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What key is it in?? Harmony thread

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Hi everyone, I've been learning a pile of pop tunes and sometimes it's not all that clear what key a tune is in..

So here's an idea, post a tune where you're not sure the key and hopefully someone in the know can help? I'll start - American Boy.. Emaj7, Cmaj7, Am, Am/D, Emaj7, Cmaj7, Am, Fmaj7.. I'd say E major for the key, would you agree - and why?

Caroline

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I would say C major. No sharps.

:wacko: E major has 4 of them.

Edited by Hobbayne
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2 hours ago, Hobbayne said:

I would say C major. No sharps.

:wacko: E major has 4 of them.

Ah yeah, I see what you're saying - but then there's the F# in the melody? E feels like home. I'd say E major thinking of it as then modulating to G major (E minor), or could say the key is E minor with VImajor chord (the first chord, E major). Which is bound to confuse people.. Or maybe say "it's in E" and hope for the best 😆

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It is in the key of E minor, which is the relative minor of G major, which has F#. I won't go into an explanation of the chord structure because you are better having a grounding in harmonic structure to better understand (apologies, no offence intended)! 

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On 29/11/2020 at 13:55, Caz said:

E feels like home.

Yes, E major, as this is where the harmony pulls towards. 

 

On 29/11/2020 at 10:15, Caz said:

So here's an idea, post a tune where you're not sure the key and hopefully someone in the know can help?

The classic "what key is it in?" is Sweet Home Alabama...

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3 hours ago, jrixn1 said:

Yes, E major, as this is where the harmony pulls towards. 

 

The classic "what key is it in?" is Sweet Home Alabama...

Heard many people in bands discussing SHA. It’s all going swimmingly well in what seems to be key of D,  until the guitar solo comes along and makes it sound more like G. Is there a definitive key for this I wonder? 

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14 hours ago, philparker said:

It is in the key of E minor, which is the relative minor of G major, which has F#. I won't go into an explanation of the chord structure because you are better having a grounding in harmonic structure to better understand (apologies, no offence intended)! 

I know my way around harmony pretty well and I’d welcome your explanation of why the chords above refer to E minor.

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2 hours ago, FDC484950 said:

I know my way around harmony pretty well and I’d welcome your explanation of why the chords above refer to E minor.

Hey, this was my reasoning for E minor: 

 

On 29/11/2020 at 13:55, Caz said:

Ah yeah, I see what you're saying - but then there's the F# in the melody? E feels like home. I'd say E major thinking of it as then modulating to G major (E minor), or could say the key is E minor with VImajor chord (the first chord, E major). Which is bound to confuse people.. Or maybe say "it's in E" and hope for the best 😆

Oh great, haven't played Sweet Home Alabama yet.. will check it out!

Caroline

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25 minutes ago, Caz said:

Oh great, haven't played Sweet Home Alabama yet.. will check it out!

Personally I'd avoid it for as long as possible 😂

As far as American Boy goes, the prospect of thinking of it in E minor but with a Imaj7 chord makes me very twitchy indeed, interested to hear an explanation!

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4 hours ago, FDC484950 said:

I know my way around harmony pretty well and I’d welcome your explanation of why the chords above refer to E minor.

 

1 hour ago, TKenrick said:

Personally I'd avoid it for as long as possible 😂

As far as American Boy goes, the prospect of thinking of it in E minor but with a Imaj7 chord makes me very twitchy indeed, interested to hear an explanation!

Ok, perhaps I am sounding a bit over-confident, above my ability, and I will certainly stand corrected if I am wrong! Although I don't know FDC484950 - I regularly read and learn from TKenrick and enjoy your breakdown of theory on your site etc. 

I don't believe it is a Imaj7, to start with, I believe it is an Emin7, probably as a Imin(maj7) in a harmonic diatonic chord sequence. I have played the opening on my keyboard to confirm this, however, I still believe the key is in Emin. I have desperately done a search of the score online to check (just now!)

