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Key of chord progression with 4 major or 4 minor or 2 diminished chords?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by ThePresident777, Feb 19, 2016.

  1. ThePresident777


    Oct 6, 2013
    I read that the chords of a major key are determined by the formula [Major, minor, minor, Major, Major, minor, diminished] and the chords of a minor key are determined by the formula [minor, diminished, Major, minor, minor, Major, Major].

    So, what is the key of a chord progression containing 4 Major or 4 Minor or 2 diminished chords? I'm referring to chords where each chord has a different root such as Cdim Gdim.
  2. BassChuck

    BassChuck Supporting Member

    Nov 15, 2005
    The chords don't always have to stay major or minor. Dixieland music used a lot of major chords. C E7 A7 D7 G7. That would be in the key of C.

    What application are you considering? Minor keys often have a major V, even though the raised 3rd of that chord is not in the root scale.

    Keep an open mind about music theory. Ears and minds create music, not rules. Rules come about to help understand how something WAS created.
  3. ThePresident777


    Oct 6, 2013
    My only application is trying to make sense of music theory. It seems like an obvious question to me but I never hear anyone ask these sorts of things. These are the sorts of questions I wrestle with whenever I try to learn music. They used to stump my guitar teacher, which is why I don't have one anymore. It's pretty obvious that if some one says that a = b, c, d then you have to wonder what happened to the rest of the alphabet soup. I don't take things at face value, if I can help it. But, a lot of people do, unfortunately.

    I see on Carol Kaye's FB page that she's big on chord progressions but thinks scales are ... fabricated. It's not clear to me what she thinks of keys. I see other bass lessons focus on chord progressions and intervals much more than scales, modes, keys, etc., if they even bother to mention all that other stuff.

    Then there is the guitar world stuff where changing one note changes everything and requires half a page to name it.

    I just want to know what's BS and what's not.
  4. megafiddle


    May 25, 2011
    You might have two different songs using these chords: C Bb F. One song might be in the key of C, and one might be in the key of F. So the chords alone are not necessarily enough information to determine the key.

    Many of us can determine the key simply by listening to it (I can for most songs). Unfortunately, I can't tell you how I do it.

    Generally, a song will resolve to the tonic chord; a song in C will resolve to the C chord. It will sound like it is "home" when it gets there.

    Also, do not confuse keys with key signatures. They are not the same same thing. A song in any key can be written in any key signature. The signature will normally be the same as the key, as it is natural to the key and minimizes the amount of accidentals. But there is no guarantee there. The key is basically whatever the songwriter intended.

    In many songs, the bass follows the chord form, and not so much the scale. The bass notes may be 1 3 5 for each chord change, for example.

    CharlyG, BawanaRik and Mushroo like this.
  5. Whousedtoplay


    May 18, 2013
    Music theory is like a MAP for you, and as ANY map, it could have some "issues", questions, "but-what-ifs", etc...

    Your questions could be too serious for the "GUITAR PLAYER". For serious questions I would recommend a SERIOUS Music Theorist.

    Once again, it's (TalkBass) is NOT the right forum for your SERIOUS questions about harmony.

    Many months ago, I've posted a similar question involving half-diminished seventh chords here at TB, with specifics, like chords, rhythm, "melody", sound clip, etc...
    I was trying to figure out what notes (main) to play on the bass.
    The best answer I got was, "Hey, man, it's something from post-tonal music".
    Anyway, here is that progression.
  6. INTP


    Nov 28, 2003
    Dallas, TX
    I don't mean to sound pedantic, but be careful of the framing. There may be pattern, but calling it a formula feels more like a prescription rather than a description.

    It's easy enough to derive these triads that you named, starting from the diatonic scale. IOW, you "start with these 7 notes, which we'll call a major scale", then you observe and describe the intervals. Then if you play an alternating pattern of notes, you get these patterns, etc. All descriptive, not prescriptive.

    If you hear (or see) another set of notes/chords, then they form another set of patterns. Maybe there are common names for them, and maybe it's not so common and therefore less elegant to describe.

    I point this out because, IMHO, most of the problems that people have with Music Theory have to do with it not meeting some expectation in their mind. Most of the time it's the expectation that is BS.

    There are 12 notes. There are many ways to combine them.

