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Thread: Chord progression help

  1. #1
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    Chord progression help

    Ok, I was just messing around with some chords on guitar and played the following:

    E - A - B - E (octave lower)

    This led me to think it is in E major. The next part however is the cool "color" part which doesn't seem to fit with that key so I was wondering if there is an explanation for it. It's G major into A and then back into the chord progression.
    What is the technical way of explaining why that G major chord sounds good in this context as a lead in? According to the key it should be F#m or G#m but the G in between them isn't even on the scale (obviously), so with my narrow minded approach I'm not really sure how to explain it.
    Thanks.

  2. #2
    Registered User ragasaraswati's Avatar
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    The G is a borrowed chord from the parallel E minor key according to classical theory. In modern theory it's specifically a borrowed chord from E Dorian. Through the circle of fifths a Major (Ionian) is two fifths away from the respective Dorian scale. Another way to look at it is that these two scales differ in only two notes, which ultimately ensures this parallel modulation is small enough, in that you change just two notes, to sound smooth.
    Last edited by ragasaraswati; 09-13-2015 at 06:12 PM.

  3. #3
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    "Borrowing from the parallel minor" is the common term, and "mode mixture" or "modal interchange" is another.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Borrowed_chord
    http://www.musictheoryteacher.com/pb..._09bdc576.html

    It sounds good mainly because it's an extremely common practice. It's rare to find a rock song without at least one borrowed chord. The bVII is the most common (D in key of E major), but G, C and Am are also fairly common in E major.

    No rules are being broken here! (Mode mixture is a central element of "rock theory", although few rock musicians would be familiar with the term.)
    Last edited by JonR; 09-13-2015 at 06:54 PM.

  4. #4
    Registered User ragasaraswati's Avatar
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    I can make the opposite argument that it's an extremely common practice because it sounds good.

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    Wow thanks to both of you. That's really helpful. Interestingly, I've found you can really take this to an extreme. It wouldn't sound bad to base a chord progressing around an E major that has F#m, G, A, B, C, D (borrowing the G, C, AND D). Makes for almost all major chords and sounds interesting. An example is just moving up the fret board E - G - A - C repeated and ending on D. In fact I just realized that is [I'm Not Your] Steppin' Stone by the Monkees.
    Anyway, long story short that really gives me some perspective so thanks.

  6. #6
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ragasaraswati View Post
    I can make the opposite argument that it's an extremely common practice because it sounds good.
    That's actually the same argument.
    I.e., it's a somewhat chicken-and-egg thing. For some mysterious reason, it "sounds good". That means it becomes common. The more common it gets, the more familiar it gets, so the more "natural" (good) it sounds.

    The reason it sounds (or sounded) good in the first place is hard to determine, and while it would be interesting to know, we don't really need to know.
    It will be something to do with the harmonic series, the way our ears perceive sound and how pitches interact, maybe with how our voices work, maybe cultural forces. We would need to study music of other cultures and periods to see how common these sounds are, or how different our choices are from those of other cultures. We know for sure, for example, that the western "major scale" is an artificial construct, so it would be quite natural to expect some deviations from it to appear "natural" and therefore "sound good". Flattened 7ths in scales are pretty widespread on various kinds of folk music; and so are variable 3rds, so one might say that the question ought to be the other way round: why does it sound good to raise the 7th of the scale? why do we consider the tempered major 3rd to be "correct", or the best kind? What's so good about the major scale anyway?

  7. #7
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by dr.soundsmith View Post
    Wow thanks to both of you. That's really helpful. Interestingly, I've found you can really take this to an extreme. It wouldn't sound bad to base a chord progressing around an E major that has F#m, G, A, B, C, D (borrowing the G, C, AND D). Makes for almost all major chords and sounds interesting. An example is just moving up the fret board E - G - A - C repeated and ending on D. In fact I just realized that is [I'm Not Your] Steppin' Stone by the Monkees.
    You've got it! (Eddie Floyd's Knock On Wood too - same era, same sequence more or less.)
    Also consider Am as part of that collection.
    The G C and D chords all add an element of heaviness, darkness or funkiness to the E major key. The minor IV chord adds an element of mystery, or spookiness. It's been popular in rock from the Beatles to Radiohead. The classic pop one is in Elvis's "It's Now Or Never", which is a classical melody of course. (The phrase "tomorrow will be too late" - that's the minor IV chord returning to the major tonic.)
    Other examples (off the top of my head): the Beatles "She Loves You", Radiohead's "My Iron Lung", "Creep" and "No Surprises" (intro).

