I have started learning music theory and so far I think I have a decent grasp of the basics. I started learning sheet music and a bit of keyboard to help me understand a bit better. I read the theory post that is stickied in the musician talk sub-forum and I understand most of it when reading it. The problem I am having is when I try to break down a song to try to see the theory behind it. I would appreciate any help I could get in how I can approach a song froma theoretical perspective.

What I have done so far is I write down the chords, then I identify the notes in each chord. At this point I have for example 4 chords written down and I understand how each of them is named, built, etc. The problem I have is I don't know how to find out more about the chord progression. First I start by trying to find the key that the chord is in and this is the first wall I hit. I was using this mostly as a reference.

The song I was analysing is "Oasis - Don't Look Back in Anger" just because I know it already and also it's chords seem somewhat more straightforward compared to a lot of other songs.

So just for the intro and first verse I have C F (intro) and C G Am E F (verse)
All of the chords follow the 1 3 5 triad pattern except the Am which is 1 3b 5

I have broken down the chords into their individual notes but where do I go from here? I know my question is somewhat long, but I would really appreciate it if I could get some help understanding the step between identifying chords and finding out the key and progression.


You said, you tried to find the key that the chord was in. But did you also try to find the key that the whole progression fit in?
next thing is to try and find the relationships between the chords. do you know the difference between chords within a key? like i ii III iv V VI etc? find whatever key those chords (for don't look back in anger) fit in and then mark what each chord is in the roman numeral. this is the progression. from there i dunno but it can help to know the progression when writing your own stuff, you could think i really liked that chord change there etc, look to see what they are (I vi VI etc) and use those chords for your own song.
Well you know the notes of each chord. The only problem I see is the E. Are you sure it's not Em?

So you have the chords C (C E G), F (F A C), G (G B D), and Am (A C E). If you put the notes in order you get C D E F G A B which is the C major scale. I left out E because it has a G#, which is why it is probably Em.

That's the long way to do it. The easier way is knowing what chords are in what key. The chords in C major are:

C- I chord
Dm- ii chord
Em- iii chord
F- IV chord
G- V chord
Am- vi chord
B diminished- viio chord
Emaj is probably borrowed from parallel minor scale (Cm scale). It fits and sounds good, but I can't explain why or its function in this progression, maybe someone can clear that up.
Thanks for your replies. Mantra to answer your first question. I tried to link all of the chords to the progression as well but the thing is I had a bit of trouble in how I would do this. I listed all chords of the progression in one line and then I tried to order them so I ended up having AmCEFG but I don't know how to find for example which one is the first chord. Is this done just by looking at the spacing between the chord roots? ( the whole 1/1/0.5/1/1/1/0.5) or is that for something else? As for the E, it is definitely part of the progression. It is played in this exact order in the song:

C, G, Am, E, F, G, C, Am/G
First you have to determine what key it's in, as in tonally.

Most of the chords will be diatonic.

But when you have outside chords, it's probably a bit more involved. I was just talking to a guy from UG, this morning about this. Diatonic harmony gets you in the game but it doesnt explain everything you are bound to find and run into. In fact once you realize this step and know how to take it from Diatonic to tonal harmony, voice leading and modal interchanges, you have 95% of what you are going to face in a situation, as far as chord changes and progressions and analyzing songs in a pop genre or rock genre are concerned.

As I see it you want to start looking into Parallel minor scales and keys as well as learn how Harmonic minor changes things in a Minor key, chord wise. That's where that E comes from.

Then go out and learn cadences. You arent quite ready to start analyzing everything out there yet, but keep it up and one day you will be.


Last edited by Sean0913 at Mar 31, 2011,
Quote by -Mantra-
Emaj is probably borrowed from parallel minor scale (Cm scale). It fits and sounds good, but I can't explain why or its function in this progression, maybe someone can clear that up.

I think you got parallel minor confused with realitive minor. C majors parallel minor would be A minor.

Seans right, The G# in the E chord is borrowed from A harmonic minor.
No, that would be relative minor. Parallel minor is a key/scale which shares the same tonic with a major key/scale, so C major's parallel minor would be C minor.

TS, I advise you to read through the "Crusade" articles starting from part I.

Basically you have to find a major/minor scale that the notes of the chords belong in (your progression also brings in an out of scale note) and the root chord would be the one where the progression resolves to, where it sounds completed.
Write out the notes the whole progression containes and try to fit it into the WWHWWWH pattern.

Or you can pick out the major chords and find out if they form the I-IV-V progression (the only major chords in a major scale lie in those scale degrees). The I IV V progression gives you all the notes in the major scale. For example Gmaj (G-B-D) Cmaj (C-E-G) Dmaj (D-F#-A). Put the notes in order (G-A-B-C-D-E-F#-G) and you got the Gmaj scale. After that check if the other chords fit into this scale aswell.
Thanks for all the input. I got quite a lot from your feedback. Thanks for the link to the "crusade" it looks like it covers a lot of topics I have read about. Hopefully it will help me understand the theory a bit better. Well I'll get working on that and I'll let you guys know how it goes

(that E also makes no sense to me and keeps on making me think that I was doing something wrong)
I could be wrong but the E could also be a secondary dominant chord, V/vi (read 'five of six')in this case. In C major, A is the vi and the fifth of A is E.
the duration of a chord is important to know if there is a modulation, chords may be subs with other chords to emphasize a note/notes of the melody but do not function as a modulation point. for example you may have a dom7 replacing a minor chord where the melody provides the #9 extension which gives a minor type feel but placed on a dominant chord.