    My advice is to recognize that urge to dig in your heels and just try to learn and understand as you go. And never forget that these are sounds, and those sounds have an affect on your being as you hear them, and that is what music is about.
    Need Gigs, Mushroo and Whousedtoplay like this.
  7. BassChuck

    BassChuck Supporting Member

    Nov 15, 2005
    You might consider going the other way around, that is, instead of trying to make sense of "music theory" use music theory to make sense of the music it is describing. For instance, the 'theory' that you might use (and study) to understand Bach (1685-1750) and composers before him might not a full enough picture to understand Copland or Bernstein or Ives. Or the 'theory' that might be used to understand Wagner, would in fact be cumbersome in the study of Chuck Berry. Or the 'theory' that would cover hits of the 50's just wouldn't be complete enough to to understand The Beatles.

    The upshot of all of the above is that if you get a book (or instructor) for music theory you would be getting an overall picture; a general view of a theory that would cover most basic aspects of most music examples. But it would be very easy to come up with musical examples that aren't easily explained in the text (or instructor) you have at hand. Do some searches for "Hanson Analysis", or "Schenker" and compare them to what you've been looking at. Listen to Gregorian Chant, Bach Chorale Preludes, Brahms Symphonies, Charles Ives songs or orchestral works, Schoenberg, Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, Steve Reich and you see that it would be impossible to come up with a 'music theory' that covered how all that different music was composed.

    Studying music theory is not an answer in and of itself. It is a small first step to personal understanding of music.
  8. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    The "key" of the song is wherever sounds like "home."

    A chord progression might have some chords that are "diatonic" (made up of the notes from the key signature) and some chords that are "non-diatonic" (contain notes outside of the key signature).

    Much of the song-writer's art comes from non-diatonic chords. For example let's write a song in the key of C (no sharps or flats, CDEFGABC).

    I might start with the chords C-F-G-C. These chords are diatonic to the key of C (C-E-G, F-A-C, G-B-D, all notes fit the C Major key signature).

    Now if I want to add color to my new song, I can use a non-diatonic chord in my progression. An example would be E7-Amin-Dmin-G7-C. All of these chords are diatonic to C Major except for the E7 chord (E-G#-B-D, the G# does not fit C Major). Although it is non-diatonic, E7 "fits" the progression because it draws our ear to Amin, which is diatonic.

    If you want to take that concept further, try making all the chords in that progression dominant 7th chords: E7-A7-D7-G7-C. We just used three non-diatonic chords, but even though we used notes outside the C major scale, we never really left the key of C, because we can hear very clearly that C is the "home" or "resolution" or "target" of that non-diatonic chord progression.

    So that is an extremely simple example of how the "chords of the major scale formula" can be modified by using non-diatonic dominant 7th chords. There are many, many other types of non-diatonic progressions. You mention diminished chords in your original post, and diminished chords are a very common building block for non-diatonic progressions, so that is a sign to me that your ear is already tuned in to these kinds of sounds. I think you already know that these progressions exist, you're just looking for the music-theory vocabulary to explain what your ears are telling you. ;)
  9. jthisdell

    jthisdell Supporting Member

    Jun 12, 2014
    Roanoke, VA
    Good songwriters can take a key and then modify it, adding melodic notes and thus chords that would not strictly be in the key. In my gypsy jazz trio we are using charts that start in say Bbmaj and then goes to Bbmin before going to Fmaj. There is no scale on earth that would contain all those notes but the songwriter used them all in the melody. Very fun to play and your brain just has to understand how this is an exception to the rule. Just my simplistic understanding.
  10. Whousedtoplay


    May 18, 2013
    Borrowed chord - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    "A borrowed chord (also called mode mixture and modal interchange) is a chord borrowed from the parallel key (minor or major scale with the same tonic). Borrowed chords are typically used as "color chords", providing variety through contrasting scale forms, major and the three forms of minor."
    jthisdell and smeet like this.
  11. smeet

    smeet Gold Supporting Member

    Nov 27, 2006
    Woodland Hills, CA
    IME, the most common methods to incorporate chords from outside the home key:
    1) Borrowing from a parallel key.
    2) Approaching a chord from a 5th above. The 5th motion is so strong that the ear accepts the outside notes.
    3) sometimes a song simply changes keys for a section. There is no reason a song can't switch keys several times.
    Need Gigs, Finaks and Whousedtoplay like this.
  12. Whousedtoplay


    May 18, 2013
    The following is Charles Mingus solo sheet music of his 1957 recording of "Woody'n You".
    It has some half-diminished chords. Could you figure out the key?
  13. RustyAxe


