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Thread: Need help figuring out a Key/Scale

  1. #1
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    Need help figuring out a Key/Scale

    I was recently going through old songs of mine, remembering how to play them. I composed this song years ago. Now, I have more of an understanding of music theory. I couldn't make music theory sense of this song, but it still sounds good. The chord progression is: B - C#m(Dbm), B - A - F#(Gb) - Dm - F - A.

    The preceding part of the song is basically in E Major, there is an Am as well as an A chord used and while it starts on Emaj7, it ends on Em7 going into E7. This progression sounds good preceding the above progression, but there is definitely a change.

    Any help in understanding what I unknowingly did would be appreciated. I'm thinking it conforms to some more exotic scale. I can't make sense of it with the classical modes. Although maybe it is a simple answer that I am missing.
    Last edited by TonyRS; 08-28-2011 at 04:24 AM.

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    Came back from my annual 3 week holidays so I might be a little rusted...

    I presume that the chords without the m are major ones. It seems like a DMaj scale (or at least there's a predominance of the DMaj scale distinguishing notes in it) but there are some chords that don't seem to belong to it (like the C#m and the Dm).

    It would be helpfull to see a score and a record of the song to determine which chords can be considered passing chords.
    Last edited by rbarata; 08-29-2011 at 05:28 PM.

  3. #3
    JazzNerd gersdal's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rbarata View Post
    It seems like a DMaj scale (or at least there's a predominance of the DMaj scale distinguishing notes in it) but there are some chords that don't seem to belong to it (like the C#m and the Dm...
    And the B and the F# and the F. So Dmaj would cover 2 of 6 chords

    I'd say the tune seems to continue in E major. That will work well over the B-C#m-B-A...

    The F# could have been a secondary dominant, but since it doesn't resolve to B I guess that would not be the right name for it. I'd still use the Emajor scale here, but would try to avoid the tone A (except if this is a bluesy tune).

    The Dm-F seems to be a modulation (to C major, Bb major or F major).

    The last A could be back to E major or modulation to somewhere else. Can't say. too little information. Need the full song.

    B - C#m(Dbm), B - A - F#(Gb) - Dm - F - A

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    And the B and the F# and the F. So Dmaj would cover 2 of 6 chords

    I'd say the tune seems to continue in E major. That will work well over the B-C#m-B-A...
    I concentrated only in the given chords and skipped the EMaj info since TonyRS mentioned that it seems that there is a change in scales.

    However, as I said, the best is to have the complete song.

  5. #5
    JazzNerd gersdal's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rbarata View Post
    I concentrated only in the given chords and skipped the EMaj info since TonyRS mentioned that it seems that there is a change in scales.
    I noticed that too, but it doesn't seem to be changing until the F# chord at least.

    Quote Originally Posted by rbarata View Post
    However, as I said, the best is to have the complete song.
    I agree.

  6. #6
    JazzNerd gersdal's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by TonyRS View Post
    I'm thinking it conforms to some more exotic scale. I can't make sense of it with the classical modes. Although maybe it is a simple answer that I am missing.
    If you'd like to try one scale for the whole progress the normal procedure is to eliminate tones from the 12 tone scale if they clash with the chord tones.

    The chords:
    B - C#m(Dbm), B - A - F#(Gb) - Dm - F - A.
    Contain the following notes:
    B-D#-F#
    C#-E-G#
    A-C#-E
    F#-A#-C#
    D-F-A
    F-A-C

    C and C# present would normally lead to deleting them both
    D and D# similar
    A and A# similar
    G is out due to C#m
    F is out due to the B
    F# due to the F and Dm chords
    G# is out due to the F and Dm chords
    B clashes with the F chord

    So you end up with: E

    Not that much fun, and not very exotic. You can always bend up the the E and hang on it for the whole tune and see if that works.

    These chords are just too much out of sync with each other to create any scales. You'll have to modulate at some stage.

    This can be fun for other types of chord progressions. Like a A7-Bb vamp

  7. #7
    Registered User Malcolm's Avatar
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    Now that you know better a little help from your handy dandy chord chart would have helped you pick a key.
    http://www.i-love-guitar.com/guitar-...ajor-keys.html
    If you compose from a key all the chords are going to work together and sound good. Guarantee.

