SGstriker
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Join date: Aug 2006
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#1
Okay. I've been wracking my brain over this for the better part of the last few weeks, so I figured I'd ask here.
How does one know when to switch between parallel major and minor keys. For example, going from E to Em, or Bb to Bb minor.

There are a few songs I have in mind that do something similar to this, and it confuses me.
The first example is Your Decision by Alice in Chains. It starts out with an E major chord, but then goes to a G major, D major, and a variation of C. G major and D major are both in the key of E minor, yes? But they use the E major chord throughout the song. How does that work so tastefully? Because it's an awesome sounding chord sequence.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yIGw2Wg88Ns
The second example is Victim by Avenged Sevenfold. This song starts out in the key of C minor. It goes to an F major chord, back to the C minor. Then, it transitions to C Major for the beginning of the verse. The rest of the verse is as follows. C-Ab-C-Ab-Bb-Ab-Bb-Ab. So it's using the C major chord, but using a minor chord structure.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-UvyvpmMDHg

I hope this all makes sense. I just don't understand the theory behind swtiching between parallel majors and minors. Can anyone help me fill in the blanks?
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food1010
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Join date: Jun 2007
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#2
These don't seem to be key changes, just modal mixture. Modal mixture is when you mix notes from a parallel key (actually has nothing to do with the church modes).

Whenever a C major chord is used in C minor (in other words a I instead of i), that's called a picardy third. The theory behind this is it's sort of an unexpected resolution. It's still just as resolved as the "correct" tonic, because it's still a tonic chord. This section could be considered C major with the bVI and bVII chords borrowed from C minor. This is probably more accurate since there isn't a Cm chord anywhere.

The Alice in Chains song is the same deal, except I'd lean more towards the picardy third. Hear how the E major sounds kind of out of place? That's not the best way to describe it because it works, but it clearly sounds like an accidental.

I wish I could go deeper into the theory behind this, but there's a lot that goes into it. I suggest you learn more songs that use modal mixture and figure out how they make it work.

I can tell you that bVII is one of the most commonly borrowed chords in major keys, or at least in modern popular genres. bVI and bIII are up there too, and iv is pretty common as well.

In minor keys, it's very common to borrow the IV. The major V chord is used a lot as well, but that's not considered a borrowed chord because it can be derived from the harmonic minor scale. Other than that, the I chord is the only common chord that is borrowed from major keys.
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MaggaraMarine
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#3
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IbiFkS4XwG8

This song is another good example. It's basically minor song with a major third in the I chord in the verse. It's not a key change, it's just borrowing chords.

The bVI-bVII-I is a cliche, really. Sometimes it gets used too much, just like the four chord progression that "Strutter" also has. But the cool thing in "Strutter" is that the I chord is major.
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Last edited by MaggaraMarine at Jan 27, 2013,
HotspurJr
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#4
This isn't really a "why" except that this is a sound we're all used to, and it's a big part of rock.

You have it exactly right. I'm not crazy about the term "modal mixture" or "modal interchange" (which is the term I first learned) but there's a better term for it: borrowing.

All you're doing is borrowing chords from the parallel key.

Why does it work? Egads. I dunno - it just does. Theory doesn't tell us why. Sometimes physics do, sometimes not. Ultimately, it's something that we're used to hearing - and that matters. (In Beethoven's day, I've read, Maj7 chords were considered highly dissonant. To us they sound very harmonious. What you're used to matters).

If I had to wager on a "why" I'd say that the blues exploits the tension between major and minor thirds - that's a big part of what defines the blues. Rock, which came out of the blues, took that one step further - exploiting the tension between major and minor keys. All the chords you're using still have a strong relationship to the tonic note.

It may help you to realize that the bVII is only one note different from the viidim which is diatonic to the major scale. (eg, in C major, Bdim is B,D,F. Bb is Bb, D, F.). That one different note? It's the minor 7th, which is a note we're used to seeing because of how the blues tends to use Dom7 chords. The iii is E G B. The bIII is Eb G Bb. The vi is A C E. The bVI is Ab C Eb. (I suspect the fact that it shares two notes with the nearest diatonic scale is the reason why the bVII is the most common).
AlanHB
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#5
Modulating to the parallel major/minor is as easy as replacing the tonic chord. I don't think thats what you want though judging from the songs youre referring to.
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Deadds
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#6
The progression "bVI - bVII - I"

is just a VI-VII-i(major 3rd) progression from a minor key.

looking at it from a major key's perspective is the reason why people don't know why that simple progression works.