 

estelle-american_boy__feat._kanye_west_-musicnotes_thumbnail.png

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2 hours ago, TKenrick said:

the prospect of thinking of it in E minor but with a Imaj7 chord makes me very twitchy indeed

An abundance of tierces de Picardie... 🤔

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46 minutes ago, philparker said:

 

Ok, perhaps I am sounding a bit over-confident, above my ability, and I will certainly stand corrected if I am wrong! Although I don't know FDC484950 - I regularly read and learn from TKenrick and enjoy your breakdown of theory on your site etc. 

I don't believe it is a Imaj7, to start with, I believe it is an Emin7, probably as a Imin(maj7) in a harmonic diatonic chord sequence. I have played the opening on my keyboard to confirm this, however, I still believe the key is in Emin. I have desperately done a search of the score online to check (just now!)

 

estelle-american_boy__feat._kanye_west_-musicnotes_thumbnail.png

Ah the sheet music makes a bit more sense, having not heard the tune recently but kind of remember it. The intro is clearly E minor (note chords have no sharps, flats or natural signs except the B, which is expected as the V chord for a minor is normally a dominant 7th) and they’ve kept the key signature the same for the verse, where the chords change. The verse is not in E minor but as one key does not fit these 4 chords it probably makes life easier to leave it as-is and write in the accidentals.

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19 hours ago, jrixn1 said:

The classic "what key is it in?" is Sweet Home Alabama...

“I heard Ed play the solo. I freaked. ‘You’re in the wrong key, Ed!’ He looked at me with this sly look on his face and said, ‘This song is in the key of G, Al. That’s the chord we end the song on when we play it live.’ They actually ended on the IV chord (G) live as opposed to the root, which was D, the key the song is actually in. In their book of music theory, whatever chord you ended on was the key the song was in. I listened again to the solo, which was in another mode, not unlike John Coltrane’s work. ‘It’s very progressive, Ed. I can live with it if that’s what you want,’ I said, once again backing down from any kind of music theory debate. By the time I mixed the song, I loved the solo, but I’ll always know why he played it that way. Ed felt the opening chord of the song (D) was the V chord. And he still does to this day. Al’s advice: Don’t stand in the way of genius!”

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Oh my, who knew this about Sweet Home Alabama.. good call! So having spoken it through with someone more experienced, we decided that it's one of those situations where the word 'key' needs a bit more definition - as it doesn't have the same obvious role as say with older classical music. D feels like home, but practically it makes more sense to think D mixolydian than G major.. although there's a bit of G major pentatonic stuff going on, it's mostly D major/minor pentatonic that works. Is that what others would say too? I'm going to try learning some bluesy soloing over this tune. 

I'm sold on E minor now for American Boy. Before I was thinking E major modulating to E minor, but I'd skipped over the intro - that makes a good case for E minor. With the Fmaj7 chord as a chromatic passing chord into Emaj7, and the Emaj7 as a VI major (to key G major/E minor).

On 29/11/2020 at 10:15, Caz said:

Emaj7, Cmaj7, Am, Am/D, Emaj7, Cmaj7, Am, Fmaj7

I should update these chords. Intro: Em7, B7, Am7. Verse: Emaj7, Cmaj7, Am7, Am7/D (or D sus), Emaj7, Cmaj7, Am7, Fmaj7 (passing chord). Not convinced on a minor/major sound at the beginning that someone mentioned. 

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1 hour ago, Caz said:

With the Fmaj7 chord as a chromatic passing chord into Emaj7, and the Emaj7 as a VI major (to key G major/E minor).

I should update these chords. Intro: Em7, B7, Am7. Verse: Emaj7, Cmaj7, Am7, Am7/D (or D sus), Emaj7, Cmaj7, Am7, Fmaj7 (passing chord). Not convinced on a minor/major sound at the beginning that someone mentioned. 

Not sure Fmaj7 puts in an appearance at any point in the song. Is it not the same chord again as the first half (Am7/D)?  What notes are in the melody?