    The above is a Major key chart. To get the minor keys start with the major's relative minor vi.......
    major vi that will be the minor i.
    The major viidim will be the minor iidim. Yep, now loop back and start with the Major I.....
    The major I will be the minor III, etc. etc. Keep going...... and you now have a minor key chart.

    Love my charts. Always a good idea to pick a key first. Now take this chart and do what gersdal did. That fish thing. Figuring it out yourself will go a long way.
    Last edited by Malcolm; 08-30-2011 at 01:43 AM.

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    Here's some notation and a mp3

    Thanks for the input.

    I have notation for the second part (the main one I am talking about). It is missing some of the nuances of the strumming, but sounds right enough in MuseScore's midi playback.

    I have also uploaded an mp3 of the song. The first part is just the one part with some very simple midi drums. After a couple of seconds I start again. This time from the preceding part. I took this in one take with no metronome, but it sounds in time. I had to bring the kbps down to 96 to fit the 1.5 mb limit.

    [B]To Malcolm;[B] I understand the diatonic triad theory now. I wrote these parts 5 to 10 years ago (can't quite remember when). Besides the strange notes, the form of the chords threw me off when I was trying to analyze it using the diatonic modes. Thanks though, knowing that theory has really helped me in more recent years.

    Yes the chords without lowercase m, are major.

    I haven't tried to play lead over it. I will now to see how it works and now I have the backing track. The other week I was remembering a lot of songs that I had not played in awhile. I do that from time to time. When I tried analyzing this rhythm it just didn't make sense to me.

    I found a site through these forums, http://www.looknohands.com/chordhous.../index_rb.html , where I was able to find scales that conform to these notes. So I will try that and some multiple scales.

    Thanks and if anyone has any other ideas now that I've given more info, it would be greatly appreciated.
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    Last edited by TonyRS; 09-02-2011 at 06:04 PM. Reason: Spacing

  9. #9
    Registered User jimc8p's Avatar
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    B - C#m, B - A - F# -makes sense in C# minor
    F# - Dm - F - A -makes sense in D minor

    However, the link is broken between the two.

    When F# comes along it sounds like a major IV chord in C# minor which is familiar enough ..but then a very weird move from F# to Dm - which is extremely dissonant. If you take that small section out of context though, F# - Dm - F - A -kinda makes sense (mainly for ending on the dominant.) You could then go to Dm again, or as you do, go up a whole step to B and repeat. A whole step cadence often works so this doesn't actually sound too bad.

    You could think about various "scales" that would work as there are some slight modulations to harmonic and melodic minors, but in reality it's much better to think in intervals per chord.

    For me though there is no getting over that horrible disconnect between F# and Dm...

  10. #10
    JazzNerd gersdal's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jimc8p View Post
    B - C#m, B - A - F# -makes sense in C# minor
    F# - Dm - F - A -makes sense in D minor
    F# in D minor???

    C# minor and E major - same thing
    D minor and F major - same thing

  11. #11
    Registered User jimc8p's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by gersdal View Post
    F# in D minor???

    C# minor and E major - same thing
    D minor and F major - same thing
    F# in D minor - it's tonally wrong, but it's the phrasing that makes the 4 chord sequence sound like one of D minor. F# is awkwardly answered by Dm, but then the F references the two previous chords and is answered by A which sounds open and dominant, as though affirming Dm as the root despite its awkward introduction. I don't think this could sound like it's in F.

    The reason I say C# minor rather than E in the previous section, is because in the actual music the phrasing is tonicising the C#m chord. It doesn't sound like it's in E.

  12. #12
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by TonyRS View Post
    Thanks for the input.

    I have notation for the second part (the main one I am talking about). It is missing some of the nuances of the strumming, but sounds right enough in MuseScore's midi playback.

    I have also uploaded an mp3 of the song. The first part is just the one part with some very simple midi drums. After a couple of seconds I start again. This time from the preceding part. I took this in one take with no metronome, but it sounds in time. I had to bring the kbps down to 96 to fit the 1.5 mb limit.
    It's pretty obvious the whole thing is not in one key, but there are logical links across the sequence. (We could argue that this is a typical piece of post-tonal rock, but I think there are strong tonal aspects.)

