#1
Hey guys, I recently looked up the chords to House of the Rising Sun, a song that's universally acclaimed, and noticed that it has an interesting sound.

Upon analysis of the chords, one can see that they change key at some point.

The chords are
Am - C - D - F - Am - E - Am - E

If we are in the key of Am or C then you'd notice that the D and E chords don't fit.
The key of G includes the D chord but lacks the F chord.

Obviously there is a change of key or some chord that has been modified yet still sounds good within the progression.

So my question to you guys is what's going on theoretically and why do the chords here still sound good? How can the principles used here be applied elsewhere when coming up with your own chord progressions?
#2
I think it's not D but Dminor
so there would be no key change and it's written in A harmonic minor
#5
oh my songbook is wrong then
well the only thing that changes in harmonic minor is that the fifth turns into a major chord and I don't know about the 7th but that isn't used in the song anyway
#7
Every single chord does not have to be harmonized from a single scale to still be in the key of Ami. D fits in with the A dorian scale, and E7 (a dominant V chord) will fit in with the harmonic minor. Even if there were something like an Eb in the song though, the key could remain Ami, as long as the Eb wasn't a pivot chord to a different tonal center (like an Abmi, for example). Its more about what you hear, and less about what's written.
#8
Thanks for your answer libertines.

griff, Am contains the following chords: Am Bdim C Dm Em F G
#9
kaptegan I understand what you are saying about A dorian, but then wouldn't that make E a minor chord?
Dorian is the II of a major scale

so A dorian would be

Am Bm C D Em F#dim G

This also leads to how the F chord wouldn't be included here
#10
The D and E would be borrowed from the parallel major. If you harmonize the A minor scale, you get this:

Am Bdim C Dm Em F G

If you harmonize the A major scale, you get this:

A Bm C#m D E F#m G#dim

As you can see, A major has those two chords, D and E, that you were wondering about. It's not uncommon to see borrowed chords like this. Hopefully this helps you understand what's going on in this song.
Last edited by stickfigurekill at Aug 6, 2011,
#11
Yes thank you for the explanation stickfigurekill. So with what you are saying, how can we take those principles and apply them elsewhere?

Does it only work when you take the IV and V from the parallel major?
Also does the reason those chords still work have anything to do with the proximity of the other chords?

For example, the D is played after a C and before an F, and the E is played after an Am, and later in the song after a C.

So do the intervals have anything to do with it or is just a general principle that the fourth and fifth chords can be made into major chords?
#12
Quote by XxBAMFxX
Hey guys, I recently looked up the chords to House of the Rising Sun, a song that's universally acclaimed, and noticed that it has an interesting sound.

Upon analysis of the chords, one can see that they change key at some point.

The chords are
Am - C - D - F - Am - E - Am - E

If we are in the key of Am or C then you'd notice that the D and E chords don't fit.
The key of G includes the D chord but lacks the F chord.

Obviously there is a change of key or some chord that has been modified yet still sounds good within the progression.

So my question to you guys is what's going on theoretically and why do the chords here still sound good? How can the principles used here be applied elsewhere when coming up with your own chord progressions?


Well the D is borrowed from the IV of A Major, in theory terms, I think it was probably chosen for its brightness and how it sounded rather than a theory position. It's not that uncommon to see Major Parallel Key borrowing, from Minor keys.

The E is from A Harmonic Minor and functions as a V - i cadence.

My personal feeling as to what prompted the D Major over the D Minor choice, is that D Minor has too close of a sonic resemblance with the F Major triad that follows it, in essence making the sound blurry...the F# in D Major made a nice F# - F move that gave it harmonic interest.

Best,

Sean
#13
griff is right, it's all in a minor there's not a hint of anything else. D is borrowed from the parallel major and E7 is most definitely in A minor. not a harmonic minor, that's not a key, but A minor.

edit: sorry i sound like a grinch when i'm tired....

edit: again: yeah sean and in particular, it's as a result of the notes it implies before and after that, A-G-F#-F natural-E that kinda really common lead down from the tonic to the dominant.
Last edited by gavk at Aug 6, 2011,
#14
Quote by XxBAMFxX
Thanks for your answer libertines.

griff, Am contains the following chords: Am Bdim C Dm Em F G


Read Soviet Ska's lesson on Minor scales. The E7 is present in both harmonic and melodic minor, the D is harmonized from the melodic minor.
#15
Thanks for the response sean.

And gavk, you are incorrect when you say E7 is in A minor.

Edit: I will check out the lesson. But as far as I have seen so far, this is how a major scale is harmonized:

I ii iii IV V vi vii

maj7 min7 min7 maj7 7 min7 dim7b5

And as you know, the minor scale is just the 6th degree of the major,
so it would be

min7 dim7b5 maj7 min7 min7 maj7 7
Last edited by XxBAMFxX at Aug 6, 2011,
#16
Quote by XxBAMFxX
And gavk, you are incorrect when you say E7 is in A minor.