BTW if you don't know why that works don't just say "it just does", let someone else, that does know, explain it. You're in the musician talk section after all. someone will eventually explain it.
Last edited by Deadds at Jan 29, 2013,
HotspurJr
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#7
Quote by Deadds

BTW if you don't know why that works don't just say "it just does", let someone else, that does know, explain it. You're in the musician talk section after all. someone will eventually explain it.


a) a lot of this stuff doesn't have explanations as to the whys.

b) still waiting.
food1010
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#8
Quote by HotspurJr
a) a lot of this stuff doesn't have explanations as to the whys.
This. The justification for any theory is simply your ear.

If you try to rationalize any theory beyond that, you're fooling yourself. I mean, obviously you can justify a lot of basic theory with a simple explanation, but that means nothing until you hear it.

For example, dominant resolution works the way it does because the leading tone creates a lot of tension against the root because of the close proximity, thus it resolves very smoothly. Clearly there's more you could say about that, but that's the basic "theory" of dominants. But there's a reason it's called "theory," not "fact." Nothing is objective. You may think there are certain objective truths in music, but really there aren't. Don't fool yourself. Everyone hears music differently. Dominants are generally accepted as good resolutions, but some people could argue that they're too generic in certain contexts, or that they're boring or straight.
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cdgraves
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Join date: Jan 2013
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#9
This isn't really related to parallel major/minor. It's just key borrowing. Using all major chords for a minor progression is extremely common: listen to any blues album.

It's an easy way to get fully voiced, strummy chords without the drama of playing strictly in the minor key. It means you can lay down a minor-ish melody and it'll have a bluesy sound instead of sounding like a funeral march.

Parallel major/minor (and relative major/minor) are just classifications. They are not things you apply to music, only tools to help you analyze it. You would "use" the parallel major/minor concept if you were analyzing a piece of music in, say, G major, and suddenly saw a Gm triad or Gm melody. It's for when you actually change the tonality by switching from major to minor, not just when you borrow some notes for effect.
Last edited by cdgraves at Jan 29, 2013,
MaggaraMarine
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#10
^^ Yes, but you borrow the chords from the parallel key. You aren't changing the key of course.

And I would say blues is in a major key but you play notes in minor scale over it. There's a thing called minor blues too (like Led Zeppelin - "Since I've Been Loving You" for example).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qK59nhh1tcg
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cdgraves
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#13
Quote by MaggaraMarine
^^ Yes, but you borrow the chords from the parallel key. You aren't changing the key of course.

And I would say blues is in a major key but you play notes in minor scale over it. There's a thing called minor blues too (like Led Zeppelin - "Since I've Been Loving You" for example).


I'm not big into the blues "scale" idea. I know it's a real thing, but I think you get a lot more information when you analyze blues melodies/solos in terms of chord tones and blue notes (functional harmonic analysis). It rounds out about the same, since the blues scales contain most of the notes present in a blues I IV V.
MaggaraMarine
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#14
Quote by cdgraves
I'm not big into the blues "scale" idea. I know it's a real thing, but I think you get a lot more information when you analyze blues melodies/solos in terms of chord tones and blue notes (functional harmonic analysis). It rounds out about the same, since the blues scales contain most of the notes present in a blues I IV V.

I know... It just seemed like the easiest way to say that people use b3 and b7 notes a lot in blues = notes in a minor scale.
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#15
Quote by HotspurJr
a) a lot of this stuff doesn't have explanations as to the whys.

b) still waiting.

Why's a rainbow good? Why's boobs good? Why's fireworks good? Nobody knows these things, man!

I don't really know the fundamental reasons why modal mixture sounds good, just like I don't really know the fundamental reasons why minor chords sound dark and major chords sound happy. There's probably a scientific explanation having to do with how our brains interpret specific frequencies in various combinations, but I don't think anyone's ever really bridged the chasm between the very specific, scientific theory of how our brains interpret sound and the broad, artistic world of music theory. However, I can venture to take a couple of guesses why modal mixture sounds good.