  8. #8
    Registered User ragasaraswati's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JonR View Post
    We know for sure, for example, that the western "major scale" is an artificial construct
    What?!

    Just from the Wikipedia entry, the major scale has:

    Maximal evenness
    Well formed generated collection
    Myhill's property
    Deep scale property
    Cardinality equals variety
    Structure implies multiplicity

    Not to mention that ET approximates good enough it's 5-limit natural intonation version. Also, eastern microtones are more artificial in a sense because you get higher and higher prime numbers in the ratios and so more and more dissonance.

    At the end of the day, the formula is tuning the nature's chord, the major chord, from a base note and then doing the same for its fifth up and fifth down (C-E-G, then G-B-D then F-A-C). What's so artificial about that?
    Last edited by ragasaraswati; 09-18-2015 at 06:37 PM.

  9. #9
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ragasaraswati View Post
    What?!

    Just from the Wikipedia entry, the major scale has:

    Maximal evenness
    Well formed generated collection
    Myhill's property
    Deep scale property
    Cardinality equals variety
    Structure implies multiplicity

    Not to mention that ET approximates good enough it's 5-limit natural intonation version. Also, eastern microtones are more artificial in a sense because you get higher and higher prime numbers in the ratios and so more and more dissonance.

    At the end of the day, the formula is tuning the nature's chord, the major chord, from a base note and then doing the same for its fifth up and fifth down (C-E-G, then G-B-D then F-A-C). What's so artificial about that?
    The wiki entry I found for the major scale has none of the details you list (could you give a link?).
    I suspect, in fact, it's talking about the diatonic scale, from which the Greek modes (or rather the ones adopted later in Europe around 600 AD) are formed. Even that is artificial - invented by humans - but it least it has a much longer pedigree than the one specific mode we're talking about.

    I meant that the "major scale" as a concept came into being around the Renaissance in Europe. It evolved slowly from the preceding modal system. A kind of prototype of it existed around 1000 AD when Guido D'Arezzo produced his "ut re mi fa so la ti do" teaching system (that later became do re mi). But that scale was a hexachord (6-note scale) which had a variable 4th or 7th added (ie sometimes mixolydian, sometimes lydian). "Ionian mode" was not officially recognised until 1547. (It obviously existed before then, but not as part of the European modal system).

    At best, you could say the major scale was a "discovery" rather than an "invention" - i.e., all those factors wiki mentions would have been noticed later, and used to justify its formula.
    The reason it became so widespread once it was officially accepted was that it suited the new art of harmony well. The inbuilt dissonance in the scale (the tritone) occurred between the 4th and 7th degrees, and could be resolved by resolution outwards into the Ionian root and its 3rd. So the Ionian root became the "major key tonic".

    What's remarkable (to me) is that the European modal system was in action for around 1000 years, and no one apparently noticed that it sounded cool if you ended on C (rather than the Dorian D, Phrygian E, Lydian F or Mixolydian G)! That suggests that they simply thought differently and heard differently in those days. Our acceptance of the major scale as "natural" is therefore an acquired association, through our familiarity with it.
    It doesn't have such a central role in any other musical culture. India - at least - knows and uses it, but as one of many scale types (many more than we use).
    If it was so "natural", then surely it would have a longer history and more widespread centrality in human music than it does have.
    Last edited by JonR; 09-21-2015 at 01:41 PM.

