#1
So I was listening to John Mayer's cover of "I Don't Need No Doctor" and I'm trying to figure out how these chords fit into the key of E major. I know the first chord in this progression is the 6 in the scale, but I can't seem to match any of the others.

For reference:

I – E major, E major seventh (Emaj, Emaj7)
ii – F sharp minor, F# minor seventh (F#m, F#m7)
iii – G sharp minor, G# minor seventh (G#m, G#m7)
IV – A major, A major seventh (A, Amaj 7)
V – B major, B dominant seventh (B, B7)
vi – C sharp minor, C# minor seventh (C#m, C#m7)
vii° – D# diminished, D#m7b5 (D#°, D#m7b5)

Here's the chords he plays, in the order he plays them.

or Em6/C ---- Dbm7b5 ----- G6b5/Db



or G6sus4/D -- C/D -- Em7#5/D



or D7(no5)/C -- Csus2 -- Csus2b5



or Em(add11)/A -- B7sus4#5/A -- Gadd9(no5)/A -- G6(no5)



or F#m(add11)/B -- Gbm(add11)/B -- C#7sus4#5/B -- Aadd9(no5)/B -- A6(no5)


This arrangement was originally written by John Scofield I just found out. The original song however, is written in the key of C#m. Any help would be appreciated
Last edited by bdavidshort at Jul 9, 2017,
#2
The C/D is best analyzed as a D-rooted chord, and I would just call it D9sus4 or D11.

The C#m7b5 functions as the dominant for D (C#m7b5 has a dominant function in the key of D major). This is what we call a secondary dominant - it's a chord that has a dominant function, but not in the key that we are in at the moment. It's basically a short visit to another key.

The third chord is not Gmaj7sus2. It's actually a Cadd9#11 (notice how the bass also plays a C over it).

Now, where do the D and C chords come from? It's a short visit to the parallel minor. These chords can be found in the E minor scale. This is really common, especially in bluesy music - a lot of the "blues sound" comes from mixing major and minor. You can borrow chords from the parallel key, and borrowed chords and secondary dominants are the most common types of non-diatonic chords.

If you wanted to use roman numerals, the D and C chords would be marked as bVII and bVI because they are chords built on the flat 7th and 6th scale degrees (the 7th degree in E major is D# so D is the flat 7th, and the 6th degree in E major is C# so C is the flat 6th). The secondary dominant would be marked as VIIm7b5/bVII, meaning that it's the VIIm7b5 chord in the key of bVII. The /bVII means that the bVII chord is a temporary key center. Secondary dominants are always either V or VII of something (because dominant chords are always built on the 5th - if dominant 7th/major chord - or 7th - if diminished/half-diminisehd chord - scale degrees) and they are always marked as V/x or VII/x (x being the temporary key center).
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#3
I think this is just about voice leading for a nice overall sound.

The chords A7sus2. B7sus2 and C#m7b5 are a very common sequence from E melodic minor (which Mr.Schofield loves ... he very frequently uses stuff like a dom7 arpeggio a tone up from an underlying dom7(9) chord.  Which brings out the sound of Lydian b7.
#4
yeah voice leading is the "rule" that explains just about anything that more specific conventions can't explain. Tight and interesting voice leading is pretty much the definition good harmony.

It's also non-resolving (or, to your ear, continuously resolving), so it never sounds like it has a resting place. In terms of pure functionality, you could probably call G the tonic, but it would certainly need to be presented as such in some obvious way. And without a definitive or meaningful tonic, there's little use in doing a typical Roman numeral analysis. That stuff is only useful in music where there is a clear and meaningful relationship between the tonic and every other chord (we call this Functional or Tonal Harmony).

This is definitely not something that accommodates a scalar approach. Your best bet is to use the chord tones as guides and maybe find places where a scale fits one or two chords in a row. The stark change from C#m7b5 to the rest of the sequence is really the point of interest here, and it should be emphasized in the melody.