I'm a bit stuck: when I play a song I wanna know what's going on musically (what key it is in, which progressions occur,..) but in most cases I can't find out what's happening.
Are there any good books/internet sources around that can teach me these things? I'm pretty good at theory itself: I understand what it means but I can't apply it to whole songs. The music I'm into is mostly Radiohead, Sonic Youth,...
you're pretty good at theory, but you can't tell what key a song is in? unless your ears are really bad, something strikes me as off here.

try training your ears and see what happens. learn to transcribe, and then use what knowledge of theory you have to analyze what you've written down.
Anfangen ist leicht, Beharren eine Kunst.
What do you know about theory?

Can you identify a tonal center?

Can you work out the Harmonized Major/Minor keys?

Can you invoke Modal Interchange?

Can you locate and identify Cadences?

Do you know the notes in every chord type?

If not, any of these things can be blocking you. I concur with AW on this. Something's off...


Do you mean that you dont know how to go about the process of analyzing a song?
Understand nothing, in order to learn everything.

Quote by liampje
I can write a coherent tune ... But 3/4? I play rock, not polka.
The Key the song is in usually has to do with where it resolves to. This usually isn't too hard to fine in most cases, but sometimes it can be deceiving.

The term "Key" is a bigger subject than just a scale, as most guitarists seem to think the scale is the Key, the Key is much bigger than the scale.

Again, the Key is where the song resolves. The Key is shown as a Key Signature on a staff. The Key Signature shows you what notes are sharped or flatted from the natural note names, this is spread out as a Scale. But a song doesn't ONLY use the notes of the scale shown by the Key Signature. When a song uses other notes that aren't in the scale they are shown as Accidentals. Understand that these Accidentals are just as important to the song as the notes in the scale are.

If you're familiar with building chords in a Key, or the chord of the Major and Minor scales (Diatonic Theory/Diatonic Chords/Diatonic Scales) you're about a 1/4 of the way there for understand where chords come from in songs.

With Diatonic Chords out of the way these are a few other things in play during songs...

Borrowed chord - this is a biggie for a lot of people. This is where a song borrows chords from one Root, or better yet one Tonic. This is why so many songs "in the Key of A Major" also have C and G chords in them. Those two chords aren't directly found in the scale key of A Major, but they are directly found in the scale key of A Minor. So take a song that has || A D | C G || or || A | C | G | D ||. In both cases the A and D are directly from the scale key of A Major, but the C and G are directly from the scale key of A Minor. So in these cases the Key of A Major is borrowing chords from the Key of A Minor. Happens all the time.

Cadences - I'm not going to go into full detail here but:

a V-I movement is known as a Perfect Cadence, you find it all over the place in music...it's the "turnaround" in a lot of pop, rock, blues, jazz, etc...music.

there are plenty more cadences and descriptions, you can find them in the this link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cadence_%28music%29

I suggest you learn the cadences to the point of recognizing them in songs. If you're having a hard time finding where something finally resolves these different cadence are usually present and can help you find the final resolution.

Modulation can confuse people too, that link shows you how imperfect/half cadences aid in recognizing modulation and understanding that even though it's like you left the Key, the Key Signature doesn't necessarily change.

Substitutions - being able to recognize something like a b5 substitution will help you find where a lot of chromatic chord movements come from.

There are plenty more ways to understand how to analyze songs but those few will help you get closer. Maybe some others will chime in with some of the other tricks but...

definitely learn about the Circle of 5th's and what it tells you about modulation, where your 4th and 5th are, and how it can be divided into showing you all the notes in the scale and all the notes not in the scale. It's an interesting tool to say the least.
The thing is indeed that I don't know how to go about analyzing a song. I'd like to be able to analyze a song I hear completely: to be able to say why the chords are used. In theory I know about the cadences, the circle of 5th's, the relative/parallel minors,... but I'm not able to apply it. These accidentals and substitions of chords confuse me. Most of the time I can figure out what key a song is in, but why it borrows some chords and where they come from I can't always say.