Actually, gavk is correct. If you use the harmonic minor, which is the natural minor scale with a 7 instead of a b7, it becomes this:

A B C D E F G# A

If you harmonize that starting on the E, you get E G# B D

E G# B and D make up an E7 chord. It still fits within a minor key.
Last edited by stickfigurekill at Aug 6, 2011,
#17
Quote by XxBAMFxX
Thanks for the response sean.

And gavk, you are incorrect when you say E7 is in A minor.

Edit: I will check out the lesson. But as far as I have seen so far, this is how a major scale is harmonized:

I ii iii IV V vi vii

maj7 min7 min7 maj7 7 min7 dim7b5

And as you know, the minor scale is just the 6th degree of the major,
so it would be

min7 dim7b5 maj7 min7 min7 maj7 7


With respect...until you understand more, it's best not to alienate people that are trying to help you, by telling them they are wrong. A little humility and teach-ability is best. gavk is definitely not wrong, it's just your understanding is incomplete.

It's best to say "Hey gavk, why do you say that E7 is in Aminor? I see that according to what Ive read...."

The reason that gavk is correct is because Minor keys are not constrained to Natural Minor scales alone, in fact, rarely is it the case where the Minor key isn't reflective of an A Harmonic Minor.

Best,

Sean
#18
haha thanks for havin ma back guys!

yeah and sean is right, it's best not to just dismiss out of hand what people who know more than you say. not being condescending, but if you come one and can't figure ouut what the chords mean in a very diatonic song, it's best not to just dismiss out of hand what people who know what they're talking about are saying.

i know i don't post here too often but i know my stuff, so does sean, and griff, and a number of other people on this can be trusted to be speaking the truth unless it's a really bad day or a typo, so look at the forums, see who people listen to and trust these guys. dismissing people's inputs to your problem based in the little amount of theory you know is not going to get you very far here, that's all i'm sayin!
#19
I'm reading a lot of messages here and it seems that statements intended to cause no harm have been taken personally.

First of all, thank you guys for your responses. You are taking time out of your day to try and explain what's going on in this song and I respect that.

Secondly, me stating my opinion (note that it is just an opinion) that someone has said something incorrect should not be equated with me attacking someone.
Regardless, even if what I said was misinterpreted as an attack, I am sure you would agree that attacking offender back is not the wise option... That's all I am going to say about that.

Finally, It seems as if we are using the same terms to describe different things and confusion is arising simply via semantics.

When I say minor, I am referring to the Aeolian mode, a.k.a the 6th mode of a major scale or the natural minor key. So when I am being told that E7 is in the minor key, I obviously have to disagree because when I hear minor I am thinking of the natural minor which does not include E7.

I am not aware that you can switch between natural and harmonic minor whenever you feel like and still stay within the key (which would ultimately be a mode of the major key one and a half steps down).

So maybe someone can help explain to me some minor key theory including uses of the harmonic and melodic scales, and how they function relative to the Ionian mode.

Here is some of my knowledge, to help you understand where I am coming from:

Major scales include the following tones (each box representing a half-step):


[1][ ][2][ ][3][4][ ][5][ ][6][ ][7][1]
With each tone as a root, a chord can be harmonized.

[1] - Major chord
[2] - Minor chord
[3] - Minor chord
[4] - Major chord
[5] - Major chord
[6] - Minor chord
[7] - Diminished chord

Minor scales can be represented as below:
[1][ ][2][3][ ][4][ ][5][6][ ][7][ ][1]

which relative to the Major scale can actually be represented as:
[6][ ][7][1][ ][2][ ][3][4][ ][5][ ][6]

So if the above information rings true, then the chord harmonizations still apply:

[6] - Minor chord
[7] - Diminished chord
[1] - Major chord
[2] - Minor chord
[3] - Minor chord
[4] - Major chord
[5] - Major chord

The chords harmonizations are the same but the order has changed. so if we change the 6 to a 1 and the 7 to a 2 and the 1 to a 3.....etc. we should get this relative to the 6th mode (Aeolian):

[1] - Minor chord
[2] - Diminished chord
[3] - Major chord
[4] - Minor chord
[5] - Minor chord
[6] - Major chord
[7] - Major chord

So... in the natural minor scale, the Aeolian mode, the 6th mode of the major scale, whatever you want to call it, we have

minor | diminished | major | minor | minor | major | major |

for the chords.
Ok..phew. Good job following along so far. Stay with me; I am almost finished.

Now let's take the minor tone pattern and apply it to the tone A, making a natural minor scale from it:

[1][ ][2][3][ ][4][ ][5][6][ ][7][ ][1]
A - A# - B - C - C# - D - D# - E - F - F# - G - G# - A

So now we can see that the tones in the natural minor scale are A - B - C - D - E - F - G
which equals:

1 - A
2 - B
3 - C
4 - D
5 - E
6 - F
7 - G

and since

1 - Minor
2 - Diminished
3 - Major
4 - Minor
5 - Minor
6 - Major
7 - Major

the chords in A natural minor are - Amin Bdim C Dmin Emin F G

Should my analysis have been accurate thus far, we have reached the final stage where we can compare the chords above to the chords in the song, House of the Rising Sun.

