Question for any musicians in here.

Discussion in 'Art & Culture' started by Seattle, May 28, 2015.

  1. Seattle Valued Senior Member

    When trying to "figure out" a song to play on guitar, a simple method is to figure out the key and then you know what chords are available to try out to see if they sound "right".

    You figure out a song is in the key of D so you know the chords may be Dmaj, Emin, F#min, Gmaj, Amaj, Bmin, C#dim.

    The song "Love Me Tender", for example, is in the key of D. However, one of the chords used is an E7 which is not in the key of D.

    What is the "musical theory" explanation for this? Thanks.
  2. Google AdSense Guest Advertisement

    to hide all adverts.
  3. arfa brane call me arf Valued Senior Member

    When you change the key of a melody, it's called modulation. It's sort of tied to harmony theory, but an easy "explanation" is that it introduces a change that the human ear is not expecting, type of thing. And of course you change back to the initial key after some kind of break (another muso term).

    A song I'm trying to learn on the keyboard does this, it's The Doobie Brothers' What a Fool Believes. When you play the bare chords (without the singing part), the change sounds a bit odd at first, i.e. not what you expect.
    exchemist likes this.
  4. Google AdSense Guest Advertisement

    to hide all adverts.
  5. exchemist Valued Senior Member

    Yes, modulation.

    There is a good example of repeated modulation in this piece (6 mins), from Mozart's C Minor Mass, which I am rehearsing at the moment

    Please Register or Log in to view the hidden image!


    For example, at the end of the second choral phrase, the music does not "land" where you are expecting it to, but goes on, somewhere else, to another level. It does this sort of thing repeatedly throughput the piece, creating a sense of restlessness and angst (The words are the Latin for:"Who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us, receive our prayer", etc). Just to test my shaky music reading and theory skill, the key signature is G minor at the start, but at the of the second phrase everyone is on Bb or F, so one has gone to an ambiguous territory of Bb major or minor, confirmed as minor in the next bars as one or two Db s start appearing. But accidentals keep popping up to shift the apparent "key" of the music all the time. The piece ends with a lot of Gs plus a D and a B natural, thus shifting it to G major, for a sense of peace after all the anguish. (In Baroque music it was quite common to end a minor piece on the chord of the corresponding major key, a device that is known as the "Tierce de Picardie" or Picardy Third, because you sharpen up the third in the chord by a semitone to produce the effect)

    What is interesting to me, as an occasional singer of Gregorian Chant, is that what we call the "major" and minor" keys, on which so much of Western music is based, are only two out of a possible twelve "modes" that Gregorian Chant uses. These other modes give chant its rather haunting, "spiritual" quality, I think. Nowadays we all feel that unless we "return" to the keynote at the end, the music is somehow left dangling. In earlier times they evidently did not have such a strict view.

    More about it here:
    Dr_Toad likes this.
  6. Google AdSense Guest Advertisement

    to hide all adverts.
  7. gmilam Valued Senior Member

    Never learned Love Me Tender, but I'll bet the chord after the E7 is some form of the A (or dominant V) chord. The E7 is what is called a V of V (5 of 5). A is the V (or 5) chord of the key of D. E is the dominant/V/5 chord of A.
    Seattle likes this.
  8. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Since the turn of the 20th century, when the invention of recording (and later, broadcasting) made popular music more available, the musicology of the genre has evolved tremendously. The simple four-chord ditties of the pre-industrial era have given way to rhythms and harmonies that are as complex as "classical" compositions. The "progressive rock" movement took it to new heights.

    Nonetheless, "Love Me Tender" is an old song from the Civil War era, "Aura Lee," with new lyrics. So its harmonic complexity cannot be blamed on the influence of Rush or Genesis.

    "Classical" music underwent an overhaul during the Renaissance, but "popular" music did the same thing. The simple four-chord structure of old folk songs gave way to modulations and many of the devices of classical composition. Much of this was simply due to cultural interchange, as communities shared each other's motifs and techniques. (And hardware: I was astounded to discover that the bouzouki is now a standard instrument in "traditional" Irish bands!)

    The oldest musical instruments discovered by archeologists (flutes carved from mammoth tusks) are limited to the pentatonic scale. But by Roman times, the full seven-note major and minor scales were in common use. Other modalities, such as Andalusian (a minor scale except the seventh note is not flat), were developed in other regions.

    My point is that as people become more acquainted with their culture's music, they start pushing the envelopes. So just because a song is scored in the key of D, there's no law that says it can't be modulated into a chord progression that belongs to another key (or to no key at all). Much of the popular music of the Swing era was extremely complex. "Cry Me a River" is really difficult to sing.

    "Stairway to Heaven," anyone?

    Please Register or Log in to view the hidden image!

  9. Olinguito Registered Member

    I agree with gmilam, the E7 chord is most likely the secondary dominant seventh in a passage that has temporarily modulated to the dominant key.

    Here is a simple tune I have just composed using secondary dominants: it's in the key of C major but uses the chords of A major and B major, the secondary dominant chords of D minor and E minor respectively.

    Please Register or Log in to view the hidden image!

    This is how it sounds, with the melody played on the viola and the chord accompaniments on piano:

  10. iceaura Valued Senior Member

    edited out
    Last edited: Jun 4, 2015
  11. Bowser Namaste Valued Senior Member

    Music is a creative endeavor. There are many colors to choose from while composing. There's no reason that you should be limited to just the triads within the scale. Have fun with it and don't worry about sticking rigidly to the natural major and minor chords in the key.
  12. Kristoffer Giant Hyrax Valued Senior Member

    Throwing in notes that don't "belong" can create some very interesting tension.
  13. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member

    I think that surprise is important in music - that is occasionally defying the expectations of the listener. Surprise can be achieved in lots of different ways, but one way is to modulate to an unexpected key or perhaps to thrown in a dissonant chord into an otherwise well-behaved tune.
  14. Bowser Namaste Valued Senior Member

    Just a friendly suggestion. If you want to experiment, there's a free program that you can download...
  15. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    A 20th-century pop song is not constrained to a single scale (i.e., a single key), the way folk songs, lullabies and marches were, before the technology of electronics made it possible for most people to be able to listen to a bewildering choice of music programming 24/7.

    For the purposes of this discussion, the primary result of this evolution of musical motifs was to greatly expand the harmonic structure of songs. An average citizen 200 years ago would have been utterly bewildered by the melody and harmony of a Beatles tune, not to mention Pink Floyd, Heart or Def Leppard.

    And actually I was unfair to the pop composers of the early 20th century. Julie London's big hit, "Cry Me a River," changes keys so often and so strangely, that when I try to cover it at karaoke, I often come in in the wrong key after the bridge. And I'm a musician (bass guitar)!

    So to say that if a song has a key signature in D, you simply cannot assume that the only chords you'll need are the tonic (D), the subdominant (G), the dominant (A), the relative minor (Bm), the subdominant minor (Em) and the dominant minor (F#m).

    Study "Rikki Don't Lose That Number," one of Steely Dan's enduring hits.. I haven't even tried to count the chords, but I did manage to learn them!
    Spellbound likes this.

Share This Page