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Little Wing - What's with the F?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by t77mackie, Aug 4, 2012.

  1. t77mackie


    Jun 13, 2012
    Wormtown, MA
    I'm jamming along to SRV's version of Little Wing and I'm assuming it's in the key of G - so (also assuming) I can just wank all day long using the E minor pents. Then comes the F.

    OK, what's the dealio theory-wise with that F? Have I made an erroneous assumption, am I missing something obvious or is there more to it?

    And, yeah, it's a half step down and technically an E but for simplicity's sake...

    Thanx in advance,



    Maybe the chord progression would help so y'alls don't have to search...:

    Em, G, Am, Em7, Bm, Bb (passing tone), Am, C, G, F, C, D
  2. Basshoofd


    Jan 14, 2009
    The key is indeed G. That doesn't mean only the chords from the key of G are allowed. You noticed correctly that the F is an "outside" chord whereas the rest fits in neatly in the key of G. It's a common "outside" idea to use the flat 7 chord in a major key, in this case using an Fmaj in the key of G.
  3. Sloop John D

    Sloop John D

    Jun 29, 2012
    In the key of G, the F major chord is a bVII. Typically, if you wanted to use all diatonic chords, the appropriate chord to play would be a vii*, or F#diminished. The use of the bVII chord here instead is an example of modal mixture, or modal borrowing. The F major chord doesn't exist in the key of G major, but it fits perfectly in the key of G minor. This type of chord borrowing from the parallel minor key is typical, and generally the use of the bVII in rock or pop music is more typical than the use of vii*.

    One of the most common ways to use the bVII is as a lead in to the IV chord as a kind of Pre-Pre-Dominant. That's exactly what Hendrix did here. The F chord (bVII) proceeds to the C chord (IV) followed by the D (V) or dominant chord.

    The use of the bVII adds interest to the song. It's less common than using the vi chord or the ii chord and makes the song a bit more exciting to hear. The bVII is an unexpected surprise to your ears.
  4. Snarf


    Jan 23, 2005
    Glen Cove, NY
    My interpretation of the chords in that tune is that it modulates to C for that part. F to C is a pretty strong IV -> I cadence there. It immediately goes back to G when the D chord hits. I think the point about it being a bVII is good, but I don't necessarily think that's the best explanation considering the F to C has such a strong resolution to C, tonicizing that C for the moment.
  5. Handyman


    Sep 4, 2007
    Austin, TX
    I'm calling the key Em. There are a few reasons for this, but just take at the fist four chords of the verse. If interpreted as Em, that would be i III iv i, which is pretty common in pop music.

    In G, that would be vi I ii vi, which doesn't make much sense.

    The D chord is functioning as a subtonic, which is a popular substitute for the dominant in pop.
  6. Not yet

    Not yet

    Mar 26, 2012
    Song bores me to tears but guitar player loves it...of course. I just use a 5th/octave and call it on a day till it over
  7. Thats what I was thinking the Bm Bb Am moves it to C/Am. The D at the end of the progression which is held for two bars brings it back to G/Em.
  8. Thanks for that, I learned something new today!
  9. t77mackie


    Jun 13, 2012
    Wormtown, MA
    OK, I understood about 40% of that - 30% being what I just learned by reading your posts.

    I took a long break in playing and am just returning. I left off just before getting into chord theory and so here I am... Chord theory. Yeah. Isn't that for guitar players... :rollno:

    Thanx guys, you're the best. I knew I could count on you!
  10. t77mackie


    Jun 13, 2012
    Wormtown, MA
    OK, hold on a second! (Song stops - needle scratches off of record).

    If we go with what Handyman said and call it Em rather than G then what does that make the F?? A #1 / b2????

    What's going on here????:atoz: Where the heck is my circle of 5ths diagram (searching...)

    Go ahead - confuse the heck out of me, it's OK!


    +1 on Not Yet's comment.
  11. joebar


    Jan 10, 2010
    good points on all explanations.
    when i hear a passage as such, i think of the circle of fifths and the neighbouring keys; in this case, a C major and a G major share most of their notes.
    the F is borrowed from C major for that moment; it is accidental to the key of G, but a fairly common change.
  12. Handyman


    Sep 4, 2007
    Austin, TX
    That F is a bit odd, for sure. I asked my music theorist wife about it, and she said it could credibly be described as a Neapolitan chord.


    Honestly, Neapolitan chords are a bit over my head. I am fairly sure it has nothing to do with mixing three tasty flavors of ice cream, though.

    I'm also pretty darn sure Jimi wasn't thinking, "Hey, I'll put a Neapolitan chord here!" when he was writing the song.

    Sometimes, and especially in pop music, it helps if one occasionally accepts that the song writer threw in something they though sounded cool, theoretical analysis be damned. :)
  13. Isn't it just a mode of G? SRV plays quite bluesy songs, so it would make sense. Just a thought :)
  14. Roy Vogt

    Roy Vogt

    Sep 20, 2000
    Endorsing Artist: Kiesel, Carvin, Accuracy, Hotwire, Conklin Basses, DNA, Eden
    F is the b7 to a G major which is the relative major of Em. In a lot of cases the Nashville number chart for this kind of idea uses a 6- instead of a 1- so the changes:
    Em G Am Em would read:
    6- 1 2- 6-
    It actually makes sense for the way most Rock and Pop harmony works. The F would be then considered a 7b in Nashville Number charts since everything is based on the parent Major Scale.
    I think Hendrix was just using the Duke Ellington rule: If it sounds good it is good.
  15. Would it not be G mixolydian?
  16. MonetBass

    MonetBass ♪ Just listen ♫ Supporting Member

    Sep 15, 2006
    Tulsa, OK
    If the key is G, then the Neapolitan chord would be Ab Maj. What I'd call this if I were analyzing it is IV of IV, then to the IV. A temporary modulation, if you will.
  17. Handyman


    Sep 4, 2007
    Austin, TX
    Yes, but the song's in Em. I really don't see a plausible argument for saying this thing's in G major.
  18. MonetBass

    MonetBass ♪ Just listen ♫ Supporting Member

    Sep 15, 2006
    Tulsa, OK
    OK, so it's a IV of VI. Either way, a temporary modulation.
  19. gigslut


    Dec 13, 2011
    St Louis, Mo
    I have to agree. Sure Em is relative to G Major, but it is more than a quibble. Everything resolves to the E.

    Any bassists who find the song boring should look into Carl Radle's lines from the Derek and the Dominoes version. Lots of fun in that and the can be adapted to Hendrix/Vaughan covers as well.
  20. t77mackie


    Jun 13, 2012
    Wormtown, MA
    Found another one - Iggy Pop, China Girl. Throws an F into the typical BCAGED mix.

    OK, all theory aside, when the F rolls around what do I do? Besides root, 5th, octave.

    It's a pain, but who doesn't like a good 'F'? :bag:

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