues with No. 50 and proceeds through Nos. 60, 63, 69, 82 and 90, reaching its final culmination in No. 97."
  2. ^ Triumph of Light, Wilfrid Mellers (2005)
  3. ^ James Webster & Georg Feder, The New Grove Haydn. New York: Macmillan (2002): 55. "The Missa in tempora belli ... in C features the bright, trumpet-dominated sound typical of masses in this key."
  4. ^ Fanning, David (2001). "Shostakovich: The Present-Day Master of the C Major Key". Acta Musicologica. 73 (2): 101–140. doi:10.2307/932894. JSTOR 932894. This essay includes an extensive survey of classical works in C major
  5. ^ "Affective Musical Key Characteristics", Western Michigan University
  6. ^ Jonathan Cott, ed. (2017). Bob Dylan: The Essential Interviews. New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 237. ISBN 978-1501173196. OCLC 975135582.
  7. ^ Philip Coad, "Sibelius" in A Guide to the Symphony, edited by Robert Layton. Oxford University Press. Sibelius's Seventh "is in C major, and a look back at the previous four symphonies [by Sibelius] will reveal how great the domination of C major has been [in his music]. It is the key of the Third, the relative major of the Fourth and the important 'neutral agent' in its Finale, the key which first forces away the tonic in the Fifth's Finale, and the principal opposition – the key of the brass – in the Sixth. Although it is now the tonic key, C major is also strongly associated with brass in the Seventh Symphony."

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]