  10. #10
    Registered User ragasaraswati's Avatar
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    Yes, it's peculiar the major scale didn't have the importance it's given to it today for 1000 years in medieval Europe. My view, though I can't prove it, is that it was an evolution. Especially when triads came into prominence the major tonic and its triad came to be heard more and more as the most resolved. Perhaps in medieval times the major scale was not favored because it was heard as more obvious and less interesting than other modes. With a lack of harmony they had to make their melodies more complicated and this was the reason of using the other modes. With harmonic evolution came an evolution of using the major and minor scales instead of the other modes. The classic period composers liked so much the major scale they pasted its V7 over the natural minor to arrive at the harmonic and melodic minors. Then, the bluesmen liked so much the V7 itself they made it the tonic!

    When I think of medieval music I think of mixolydian and dorian. Is it a coincidence that they are at the shared center of the modes ranking (if we reject locrian as decandent)?

    Lydian
    Ionian
    Mixolydian
    Dorian

    Aeolian
    Phrygian
    (Locrian)

    Then the favored diatonic mode of the classic period, the Ionian is at the center of the major modes cluster. And Aeolian, which was the diatonic minor used when harmonic/melodic minors were not used, is at the center of the minor modes cluster.

    Lydian
    Ionian
    Mixolydian

    and

    Dorian
    Aeolian
    Phrygian

    In a sense with advanced harmony we got "more" major and "more" minor, but not to the extreme. Just another kind of balance.
    Last edited by ragasaraswati; 09-21-2015 at 07:05 PM.

  11. #11
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ragasaraswati View Post
    Yes, it's peculiar the major scale didn't have the importance it's given to it today for 1000 years in medieval Europe. My view, though I can't prove it, is that it was an evolution. Especially when triads came into prominence the major tonic and its triad came to be heard more and more as the most resolved.
    FWIW, that's my view too. (I suspect the truth is a lot more complicated...
    Eg, triadic harmony might have come later. Harmony was certainly something that evolved very slowly over a few centuries, starting with octaves, then perfect 4ths and 5ths only, organum, polyphony, etc.
    Quote Originally Posted by ragasaraswati View Post
    Perhaps in medieval times the major scale was not favored because it was heard as more obvious and less interesting than other modes.
    Maybe. Before it was accepted by the church academics, it was apparently in widespread use by the troubadours (14/15th centuries?), and was therefore - as you can imagine - looked down on as a vulgar scale, even a lewd or licentious one.
    That's a familiar scenario, right? Authorities looking down sniffily on popular (folk) music, before finally accepting it as OK.
    Quote Originally Posted by ragasaraswati View Post
    With a lack of harmony they had to make their melodies more complicated and this was the reason of using the other modes. With harmonic evolution came an evolution of using the major and minor scales instead of the other modes. The classic period composers liked so much the major scale they pasted its V7 over the natural minor to arrive at the harmonic and melodic minors.
    Something like that.
    In fact, in the modal era they used to alter notes to achieve better cadences, and harmonic and melodic minor are (AFAIK) a kind of hangover from that practice.
    Quote Originally Posted by ragasaraswati View Post
    Then, the bluesmen liked so much the V7 itself they made it the tonic!
    Well, no! I know what you mean, but that's not the right angle.
    Blues tonics are I7s, not V7s from another key. Blues is a weird kind of "mixo-dorian" mode (sort of), so a b7 is natural. No need to borrow a chord from elsewhere, just add the scale's 7th to your tonic triad.

    There is a theory that the blues I7 is a consonant "7-limit" chord. I.e., if you stack frequencies with the ratios 4:5:6:7 (which should all blend neatly), you get something very close to a dom7-type chord, except that the 7th is flatter than usual (out of tune with a tempered minor 7th). That 7th represents a harmonic of the root, which is why it sounds consonant. It's supposedly the chord that barber-shop quartets intuitively sing as their classic final chord (because they're unaccompanied, they don't need to tune to normal scales).
    The V7 chord of western music is a different stack. In a purely tuned V7 chord, the triad will be the same (4:5:6), but the 7th is sharper, has more complex relation with the other notes - it's not a harmonic of the root - so sounds naturally unstable, which is (partly) why it's useful as V7, setting up the resolution to I.
    Quote Originally Posted by ragasaraswati View Post
    When I think of medieval music I think of mixolydian and dorian. Is it a coincidence that they are at the shared center of the modes ranking (if we reject locrian as decandent)?

