Music Theory

Beatles' most used musical keys

Live at the BBC Vol. 2 CD cover
Live at the BBC Vol. 2 CD cover
In the realm of pop music, songwriters often rely on the 24 musical keys to create harmonious and captivating compositions. These keys play a crucial role in evoking different moods and engaging listeners with their deep perception of lyrics. By utilizing a combination of the 12 major and 12 minor keys—along with various compositional techniques like modulations—songwriters can craft songs that resonate with their intended emotions.
While all major and minor keys hold a certain level of equivalence, songs can be transposed from one key to another while preserving the melody and harmonic chord progressions. Performers often employ this practice to align the melody with their vocal range. However, these keys differ in their impact on the listener, each possessing unique characteristics. For instance, B minor is commonly regarded as the "saddest" key by many composers.
A thorough harmonic analysis of the extensive discography of the Beatles reveals a distinct inclination towards major keys, which are commonly known as the Ionian mode in music literature. Out of the 167 tracks penned by the band across their 13 official albums, we have identified 55 songs that employ Ionian chord progressions.
Furthermore, our research has unearthed approximately 80 Beatles songs that adhere to the canons of tonal theory, featuring chord progressions derived from six diatonic modes: Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, and Aeolian. Among these, the Ionian mode accounts for about 70 percent of all the Beatles' tonal-theory-oriented tracks.
Among the various musical keys employed by The Beatles, G major emerges as the most frequently utilized, appearing in 14 tracks. These songs include:
The Beatles also favored E major which featured in 11 tracks including:
Furthermore, the key of C major played a prominent role in 8 Beatles songs:
The key of A major appears in 6 tracks:
The Beatles' affinity for D major is evident in 5 tracks:
There are also 4 songs in F major considered the calmest musical key:
Additionally, the following songs were composed in other major keys, occurring once each in The Beatles' repertoire:
Explore how The Beatles use other musical modes in our articles:
Discover more songs composed in Ionian major mode and check out their harmonic analysis in the following articles:
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