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Just had a listen to the actual track. The only time Emin puts in an appearance is the very first chord. Every other time it’s Emaj7. The intro is E minor, the verse and chorus are E major broadly but with some nice jazzy substitutions. The chords in the verse and chorus sound like Emaj7, Cmaj7, Amin7 and D9sus4, second time around the same except the D9sus4 is replaced with an Fmaj7 (e.g. listen to the guitar right before the first verse vocals come in, clearly the same chord shifting down a semi tone). It’s a good tune as it plays on that minor/major key feel and two maj7 chords a major 3rd apart always sounds cool (even a tiny nod to a John Coltrane perhaps?)

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I used to play this one a lot and I always thought of it in A minor because of the shape it made on the fretboard (?!), which was made of all natural notes. I didn't realise it had an Emaj7 in it but my understanding is this is taking from Neo-soul, the sound of which revolves around playing parallel major and minor 7s. I don't think there is a definitive key for the song, whether you write on the page that its in E major, E minor, A minor or whatever, the resulting sound will be the same. If I was transcribing it I would choose whichever key resulted in the fewest accidentals, simply for ease of reading.

As for SHA... the only upside of lockdown is not having to play that song. When I'm playing it, I don't care what key its in, I just want it to be over 😂

But seriously. When I'm playing and I'm improv'ing fills etc over SHA, I just go with the harmony of that particular chord. Blues-y dominant 7 things seem to work for all three.

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On 03/12/2020 at 18:11, FDC484950 said:

It’s a good tune as it plays on that minor/major key feel and two maj7 chords a major 3rd apart always sounds cool (even a tiny nod to a John Coltrane perhaps?)

From American Boy to Giant Steps.. I'm loving this discussion!

Here's another one which is maybe a bit more straightforward but I'm finding it interesting. I did a cover video of Around the World  by Daft Punk (I'll post it below) and was advised by a bassist to then check out Get Lucky - so I'm now learning to play Get Lucky. B feels like home and I'd probably have firstly said B minor for the key, but then it sounds like more B dorian than B natural minor, so I'd call the key A or F# minor for this - would you agree and why?

I think the chords are as follows:

B-7 Dmaj7 F#-7 E7

With key A major that's: II-7 IV7 VI-7 V7 or with key F# minor that's: IV-7 bVImaj7 I-7 bVII7

And this is surprisingly basically the same as Around the World transposed up a tone. I think the chords for this are A-7 Cmaj7 E-7 Gmaj7 (or D7 would also work here?) which in the key of G is: II-7 IV7 VI-7 Imaj7

Interested to hear from others who have come across these tunes. Here's me trying to play it http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0VLrrE6RO6o

 

 

Edited by Caz
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1 hour ago, Caz said:

B feels like home and I'd probably have firstly said B minor for the key,

I agree with this part.  If you were playing this song live and could not fade out the ending, which chord would you most naturally want to play to make it sound "final"?  For me it would be B minor, not A major...

 

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My vote for Get Lucky is B Dorian (although I hear the E chord as being a straight major, rather than dominant) rather than B minor. I think of it as being in A, but starting on the ii chord, but on gigs people always seem to call the key as the starting note to avoid confusion.

If you try soloing over it, then G# sounds a lot more pleasant than G natural...

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Yes, sounds right to me. One of those examples perhaps where the sound it “modal” - so key of A major would fit the chords but it has a B (Dorian) minor sound. I also agree it’s E rather than E7, so Bmin7, Dmaj7, F#min7, E. Checking the official video on YT (for Get Luck) you can see Nile Rogers playing 7th shapes for the first 3 chords and a barré on strings D/G/B the E (so notes B/E/G#). That chord being E again reinforces a more modal sound as E7 would pull more to A major. And a cool bass line from Nathan East :)

Edited by FDC484950

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33 minutes ago, philparker said:

image.thumb.png.cc03f2fb35aaf1b125ea82b5e8d4a1f9.png

Looking at this chart, I'm not sure why it's written in B minor. Writing it in A/ F#minor would fit better with the chords, and they wouldn't need to keep writing the G#  in the melody as accidentals.

I've always looked at Get Lucky as being a iv VI i II in F#minor

 

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