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Theory question

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by e7h3r, Apr 9, 2003.

  1. e7h3r


    Mar 28, 2002
    south africa
    I'm really confused as to when you would say the key of a song is Am rather than C...or whatever. They're the same chords! aren't they? Also people say a riff is based on a mode...how do you tell?

    I feel like I'm missing something huge here...
  2. jazzbo


    Aug 25, 2000
    San Francisco, CA
    Well, are they the same chords? They have the same notes.

    Amin = A C E G B D F
    C = C E G B D F A

    Chopped down to triads they're different:

    Amin = A C E
    C = C E G

    Sure are close, aren't they?

    But really, what is theory? What is a scale?

    A scale is just a pattern of notes that serve an harmonic function.

    The C major scale serves a particular harmonic function, having a particular sound. There's a reason that a B is in that scale, isn't there? There's a reason that the G is in that scale. Look at the scale:

    C - D - E - F - G - A - B - c

    If you play that scale up and down, then you get a particular sound, unique to major scale, and further unique to a C major scale. You can use this scale to play or write from, if it suits what you're hearing.

    Now look at that scale as chords:

    Cmaj7 - Dmin7 - Emin7 - Fmaj7 - G7 - Amin7 - Bmin7b5 - cmaj7

    Those chords can all serve purposes for tension and release, when writing or playing. We've grown accustomed to hearing things like:

    1) Dmin7 / G7 / Cmaj7
    2) Cmaj7 / Amin7 / Dmin7 / G7
    3) Cmaj7 / Fmaj7 / G7

    And we know those because of how they resolve to one another. This all has to do with harmonic function, or chord function.

    Now, you can ask me the question, "Does the A minor scale possess all of the same pitches as the C major scale?" I would answer yes.

    If you asked me, "Is the A minor scale the same as the C major scale?" The answer is an unequivocal no!

    It's the same as, "Does the name 'Santa' possess the same letters as 'Satan.'" I would answer yes.

    Then ask, "Are they the same person, or entity, or whatever?" No.

    While these two scales possess the same notes, they sound different, don't they.

    Play a Cmajor scale from root to octave, then play an A minor scale. They're inherently different. Just like D dorian sounds completely different than F lydian. Listen how, in A minor, the G resolves to A. This is a whole step. In C major the B resolves to C, which is a half step.

    The difference lies in the function of the scale.

    Take a look at these two chord sequences, and try and guess which is in A minor, and which is in C major.

    Dmin7 / G7 / Cmaj7 / Cmaj7
    Fmaj7 / Fmaj7 / G7 / Cmaj7

    Cmaj7 / Fmaj7 / Bmin7b5 / Emin7
    G7 / Fmaj7 / Emin7 / Amin7
  3. ConU


    Mar 5, 2003
    La Belle Province
    You are.
    There is'nt enough space here to answer your questions correctly.
    But recognizing you're missing something is the first step.
    Look for someone knowledgeable in your area to help you.Concentrate on GENERIC music studies.Not licks and tricks.

    I think you're way ahead of where he is Jazzbo,with all due respect:)
  4. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY

    You're making it far more difficult than it is. When the song (or section of the song you're worried about) ends, what note sticks in your head, C or A? Therein lies your answer.
  5. moley


    Sep 5, 2002
    Hampshire, UK
    I can't top the advice that's been given already - but, on first glance at a piece, a big clue would be the presence of G#s. You're likely to see them in A Minor, but not quite so likely to see them in C Major.
  6. geshel


    Oct 2, 2001
    Not in a rock tune!
  7. jambassist


    Sep 1, 2002
    Easton, PA
    how do you figure? Amin7 is the relative minor/aeolinan mode of Cmaj (b3rd, b6th, b7th). There is no G# in that key/mode. doesn't mean you can't add one if it sounds good. but as far as pure theory goes, you'd have to pick a different key/mode to get that G#.
  8. No, pure theory allows for the G#. G# is the leading tone for Am, and is part of the dominant chord for that key, which would be E(7). I think you're confusing the aeolian mode, or natural minor, tonality with minor tonality as a whole. Besides the natural minor, there are also the harmonic minor (F natural, G#) and the melodic minor (F# and G# ascending and F and G descending--except in the "jazz" variant, where it's F# and G# all the way). The latter are legitimate, but are not diatonic to the Am key signature. In other words, you need to use accidentals.
  9. thrash_jazz


