#1
So I was trying to figure out what keys the songs my band are playing are truly in. Normally I'd just wing it by looking at the first chord, but I'm trying to really apply my theory here. So I was looking at 'You Know I'm No Good' by Amy Winehouse and I got stuck quite quickly. There's a Dm, Gm, A7 throughout the verses and a little prechorus/bridge that has a Gm, E7, F, and A7. The chorus has a Dm, Am and an E7. I just can't figure out the key of this song. My initial though was either D minor or A minor, but the D minor key doesn't have the A major or E major chord in it and the A minor key doesn't have the G minor either. Anyone care to help me out here? Maybe there's a really simple solution to this (like chromatic 'outside notes' being played in a regular key to make the major chords that otherwise wouldn't work in the progression?).
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#2
The key is determined by one thing (and one thing only), which is where the song/piece resolves. What chord/note sounds like home?
So, play the song "You Know I'm No Good". Which chord sounds like home, in that song? If a chord doesn't sound like home (meaning it doesn't resolve), then it's not chord that defines the key signature.


The thing you're having an issue with is that a lot of pop songs and rock songs (and songs in lots of other genres) have what are called "non-diatonic chords". What does that mean? Well, we have chords that are called "diatonic". These are chords built only out of notes in the key signature. So, for example, in the key of Aminor, our diatonic chords are: Amin, Bdim, Cmaj, Dmin, Emin, Fmaj, & Gmaj. Or, if we add 7th notes (whether a major 7th or a minor 7th, depending on the chord) to each of those chords, we have: Amin7, Bm7b5, Cmaj7, Dmin7, Emin7, Fmaj7, & G7.
Why? Because the notes of the key signature of Aminor are: A, B, C, D, E, F, & G. If you want to learn more about how we build diatonic chords out of the notes of the key signature, read this lesson. The short story here is that, we form most diatonic chords by stacking notes in 3rds (example: Amin = A, C, & E notes).
So...non-diatonic chords are chords that either include notes that are not contained in the key signature OR that are borrowed from another key. (A common thing is to borrow certain chords from a major/minor key. Don't worry too much about that.)


Keys are NOT meant to be a construct whereby you are limited to only certain chords or certain notes. You can use any chord or any note in any key. (Although it may not sound good, so be careful.) The only thing that matters is what chord or note causes the song/piece to resolve, because that determines the key.
Last edited by crazysam23_Atax at Aug 14, 2014,
#3
Quote by crazysam23_Atax
The key is determined by one thing (and one thing only), which is where the song/piece resolves. What chord/note sounds like home?
So, play the song "You Know I'm No Good". Which chord sounds like home, in that song? If a chord doesn't sound like home (meaning it doesn't resolve), then it's not chord that defines the key signature.


The thing you're having an issue with is that a lot of pop songs and rock songs (and songs in lots of other genres) have what are called "non-diatonic chords". What does that mean? Well, we have chords that are called "diatonic". These are chords built only out of notes in the key signature. So, for example, in the key of Aminor, our diatonic chords are: Amin, Bdim, Cmaj, Dmin, Emin, Fmaj, & Gmaj. Or, if we add 7th notes (whether a major 7th or a minor 7th, depending on the chord) to each of those chords, we have: Amin7, Bm7b5, Cmaj7, Dmin7, Emin7, Fmaj7, & G7.
Why? Because the notes of the key signature of Aminor are: A, B, C, D, E, F, & G. If you want to learn more about how we build diatonic chords out of the notes of the key signature, read this lesson. The short story here is that, we form most diatonic chords by stacking notes in 3rds (example: Amin = A, C, & E notes).
So...non-diatonic chords are chords that either include notes that are not contained in the key signature OR that are borrowed from another key. (A common thing is to borrow certain chords from a major/minor key. Don't worry too much about that.)


Keys are NOT meant to be a construct whereby you are limited to only certain chords or certain notes. You can use any chord or any note in any key. (Although it may not sound good, so be careful.) The only thing that matters is what chord or note causes the song/piece to resolve, because that determines the key.


You havent written a Theory A-Z book perchance? Very good explanation.
#4
Quote by DodgyKebab
You havent written a Theory A-Z book perchance? Very good explanation.

I have not.

Thanks, though.
#5
^ LOL

The other thing that can confuse things (I haven't looked at the songs he mentioned, I just mean in general) is that songs can change key. Often a song will use the major for the verse and relative minor for the chorus (or vice-versa). So there are really two "home bases", which can confuse your ear.
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#6
Never listened to that amy winehouse song before but based on chords alone, it is in D minor.

Verse: Dm, Gm, A7= I IV V7, which is an extremely common chord progression. The third of V chords in minor are very commonly raised in all types of western music to make the chord major.

As for the E7, I remember learning in my theory class a while back that major II chords are common in pop music.
#7
Quote by chronic_stp
As for the E7, I remember learning in my theory class a while back that major II chords are common in pop music.

Well, a II chord (capitalized Roman numerals indicate it's major, btw) would be a substitution from another key. So, instead of using Em7b5 (which is "half-diminished" chord) as our normal ii* chord (lower case Roman numerals and the "*" symbol here denote it's a diminished chord), we take a more "friendly sounding" chord from another key -- E7. This is what that chord borrowing I was talking earlier is.

Edit:
Also, one minor nitpick thing...
Quote by chronic_stp
Verse: Dm, Gm, A7= I IV V7

Technically, this should labeled as a i, iv, V7 progression. (The lower case Roman numerals indicate the Dm & Gm are minor chords.)

