Songs With No Key Center

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Cacklingjackyl, Jan 4, 2005.

  1. I am trying to get a handle on functional harmony and I am noticing that the rock band I play with write songs without regard for theory or scales. I have written down the changes to most of the songs for analysis and cannot find key centers on several of them (maybe I just do not have a clue and need a teacher). In cases such as this what scales or modes should/could be played? I find myself relying on major, minor, pentatonics, the blues scale, and mixolydian alot, and I pick these 1st by knowing what chord I am playing under, and 2nd by what sounds best to my ears for the song. I also used arpreggios and chord tones when I deem them useful.

    One example of a song we play has 3 main parts.

    E, C, A, D

    F, A, C

    A, C, G, D

    The absence of any minor chords and dominant 7th chords indicate to be that there is no real key center in this song and any part of the song. If this is correct (and please correct me if I am not), what would you guys who know more about theory try to do in these songs? I know this may be tough to answer without hearing how we play this, but I am just trying to figure out if I am thinking about things the way I should be, or if I just need to bite the bullet and find a good teacher.
  2. cowsgomoo

    cowsgomoo gone to Longstanton Spice Museum

    Feb 8, 2003
    are those chords all major?
  3. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    2 things here :

    Firstly - yes, if you don't know the quality of the chords, then you can't determine key centre - although there may be a "feel" for one.

    Secondly - what is the point of determining the key centre, how will this help you in any way? So - you can't just take random notes from a notional key and expect it to sound like a decent bass line!!

    You have to play the chords - outline what the chords are doing, regardless of what key you might think it is in - so knowing the key centre, adds nothing to what you can play or how you understand what's going on!

    So - I think your time would be better spent, in listening to the chords, the overall sound of the progression and trying to hear what will fit and/or sound good, interesting etc.

    What you really need to do, is determine the function of the chords - that might help - but as you say you have no information about minor/major/dominant etc. - then you can't really analyse any further.

    Who cares what the key centre is? Just play the song!! ;)
  4. Yes. All the chords are major.
  5. I feel a little better after reading your post here, because this is exactly what I've been doing.

    The chords in this specific song are all major. So I need to think in terms of scales or chord tones that will outline major chords only. Simple enough.

    My goal is really to begin using modes of the major scale when I can, and that it why I am trying to analyze all the songs I play for opportunities to use them. Like I said, I use mixolydian alot already because I find it works better than the major scale in many ways, but the others I find a tough time finding a spot for. Is it fair to say that I may be limited to what modes I can use by the structure (or lack of) of the songs that my band is writing? Will there be times when I can use dorian and phrygian over some minor chords and make it work rather than aeolian or a minor pentatonic? Are you saying that I should just use my ear to find those instances where that works or will the chord structure of the song guide me to those instances where they would work?

    Do my questions even make sense?
  6. Lyle Caldwell

    Lyle Caldwell

    Sep 7, 2004
    Are you *sure* the chords are all major, or is the guitar playing "power chords" (no third)?

    Anyway, write down the melody. Analize the notes of the melody. That's the strongest indicator of what's going on.
  7. Yeah, they are all major.
  8. slinkp


    Aug 29, 2003
    brooklyn, NY, USA
    They make sense. I think ultimately you have to rely on your ear.

    It's not really surprising that you're using mixolydian a lot ... most rock harmony derives to some extent from blues, where even if you're playing a straight C major triad on the guitar with no seventh, the vocal melody is likely to hit a lowered seventh rather than the Ionian major seventh.

    I don't personally keep modes in my head. I have to look up modes every time I want to talk about them in a conversation like this. I just think in terms of the chords and the melody and look for a line that has notes that sound right with those. Sometimes the "wrong" notes sound right for the song, too. Or maybe they're "right" in a way I don't theoretically understand :)
  9. One way could to be to look at the last chord in the song...does it resolve the piece?
    It is not always a sure-fire way...but it is a common way to end a resolving it back to the tonal center...even if it dosent,it may point you in the right direction.
  10. geshel


    Oct 2, 2001
    Working with just the E,C,A,D section (love that Emaj - Cmaj transition - "Goooooldfingerrrr!") - I hashed out the chords and started playing over them, to see what I came up with. It's basically feels like E minor to me, but of course the G# and C# in the first and third chords don't fit that. I just ended up playing so that I didn't hit either of those notes during those times.