    Jan 11, 2002
    Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
    Artist: JAF Basses, Circle K Strings
    They are the same notes, but try playing a Cmaj scale followed by an Amin scale, and then tell me they're the same.
  10. moley


    Sep 5, 2002
    Hampshire, UK
    Perhaps less so in rock tunes - but still, I can think of countless examples of rock tunes in minor keys that use the major 7th.
  11. How about, oh, House of the Rising Sun, for starters? Or 25 or 6 to 4? (Showing my age here.)
  12. e7h3r


    Mar 28, 2002
    south africa
    I can't do it! I put these into band in a box, i tried pedalling a and c under them, i tried playing the scales along, but they both sound equally right to me.

    Anyone wanna offer me some help?
  13. geshel


    Oct 2, 2001
    OK, I shouldn't have said "not" in a rock tune. Might be my narrow-ish field of influences, but I'm not very used to coming across major 7ths in minor-key rock songs.
  14. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    Hmm. I'm kinda new to this too...but I'll have a go:

    I'd say that 1) is in C Major... because the progression uses the V7 to resolve back to the tonic I, Maj7.
    The harmonic function of the chords is the progression is as follows

    II - V - I - I -
    IV - IV - V - I

    While 2) is in A minor (Aeolian) because it uses the
    v in the minor key (Emin7) to resolve to the tonic i, Amin7.
    Note the Emin7 would probably be altered to E7 (dominant) to increase the resolve - this is where Harmonic minor comes in to play :)

    Not sure how you'd express the harmonic function in this progression, other than the last to chords which are a dominant (v) to tonic (i) resolve.

    Would each chord be re-positioned as per the minor key resolve, or would it be expressed as per the parent major?

    Cmaj7 / Fmaj7 / Bmin7b5 / Emin7
    G7 / Fmaj7 / Emin7 / Amin7

    iii - vi - ii - v - vii - vi - v - i


    I - IV - VII - v - V - VI - v - i

    or something completey different!?!

    ???? :rolleyes:
  15. moley


    Sep 5, 2002
    Hampshire, UK
    Good question. I'm not sure how you'd express the function of those chords - the thing is, that it's modal - Aeolian, to be precise - and doesn't use the major 7th - so, from the perspective of functional harmony - they're not "true" dominant chords.
  16. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    Yes, I see.
    Surely tho, the fact that the chord drops a 5th into the tonic is a resolve of sorts.. I realise that jazzbo just used that as a (diatonic) example.

    So this would be modal eh? Cool! :)

    So, the question is how would you express a progression in a minor key, assuming the resolve is V to i?

    I think I'd tend to stick to the parent major scale, chord functions except for the V-i, as per my second example - I mean the chords themselves tonic, sub-dom and dom all have the same quality in the key, therefore have more or less the same function in the progression.. only the III has changed to V and the VI to i really???
  17. moley


    Sep 5, 2002
    Hampshire, UK
    Well, I'd say so. It's all completely diatonic in A natural minor - aka A Aeolian. Does that qualify as modal? Don't see why not...
  18. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    so something that's modal has to be diatonic?

    what if i wrote pice around the chords in a mode of melodic minor? would that not be modal also?
  19. Andrew Jones

    Andrew Jones Banned

    Feb 28, 2001
    Northampton Mass
    When writing a tune in a minor key you have to establish the minor sound strongly or it may feel Major in sections.

    When listening just try to give it you best guess dont analize as much as listen!

  20. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    Yeah, great advice... FROM A LABRADOR!!!

    What do you know anyway wet nose?


    You're right of course, just intersting how theory explains these things sometimes IMO

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