I assume it has something to do with variety. Let's assume you begin listening to a simple piece of classical music that simply moves back and forth between a I harmony and a V harmony. You might be perfectly entertained by this for some time, listening to the different melodies and rhythms, etc. However, It eventually gets to be a bit repetitive. Suddenly, someone gets the brilliant idea to precede the dominant V chord with a IV chord or a ii chord. Holy hell, that sounds so cool! It's like you feel the V coming before it arrives, and its arrival is so much stronger because of that movement! The final resolution back to I is way better as well. Now let's say you play around with this phrase model for a while, making all sorts of cool melodies and the like. I'm sure you can stay entertained for quite some time, yes? Of course you can. Lots of great classical music has been made using just this formula.

However, let's say someone comes along and starts preceding their ii-V chords with a vi chord or perhaps moves from I to iii to vi to ii to V to I. Look at all those chords! They all flow from one to the next, and you get a whole range of sounds from them, rather than a simple back and forth movement like you got with the I-V progression, or even the I - ii - V progression. It's great to take advantage of all the different chords a key has to offer. We like to hear more variety in a song, because our brains get used to any one thing rather quickly.

So eventually people are using all the chords in a key, and they're doing all sorts of great stuff with them all. Then someone gets the bright idea to throw 7s on all their dominant and predominant chords, because why not? Variety is great, and the chords still function the same way. Then they start tweaking chords within the key, making them into dominant chords that resolve to other diatonic chords other than I. They'll make the I chord a V7 chord that resolves to the IV chord, or they'll make the iii chord a V7 chord that resolves to the vi chord. It's like they're modulating to a new key for a split second before continuing on in the original key. This adds all sorts of crazy tension that our brains just jizz themselves over. The first time we hear these applied dominants, we go "holy hell, what was that? That was awesome!" Then we start using applied dominants everywhere, because why not? They're different, they work, and we like variety.

Eventually we decide to start stepping even further outside our normal key, borrowing from the parallel major or minor key. Why? Because it gives us new sounds to utilize in creating interesting music. So maybe instead of doing a I-IV-ii-V-I progression, we do a I-iv-iio-V-I progression. The minor iv and diminished ii chords don't fit in the major key, but they do fit in the minor key. We get caught by surprise for a second as we hear notes that aren't found in our normal major scale, but it doesn't sound like total crap either, because we recognize these harmonies from hearing progressions in minor keys. So we basically get the best of both worlds - more variety, but not a completely nonsensical chord progression. This eventually can be applied to any chord found in either of the parallel major or minor keys - people will start mixing everything around like crazy, because this is new territory that's extremely exciting to explore.

Eventually you get music like 90's grunge and hard rock that (quite unwittingly, I'm sure) uses modal mixture quite a bit, making progressions like I-bIII-bVII-IV-I. Why does it work? Because we can rationalize the chords being used by remembering progressions we've heard from both the parallel major and parallel minor scales respectively(if we randomly threw in a bii chord or something not found in either the major or minor keys, it would definitely throw a wrench in the mix), but we also get a lot of variety from hearing nontraditional uses of these harmonies. Again, variety is good.

If you were to take this logic to its full extent, you might think people would like variety so much that they'd stop even worrying about whether things fit into a major or minor key, and just do away with traditional harmony altogether. Well, guess what - that's been going on in classical music for a long time. The more people explore music theory and get exposed to certain musical ideas, the more they want to bend and break the traditional rules of what sounds good. People who don't listen to a lot of music will find many things to be beyond their taste, because they're still being entertained by simple I-V-I progressions or whatever the present day pop music equivalent is (probably i-VI-III-V). Eventually, though, we all want some variety. When we hear something new, we are intrigued, and want more.
/endwalloftext
food1010
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#16
Quote by MaggaraMarine
I know... It just seemed like the easiest way to say that people use b3 and b7 notes a lot in blues = notes in a minor scale.
Really it's less about the b3 than the b7 anyway. After all a b3 is just the b7 of the IV chord.

The whole minor pentatonic can be derived from the root and minor seventh of the I IV V. The I has 1 and b7, the IV has b3 and 4, and the IV has 4 and 5. Put those together and you get 1 b3 4 5 b7.

That's the way I like to rationalize it.
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