    Like Bruce said, I wouldn't worry too much about it - play what sounds good. For instance, you could just play pedal 8th notes E C C# D -- that has a cool sound, and resolves in a major direction. Whereas playing E, C, A, A under the chords keeps it more ambiguous.
  11. Thanks.
  12. Joe P

    Joe P

    Jul 15, 2004
    Milwaukee, WI
    I wonder what would happen if you told the guitarist and songwriter that you've studied his composition, and it made you think that thus and such chords could maybe be tried as minors - or that if they were, it would allow you to work-in a cooler bass line. He might try it out and say "hey, you're right! That's the final little thing that was missing. That's how I meant it to sound!"

    Does the melody contain none of these rogue-major third notes?

  13. What we have is basically a chord progression. Although I could come up with a melody to fit the progression, one really does not exist at the time. I'm basically playing roots because the E, C, A, D part is fast. I am using F major under the F chord in the next part, chord tones in the A and C, and mostly roots with some embellishments on the A, C, G, D parts. Our lead guitarist has really yet to put a stamp on what he really wants to do over the changes. He's a 17 rocker that uses primarily pentatonic scales. I guess I should just force them to sit down and discuss what they really want out of this song, but I know it will be more of the same, just the lead playing screaming pentatonics that may vary from time to time.
  14. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    Remember that a progression still has a key centre even if the chords/notes don't come from the same diatonic key.

    As has already been said, the best way is to just play it as whatever key feels right.

    Looking at these chords it looks as though song writer is a beginner guitarist, hence all major chords built on all the frets with dots on, and F ;) This is no bad thing mind, I've found that quite often a complete lack of theorhetical knowledge leads to people writing some simple, but sometimes intersting pop/rock changes. Where you get chords borrowed from two or more keys, there are plenty of nice melodies waiting to be found :)
  15. You are right about him. He's just learning. Some of his stuff is interesting, to say the least.
  16. theshadow2001


    Jun 17, 2004
    I dunno much about all this but take lenny kravitz's's fly away that song goes Amaj Cmaj Gmaj Dmaj (I think, I don't have an instruments with me at the moment so i can't really check) That song is definatley in the Key of A minor. Theoretically shouldn't the Amaj be an Aminor chord? probably but the progression still works and so does the A minor Scale over it. Or even blues, you play Emaj Amaj Bmaj(in that standard bluesy way) but you can still play that minor blues type scale even though all the chords are major. If i was in your situtation I'd most likley be doing what you are already doing and use an E minor scale for the first prog F major for the second and A minor/C major for the third. Although I'd say A minor would work over the last two progressions without going near an F major scale(again no instruments so i can't check). Personally I would just treat it as a song that changes key starting at E minor then off to A minor. There's probably a more sophisticated way of looking at the progression in terms of using modes instead of using just minor scales but i think it would work.
  17. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    Are you sure they're major, not dominant 7th chords? A minor scale would sound generally pretty out over a major triad, the bluesy sound comes from the dominant 7th chord
  18. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    I think this is a result of inexperienced guitarists using Tabs and simplifying chord structures to just power chords (fifths) - whereas this tune is often highlighted as an example of a progression using decending fourths - the chorus is actually :

  19. Not necessarily true, my band has a song that has the following Chord progression for the verse:


    Obviously this is technically E minor but with a E major chord at the beginning, and yes it does actually sound good

    The chorus of this song goes:


    This part may also sound a bit strange (especially the Badd#5) but it is just G major (as parallel to E minor) and the G and B (from the G major chord) are played throughout the other chords as well]
  20. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002

    That's very intersting, but doesnt in any way contradict my point :)

    A minor scale played over a major triad will sound 'out' to the average listener because of the semi-tone of the minor 3rd against the major 3rd.

    Taking your progression, noodling in E minor over those chords, including the E Major, is all very well, but I guarantee if you started a solo on those chords on a nice long sustained G your average joe would be wincing - that is a dissonant sound.

    Cmajor7-Badd#5 - this is a common, and also very nice :) change, down a semi-tone with a raised 5th.

Share This Page