Now...for TS's sake, I think I should explain 2 things.
1) When we say, "This is an i, iv, V7 in the key of Dminor" progression, we mean that this progression consists of the tonic chord (this chord is the one we resolve to) and it's minor; the 4 chord (4th chord in the key of Dminor) and it's minor; and the 5 chord (5th chord in the key of Dminor) and it's major with a b7. This is a standard way to notate chord progressions. Regardless of key, we can say "i, iv, V7" or "i - iv - V7" or "I, IV, V7" or "I, bIII, IV"...and everyone who understands this notation knows what we mean. (Note that a "bIII" [or "flat major 3 chord"] is a common non-diatonic chord.)
2) Remember how earlier I mentioned the diatonic chords for Aminor? Ok. The diatonic chords for Dminor are: Dmin, Edim, Fmaj, Gmin, Amin, Bbmaj, & Cmaj. (Add on 7th notes, if you want, to make that: Dmin7, Em7b5, Fmaj7, Gmin7, Amin7, Bbmaj7, & C7).
Ok, you may ask...then why do we have an i - iv - V7 progression? Is the V7 non-diatonic? Well, no. See, when people generally say "minor", they frequently mean "natural minor". But we also have 2 other minor scales: Melodic Minor and Harmonic Minor. The notes of the melodic minor scale in D are: D, E, F, G, A, B, & C#. And...the notes of an A7 chord are: A, C#, E, & G. Interesting!
So...how do we determine whether "D minor" means "D natural minor" or "D melodic minor" (or even "D harmonic minor")? Context. In this case, we see our i - iv - V7 progression and realize the progression was based off of the melodic minor. We still just call the key "D minor", but we can notice it's "melodic minor". As such, a i - iv - V7 progression is still diatonic.
Last edited by crazysam23_Atax at Aug 14, 2014,
#8
Quote by constructbot
So I was trying to figure out what keys the songs my band are playing are truly in. Normally I'd just wing it by looking at the first chord, but I'm trying to really apply my theory here. So I was looking at 'You Know I'm No Good' by Amy Winehouse and I got stuck quite quickly. There's a Dm, Gm, A7 throughout the verses and a little prechorus/bridge that has a Gm, E7, F, and A7. The chorus has a Dm, Am and an E7. I just can't figure out the key of this song. My initial though was either D minor or A minor, but the D minor key doesn't have the A major or E major chord in it and the A minor key doesn't have the G minor either. Anyone care to help me out here? Maybe there's a really simple solution to this (like chromatic 'outside notes' being played in a regular key to make the major chords that otherwise wouldn't work in the progression?).


The verses seem to indicate D minor as the key you have the V chord A7 pulling directly to the Dm which is right out of D Harmonic Minor, Gm is the iv.

Gm is the iv on the bridge, it's very common in Jazz many times to have the II major and Dominant (Green Dolphin Street) F is relative Major of Dm, A7 brings it back to the i (Dm) ala D Harmonic Minor.

Amy is very much Jazz oriented, and these ideas are right out of the Jazz idiom.

Best,

Sean
#9
Great explanation crazysam23_Atax. I knew about the chord progressions, but it never occurred to me that the A7 was derived from the harmonic minor variant of the Dm key. From what I understand, the E7 is acting like a V7 to the A7, as a secondary Dominant chord. So the E7 is cadencing into the A7 which is cadencing (not even sure if that's a word, but hey) into Dm . The F was a mistake on my part, somehow I mistook the III chord in the minor progression to be minor, it is however Major so the F makes sense now. Thanks for the help!
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#10
Quote by crazysam23_Atax
Well, a II chord (capitalized Roman numerals indicate it's major, btw) would be a substitution from another key. So, instead of using Em7b5 (which is "half-diminished" chord) as our normal ii* chord (lower case Roman numerals and the "*" symbol here denote it's a diminished chord), we take a more "friendly sounding" chord from another key -- E7. This is what that chord borrowing I was talking earlier is.

.


well, the E7 is not a borrowed chord, it's a secondary dominant. It's not really a matter of a friendlier sounding chord in this case, but rather a chord that creates a stronger resolution to the V, giving it greater emphasis.
#11
Quote by GuitarMunky
well, the E7 is not a borrowed chord, it's a secondary dominant. It's not really a matter of a friendlier sounding chord in this case, but rather a chord that creates a stronger resolution to the V, giving it greater emphasis.

It acts as a secondary dominant. However, it's not "diatonic".

It is fairly common to use a II7 chord as a secondary dominant in the Jazz idiom.
#12
Quote by crazysam23_Atax
It acts as a secondary dominant. However, it's not "diatonic".

It is fairly common to use a II7 chord as a secondary dominant in the Jazz idiom.



Right, a secondary dominant is an altered chord, but not a borrowed chord .
#13
Quote by GuitarMunky
Right, a secondary dominant is an altered chord, but not a borrowed chord .

Well, ok. My mistake.

Anyway, I was trying to emphasize the fact that it was non-diatonic. Honestly, I don't know that the details (such as the difference between borrowed chords and altered chords) would help TS much.
#14
Quote by crazysam23_Atax
Well, ok. My mistake.

Anyway, I was trying to emphasize the fact that it was non-diatonic. Honestly, I don't know that the details (such as the difference between borrowed chords and altered chords) would help TS much.


^ and for the most part it was a really good post. The difference between borrowed chords and secondary dominants IS important though. I believe knowing this will the help TS, as well as yourself.
Last edited by GuitarMunky at Aug 15, 2014,
#15
Quote by GuitarMunky
^ and for the most part it was a really good post. The difference between borrowed chords and secondary dominants IS important though. I believe knowing this will the help TS, as well as yourself.

Fair enough.