What I guess I need is an analysis of some songs in which it breakdowns the song and explains why these chords and notes are used, but I can't find a lot on the internet. Maybe I use the wrong keywords.
Try your own analysis: Go work out the Progression for comfortably Numb. What key is it in? Are there any key changes? What are the chords, and harmonic notation? What are the cadences, where are the circle of 4ths/5ths utilized? Any outside chords? Etc.

Mike, as usual is spot on. If you know these things, go through the sequence above and post up. Its as simple as charting the progression and working through each question.


If you want, I could send a song analysis I did, its probably not correct format, if such a thing exists.

Its the rhythme guitar for twilight of the thunder god, by amon amarth.
Understand nothing, in order to learn everything.

Quote by liampje
I can write a coherent tune ... But 3/4? I play rock, not polka.
You want to ask broad questions about the song overall and start narrowing in on specifics so that you can gain an understanding of how those details work not just on their own but as part of a whole.

Let's pick a song and I'll be happy to work through it with you over how ever long it takes to gain a deep and thorough understanding of the song.

I'm thinking a Radiohead song since you're into that, I dig some of their early stuff (Pablo Honey, The Bends, OK Computer).

So if you want to do it then as soon as you read this post reply with a song choice.

Then go away and listen to the song. Listen to it again and start thinking about what makes the song work? Look for contrast - light vs dark as Jimmy Page described it. Or loud vs soft or fast vs slow etc. Is there any contrast? Is there a strong hook, riff or tasty lick that really blows you away? What drives the song forward? Is it the strong rhythm? The sweet melody? Is it the lyrics?

What you're looking for here are the most striking features - to you. What is it about this song grabs you the most and what you hear as it's strongest features. You might even sketch something that visualizes the song's journey for you. Listen as many times as you need to and come back the following day and post your findings.

That will give me and anyone else that wants to join in a chance to do the same thing and we can all report back on our initial impressions.

Then we can move on to the next part of the analysis and start drilling down to the next level peeling back the layers slowly.
Last edited by 20Tigers at Jun 2, 2011,
vampirelazarus: thank you for the offer but I'm not really into Amon Amarth
20Tigers: I'd love to do that. Would you be okay with the song 'Paranoid Android' or is that one too complex to start with?
Sometimes one learns by example. By seeing it in action. Trying, then comparing one's effort to a standard of some kind.

So, will someone answer the OP's original question? I cannot.

Is there a site where songs are analyzed in some basic way, so he and I and others can see what such an analysis would even look like? A site that maps out popular songs, giving a topography of their harmonic landscape?

If I analyze a song, and you and a dozen others collaborate on it, I have the feeling that it will turn into a confusing mess. I have looked for such analyses of particular songs and seen the chaos of interpretation where each forum thread at each site has devolved into a thing where chords are interpreted differently and nothing is conclusive:

'Oh, this chord is X ... not, it can also be considered Yb5/Z ... No it's not, it's a tritone substitution ... Wait, maybe it's the dominant of the dominant."

Not helpful.

Is there a Kelley Blue Book, a Roget's, a Geological Survey, an IMDB for popular music? Or not? Link or STFU.
I decided to give the Paranoid intro a go and this is what I came up with.


I guess there are 2 parts to the intro. The first part is Cm Eb F Eb and the second part is Gm Bb A#sus5 (guess this is a typing error?) A7sus4 and this second part is repeated twice.

So it seems to me it's in the key of G minor. The Cm/Gm progression is the core of the intro (V/I). If I put roman numerals underneath it i get this progression:
1st part: IV VI VII VI
2nd part: I III (chord that is not diatonic) II

Guess I'm missing a lot of info on the chord progression in this intro.
I thought you'd pick that - that's a cool song it sounds pretty complex but that's okay I'm in.
Sorry bro, work's heating up and I got to work when the work is on. The next six weeks is going to be busy. I also got sick so was sleeping in my down time trying to shake it. Didn't mean to leave you hangin. I'll get back man I just logged on to apologize. I'll get back here man in the next couple days, sorry.
I'd start by learning the modes and harmonizing the major scale. Then, you could understand what chords belong to which keys.
Amon Amarth to Frank Zappa
and everything in between.

The A-Z's of music.