The chords played (in no specific order) are Amin C D F and E.
Well, comparing to the chords above we see that the Dmin has been changed to a D
and the Emin has been changed to an E.

So now come my questions... How can this happen? and Why does it work?
You guys mentioned some stuff about the harmonic scale which raises the 7th tone in the natural minor one degree (or "sharps" it) which would mean

A B C D E F G
turns into
A B C D E F G#

and Emaj contains E G# and B

and Sean said that they decided to make Dmin to a D because it sounds better. Well I know that you know, there is a reason certain tones and combinations sound better than others.

So to summarize, the two peculiarities we have are the Dmin chord going to D and the Emin chord going to an E.

The two explanations I have derived from your comments are:

1) • The D works because it sounds better and the Dmin clashes with the F
2) • The E works because you can use the harmonic scale

Would you please elaborate more on these statements and explain them in a way relative to intervals and tones?

i.e.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7

I hope this discussion may benefit those that are watching from the sidelines as well.
Last edited by XxBAMFxX at Aug 13, 2011,
#20
Hi XxBAMFxX,

The main thing you need to understand is that key-based music is NOT limited to any one scale. The point of a key is the tonic, and the leading tone that helps define the tonic. Anything that supports the tonic, either directly or indirectly is in key. Since the major and minor scales that are based on a single tonic, are based on a single tonic, they are all elements of the key of that tonic (i.e., all major and minor scales with A as the tonic belong to the key of A) This means that you can freely combine harmonies from all of these scales in a single key. Key does NOT mean scale. It's important to know the diatonic harmonies of the individual scales, but you need to know that they do NOT constitute the limits of the keys they belong to.

Now when composing, you have to exercise discretion - using too many major-scale harmonies in the minor mode may dilute the "minor-ness" of the composition; using too many minor-scale harmonies in the major mode may dilute the "major-ness" of a composition. But, the only concrete difference between a major and minor mode is the quality of the tonic chord.

The D major chord in "House of The Rising Sun" comes from either the A major or A melodic minor scale (either analysis is valid). A Dm chord could have been used, but the Dmaj sounds better. A Dm would not clash with the Fmaj, but, with two common tones (F, A) the harmony would sound like it's not really going anywhere. The Dmaj chord actually creates more tension, a little more motion.

The Emaj chord contains the leading tone, G#, which pulls very strongly to the tonic. That's why it's in there. Again, it creates more tension than an Em chord would, and makes a more satisfying resolution to the tonic.
#21
Thank you for your thorough response Harmosis. I reread through your post and now understand most of what you're saying. You did a great job shedding light onto my confusion. And I just have two main questions right now:

1) You said "The main thing you need to understand is that key-based music is NOT limited to any one scale. " So my question now is what are the limits of a key? What kind of chords and things can you do musically within a key and only in that key? How far can you go before you enter a new key entirely?

2) This question is mostly one of clarification. You said "The Emaj chord contains the leading tone, G#." Are you saying that G# is the leading tone in the whole song? (meaning the focal point that brings up the tension before resolving to the tonic)
Last edited by XxBAMFxX at Aug 13, 2011,
#22
You're welcome

1) You can pretty much do anything within a key. The limit (before it sounds like you're in another key) is the point where the tonic no longer sounds like the tonic. You can use any notes within a key - it's how you use them that makes a difference. Duration, metric placement, accent, dynamics, texture, range, and order are all factors. This is why it's good to know diatonic harmony as a point of departure.

2) The leading tone is a tension note, and it's purpose (aside from creating tension) is to point to the tonic. You can say it's the focal point in terms of tension, whereas the tonic is the focal point in terms of resolution.
Last edited by Harmosis at Aug 13, 2011,
#23
I have played House of The Rising Sun a few times and never actually noticed that the D major was not part of the A natural minor scale harmony (although I would have realised it if I had given it a seconds thought), which just goes to show that, although not strictly diatonic, the chord progression works very well indeed.

Another similar example of borrowing a chord from the major key (or using melodic minor) that I did notice was in Johnny Cash's version of One. I was learning about the melodic minor scale one day and was playing the harmonised chords, I strummed an A minor chord followed it with a D major and was struck by how good it sounded and I immediately went off to learn the Johnny Cash (or U2) song that It reminded me of. I guess it sounded even better to my ears as all I had really played or analysed before that (other than blues stuff) was usually diatonic stuff so that F# note in the key of A minor sounded really refreshing.
But boys will be boys and girls have those eyes
that'll cut you to ribbons, sometimes
and all you can do is just wait by the moon
and bleed if it's what she says you ought to do
Last edited by Hydra150 at Aug 13, 2011,