    It starts in B major - with the A chord as a bVII. This is a very common occurrence in rock music, which barely needs any explanation, but it does foreshadow a brief change in tonality to B minor.
    Changing from major to parallel minor is very common.

    However, we don't get the resolution to Bm, instead we get a "deceptive cadence" to D major, the relative major of B minor. And straightaway a change to the parallel minor of that! (D minor).
    F and A major are both consistent with D minor (bIII and V). but after the A chord, the single line riff sounds like a return to B minor.

    So it works out (arguably) like this:

    B = I in B major
    C#m = ii in B major
    A = bVII in B major or B minor
    F# = V in B major or B minor
    D = bIII in B minor = I in D major
    Dm = I in D minor
    F = bIII in D minor
    A = V in D minor (or bVII in B minor again)

    Another interesting relationship is via an A key centre. F#m is the vi of A, and F# major could be a secondary dominant (of Bm as mentioned, V/ii in A). D followed by Dm is a very common occurrence in A major. F major could also be interpreted as bVI of A. (Dm and F can be borrowed from A minor, the parallel key.)
    (The following single-line riff is also consistent with A major, of course, although A doesn't seem like the key centre.)

    So the reason it "works", overall, is - IMO - that it implies several key centres - interrelated in familiar ways - and common chord changes. It's only unusual in that it doesn't settle on the key centres implied briefly in the middle (B minor, D minor or A major),

    The point here is not to try and see what key scales the chords might suggest on the face of it, but to listen and hear if anything sounds like a key centre (perhaps 2 or 3). I definitely get a sense of a B key centte, both at beginning (right up to the F#) and end. But that doesn't mean the piece can't change key in the middle, even for a short time. Dm and F don't make a lot of sense relative to a B keynote, but they are only one stage removed (related via, D relative major of B minor). (You could even argue - unconvincingly IMO - that Dm and F are borrowed from the parallel mode of B locrian.)

    IOW, there is no one definite answer here, but suggestions of 2 or 3 possible interpretations. There doesn't have to be one answer: the fact that 2 or 3 are vaguely hinted at is enough to give it (sound-wise) a sense of logic. It's pretty common for music to hint at familiar sounds without confirming or underlining them for us.

  13. #13
    JazzNerd gersdal's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JonR View Post
    It starts in B major - with the A chord as a bVII. This is a very common occurrence in rock music, which barely needs any explanation, but it does foreshadow a brief change in tonality to B minor. Changing from major to parallel minor is very common.
    Nice All I can say is that I didn't have a sound file to listen to (not that I'd seen that neat trick anyway ).

    Quote Originally Posted by JonR View Post
    B = I in B major
    C#m = ii in B major
    A = bVII in B major or B minor
    F# = V in B major or B minor
    D = bIII in B minor = I in D major
    Dm = I in D minor
    F = bIII in D minor
    A = V in D minor (or bVII in B minor again)
    Ok, it does feel more like D minor when I listen to the sound file that F major. Still I think it is the same can of soup.

    Quote Originally Posted by JonR View Post
    So the reason it "works", overall, is - IMO - that it implies several key centres - interrelated in familiar ways - and common chord changes. It's only unusual in that it doesn't settle on the key centres implied briefly in the middle (B minor, D minor or A major),
    Interesting how key centres often move either around the circle of 5ths (cw or ccw) or in diminished leaps (this is my observation, not a truth). Such moves create nice and pleasing movements to the key centre IMHO. Is there any theory on such?

  14. #14
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Giving it another listen, I'm going to agree more with gersdal and jim8cp.

    The first part does sound more like C#m is the key centre. That works right up to the F#, which is arguably IV in C# dorian. (If it went back to C#m after the F#, the sense of a C# centre wouldn't be disturbed, I don't think.)
    It's not very strong, but I think it's more C#m than B.