    Jul 8, 2008
    Uh yeah ... there's a "hint" just to the right of the bass clef.
    jasonrp, SteveCS, aprod and 3 others like this.
  14. Don Kasper

    Don Kasper Supporting Member

    FYI - all the written "Xdiminished" chords in the chart above, (bars #1,3,5,9,11,13,25,27,29), are NOT Diminished chords - they are (and should be written as) all "half-diminished" or "minor7b5" chords, as WUTP correctly mentions.
    (The melody of this tune will confirm this - the melody contains notes that are NOT in a Diminished chord, but ARE in a Half-Diminished or Minor7 b5 chord.)
    Diminished and Half-Diminshed chords are NOT interchangeable.
    IHO the chart is incorrectly written.
    Last edited: Feb 20, 2016
    Need Gigs likes this.
  15. InhumanResource


    Dec 28, 2012
    You have to analyze the piece by function to determine key. You may have determined certain chords are diminished or minor, but they might be inversions of other chords that make a little more sense in whatever key this is in. You can't really extrapolate the key this way, more information is needed.
  16. Argassab


    Dec 16, 2014
    Cayman Islands
    There are just a lot more gear heads than nerds that's why only a few asks about harmony.
  17. DavC

    DavC Supporting Member

    May 17, 2005
    Tallmadge , Ohio
    like many things ... as soon as you kinda learn ' the rules ' ... there's always exceptions .. !!

    basic triad theory is pretty straight forward ... beyond that , depends on which school you might go to .. !

    jazz or classical ... Rules are good to know , ... but semi-useless without a trained well listening Ear .. !
  18. Hahaha


    Sep 26, 2003
    Olympia, WA USA
    Yup. Lots of songs have momentary key changes. Blue Bossa starts in C minor (or Eb if you prefer) and moves to Db, then back.
  19. Finaks


    Jun 22, 2015
    This. No magic. Don't overthink it. Remember it's all about tension and release with keys. You have a "tonal center" and a distance from it. The tonal center can chance every once in a while. There are also smaller and bigger tension and release cycles in a song. Say a simple tension and release would be like E7 to A. Longer one something like E7 to A7 to D7 to C.
  20. Nev375


    Nov 2, 2010
    A scale is just a collection of notes (usually 7 notes but not necessarily) that exist of the root and 6 notes between it and an octave.

    A Key is just what note that scale starts on and is tonally centered around

    Some people like to think in modes which is just 7 ways to look at the same major scale but focussing on a different tonal root. Since each mode is the same exact scale that just starts on a different note in this order they are listed as:

    Ionian (major scale)
    Dorian (starting with the 2nd) - remember duo meaning two
    Prygian (3rd) - remember "phree" sounds like a child saying three
    Lydian (4th)
    Mixolydian (5th) - remember these two are the all important connected 4th and 5th intervals used in every I,IV,V progression.
    Aeolian (6th) - remember this is the all important minor key.
    Locrian (7th) - sometimes called a "theoretical" mode that is hardly ever used because the root chord is the diminished and it just doesn't resolve. The only major commercially successful song in Locrian is Bjork - Army of Me.

    Another way to remember and memorize modes is by the two numbers 4 and 73625 and how they sit in the order of which new interval moves a half step in its formula.

    4 Lydian (raise the 4) - the only one that goes up.
    _ Ionian (no alteration) - the basic major scale
    7 Mixolydian (drop the 7) - note how lydian and mixolydian only have one alteration and frame the major scale.
    3 Dorian (drop the 7 & 3) remember 2 alterations "duo-rian"
    6 Aeolian (drop the 7, 3 & 6) remember the 3rd interval determines major/minor and the 6th mode is the aeolian
    2 Phrygian (drop the 7, 3, 6 & 2) remember 3 other intervals drop besides the 3 itself
    5 Locrian (drop the 7, 3, 6, 2 & 5) remember this is the most screwed up complicated one that needs 5 alterations and diminishes the 5th

    between these two orders/methods and memorizing the scale patters you mentioned in your OP. (3 major, 3 minor and one diminished) you ought to get a handle on it.

    Now I know you are thinking... but that doesn't answer my question at all.

    I know. The reason I didn't answer it is because I don't know. It's one of those other "made-up" scales that don't fit the symmetrical pattern of the major scale and its 7 modes. But I wanted to help anyway, and I thought maybe pointing out these ways of looking at modes might help you figure out how to remember the pattern of whatever scale you are thinking about when you DO figure it out.

    Maybe you already know this... maybe it will help someone else.

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