    Lydian
    Ionian
    Mixolydian
    Dorian

    Aeolian
    Phrygian
    (Locrian)
    I think that centrality is indeed significant. Both those modes crop up a lot in English and Celtic folk music, so (arguably) there's something "intuitive" about them. (Mind you, Ionian and Aeolian are at least as common, and folk music is always influenced by everything around it, so we shouldn't draw too many historical conclusions from that.)

    In terms of modal evolution, the typical ways that lydian and mixolydian would be altered (just at cadences, or to avoid the dreaded tritone in their crude harmonic system) would be to lower the 4th of lydian or raise the 7th of mixolydian. Naturally we can see that - with hindsight - as a gravitation towards Ionian.
    Likewise, dorian would often have its 6th lowered, making it resemble (again from our modern perspective) aeolian.
    IOW, when harmonising two lines, whenever there was a danger of F and B coinciding (whatever the mode was), they'd either lower the B or raise the F#, to make a more acceptable interval (a perfect 4th or 5th).
    Again, I'm oversimplifying and probably got it all wrong - - but as a superficial explanation of the evolution of Ionian and Aeolian out of the other four it does make sense.
    Quote Originally Posted by ragasaraswati View Post
    Then the favored diatonic mode of the classic period, the Ionian is at the center of the major modes cluster. And Aeolian, which was the diatonic minor used when harmonic/melodic minors were not used, is at the center of the minor modes cluster.
    Exactly. We need to be careful of the temptations of hindsight and reverse engineering, of course, but that is at least a good way of understand modal sounds from a modern perspective.
    Last edited by JonR; 09-24-2015 at 05:44 PM.

  12. #12
    Registered User ragasaraswati's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JonR View Post
    Well, no! I know what you mean, but that's not the right angle.
    Blues tonics are I7s, not V7s from another key. Blues is a weird kind of "mixo-dorian" mode (sort of), so a b7 is natural. No need to borrow a chord from elsewhere, just add the scale's 7th to your tonic triad.

    There is a theory that the blues I7 is a consonant "7-limit" chord. I.e., if you stack frequencies with the ratios 4:5:6:7 (which should all blend neatly), you get something very close to a dom7-type chord, except that the 7th is flatter than usual (out of tune with a tempered minor 7th). That 7th represents a harmonic of the root, which is why it sounds consonant. It's supposedly the chord that barber-shop quartets intuitively sing as their classic final chord (because they're unaccompanied, they don't need to tune to normal scales).
    The V7 chord of western music is a different stack. In a purely tuned V7 chord, the triad will be the same (4:5:6), but the 7th is sharper, has more complex relation with the other notes - it's not a harmonic of the root - so sounds naturally unstable, which is (partly) why it's useful as V7, setting up the resolution to I.
    I think that centrality is indeed significant. Both those modes crop up a lot in English and Celtic folk music, so (arguably) there's something "intuitive" about them. (Mind you, Ionian and Aeolian are at least as common, and folk music is always influenced by everything around it, so we shouldn't draw too many historical conclusions from that.)
    No, we agree on the angle. I didn't mean the V7, just the 7. Bluesmen liked the 7 and used it on the tonic, while before it was always in the V position.

    I also agree on the harmonic 7th view. After all, the tempered b7 is close enough, the intended effect is that of blending together, certainly it's not approximated at all by the tempered 6th. And of course barbershop singers get it exactly right and they have that sweet ring to them.

    Sometimes, when I listen to extended V7 cadenzas, I get a sense of disappointment when the music returns to the I, because the 7 is like a two-face, you can take it to mean "I need resolution, preferably to the 1" because of its tritone, the classical view, or to mean "I'm a cool dude, you might wanna hang out with me", the blues view. All very fascinating.
    Last edited by ragasaraswati; 09-24-2015 at 10:47 PM.

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