Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ remixed in a major key shows the importance of tonality

20 May 2022, 15:21

Nirvana, but in a major key
Nirvana, but in a major key. Picture: Getty

By Kyle Macdonald

Knowing your music theory is important – as illustrated in this example from a tonality-obsessed music geek.

Here’s the proof that tonality can make or break any song. Or at least, can change it quite a lot.

When we say tonality, we’re talking the key centres of a piece. Think of Beethoven’s love of dark and brooding C minor, or the joy of a Bach concerto in bright and brassy D major.

With a bit of digital audio wizardry, music geeks are able to take recorded tracks, and with alternation to particular notes, essentially swap keys from major to minor – or in this case the reverse.

The early 1990s saw a proliferation of dusky, moody rock anthems – and there is perhaps no any more iconic among the long-fringed grunge brigade than Nirvana’s anthem Smells Like Teen Spirit.

The original is in the key of F minor. But just take a listen to it in a cheery F major.

Read more: Inspiring classical music quotes from rock musicians

You’ll still hear the Fm-B♭m–A♭–D♭ chord progression, but those major chords remove all the angst and change it completely...

"Smells Like Teen Spirit" by Nirvana Re-Mixed in a Major Key

“The song makes me feel weirdly like everything’s gonna be okay,” says one YouTube user. That’s the power of a major key.

It even sounds like it could be the uplifting theme to a 90s teen heartthrob movie.

The power of music theory.