    The D5 only sounds major because of the preceding F#. IMO the change to Dm sounds odd. Making D5 the transition chord eases the move slightly - because of the connection from F# > Bm > D major > D minor.
    But I don't personally feel the move to Dm "works", at least not in any conventional modulation sense. (And it doesn't have to, of course; if the OP says it works for him, then it does.)
    It is interesting (however) that two keys a half-step apart (C#m and Dm) share one chord: A. That offers a faint link between the two section. The A chord can resolve to Dm, just as well as it can (via B) to C#m.

    I'm reminded of "Layla", which also changes from D minor (in the intro and chorus) to C#m in the verse, although the verse key ends up as E major. It uses A major as a - logical and conventional - transition chord from E major to D minor (on the first syllable of "Lay-la"), but to get to C#m from D minor, it just lurches straight into it after the Bb and C major chords of the intro/chorus riff. (It can easily be argued that the roots of those chords, as A# and B#, belong to C# melodic minor as much as to D minor.)

    I don't think this piece works anywhere near as well as Layla, however. I personally find the timing confusing, which - along with the odd key change - prevents it hanging together convincingly. Just my $0.02.

    I would rewrite the barlines/time sigs as follows (not that it makes a lot of difference):
    Code:
    bpm = 80
    |4/4            |3/8  |
    |B    C#m       |C#m  |
    |X X x X_  xxxxx|x x  |
    |1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &|1 & a|
    
    |4/4            |3/8  |
    |B    C#m       |C#m  |
    |X X x X_  xxxxx|x x  |
    |1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &|1 & a|
    
    |4/4            |
    |B     A        |
    |X X x X_  x x x|
    |1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &|
    
    |4/4            |4/4            |
    |F#    Dm       |F     A        |
    |X X x X_  xxxxx|X X x X_  xxxxx|
    |1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &|1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &|
    I've halved the beat value, because the tempo doesn't sound like 160 to me, more like half that.
    It's the equivalent of making the original score's opening bars 5/8 & 6/8 (twice), but I don't feel that 5 & 6 makes best sense of how I hear the rhythm of those 11 beats (or rather 5 1/2 beats, at 80 bpm). I hear it as either 8+3 (4/4 + 3/8), or maybe 4+7, or 4+4+3.

    This supports jim's view that the F# belongs with the D minor part, however bizarre that is. Ie, it belongs there rhythmically, just not harmonically.

    Of course - in my scenario - you could separate the F# as a 3/8 bar and add it on the end of the B-A 4/4 bar, making it symmetrical with the first two lines, but that leaves us 5/8+4/4 for the last line (the "D minor" section). And in any case, that ignores the rhythm of the F#-D(m) part, which exactly mirrors the opening B-C#m motif.
    (I am of course assuming that the "D5" in the score is just Dm in disguise.)

  15. #15
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    Thanks!

    Thanks for the replys. The last few posts have been real helpful, especially the work JonR put into it.

    On the notation; I only wrote it for this thread. I counted out the first part in my head and got the 5/4 and 6/4. After writing it out, I also noticed that the 162 bpm didn't match the feel. That's why I added the single notes at the bottom, with half the values. Rhythmically, the same way that B goes to A, F# moves to D5

    I felt that C#m is the key. I harp on the chord, then move away, only to find myself back there. Originally I played the B to C#m 3 times instead of 2, before descending. The reason I like the progression, I can only explain in a way like explaining colors. After dancing around C#m, I move back steady through B and A. To me, when I hit F# (it is already a change in feel because it should be minor) it gives this tough pull to the side and with the D5 I slide back a bit. The rest of the D minor seems to bring illumination, leading to the brighter sound of F which leads into the A, a momentary rest. This leads right back to B in-to the C#m.

    I use the D5 because if I went right into the Dm it would be too much. I think the minor notes really are there to introduce the F, the illumination above, especially the F and A. I tried playing the rhythm using proper C#m chords. While it sounded good, it was too clean, rid of the emotional sways I feel in the original.

    JonR's analysis helped me to understand it in this idea of "emotional sways." Using different keys to create those feelings. I don't want to take up anymore of your guys time with this. I was never planning on working on this song. I just wanted to expand my musical insight by analyzing it. I haven't gotten around to playing lead over it, but I will try the spanish gypsy scale and using various scales to further help me understand it.

    Thanks for everybody's insight.

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