#1
So i was learning some songs, and i was looking at the chords, and it seems that some of these songs have way too many major chords than would be in a progression. (I ii iii IV V vi vii). That only leaves 3 major chords, but some of these songs have many more than that. How can this be? I know sometimes you've gotta just follow what sounds right, but i like to theoretically know whats happening. How can you get so many major chords?

EX: a songs chords would be A, G, D, B, E
#2
Well, the A is the I, the D the IV, and the E the V. Easy. The G is built on the lowered 7th, making it the VII chord, because rock songs use that scale degree quite a bit. And the II? Well, you don't have to conform to standard music theory all the time, cos that's rock and roll.
#3
Yeah, I was puzzled by the same thing when I realized the chord progression in Pearl Jam's Alive uses four major chords throughout the whole solo.

I know that if it's in minor, you can use harmonic and melodic variations, but I don't know the formal explanation for why/how this works with major chord progressions.
#4
so what?


OH NO, ALL MAJOR CHORDS, WHAT DO WE DO?!?!?!?!?!? AAHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!
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#5
Quote by slash_angus_VH
so what?


OH NO, ALL MAJOR CHORDS, WHAT DO WE DO?!?!?!?!?!? AAHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!
...


That wasn't very helpful :-/
#6
you can look at it as borrowed chords which is using chords from something's minor scale
so if you're in A major
the borrowed chords would be Bdim, C, Dm, Em, F, G (from A minor) used in A major

that doesn't really explain the B - i'm gonna say it just sounds cool
#7
Would using borrowed chords from a minor scale make the song sound minor at all even if you dont use an A minor chord? Or could i use as many minor chords as i want without making it sound wierd/out of key?

thanks.
#8
i don't think it really makes a song sound more minor it definitely gives it a cool sound though
like the progression E E G A is pretty common using the borrowed III chord G (purple haze, i can see for miles, higher ground) and those songs don't sound too minor
#9
A G D: That's in D major, so we're good.

B: This could be an "applied dominant": it's the V of ii in D, and the ii just happens to have the root E.

E is just the major II instead of ii, and you'll notice it's also the V of A, so it's the V of V in D.

In any key, you can have "applied dominants" which are the V of any chord in they key (except maybe vii diminished).
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#10
You know, this is exactly the weakness of many theory sites, lessons etc. They talk about how things should work in theory, but they don't give examples of actual songs. They give you the impression that every song out there conforms to these strict theory rules. Maybe in jazz and classical, but not in rock. LOTS of exceptions. Cokeisbetter points out the most glaring example: the vii chord. I can point to tons of rock songs that use a bVII chord. I can point to very few that use a vii chord the way its "supposed" to be used (diminished). As a matter of fact, I throw down a challenge: name a popular rock song that uses a vii diminished chord. (rock only, I'm not talking about jazz)
#11
could be some secondary dominats, or just changing the key signature for one chord.

just a thought
#12
I think you're able to borrow chords from the relative major or minor scale (which ever applies) and use those in a progression.
#13
Quote by guitarviz
You know, this is exactly the weakness of many theory sites, lessons etc. They talk about how things should work in theory, but they don't give examples of actual songs. They give you the impression that every song out there conforms to these strict theory rules. Maybe in jazz and classical, but not in rock. LOTS of exceptions. Cokeisbetter points out the most glaring example: the vii chord. I can point to tons of rock songs that use a bVII chord. I can point to very few that use a vii chord the way its "supposed" to be used (diminished). As a matter of fact, I throw down a challenge: name a popular rock song that uses a vii diminished chord. (rock only, I'm not talking about jazz)



ill write one!
#14
Modulation is the science of switching keys.
You can switch keys mid-chord progression.
On top of this, you can borrow chords from related keys such as i, IV, and V (just the 3 most popular).
You can also just do chromatic melodies and build chords around it - this happens often in jazz.


Any questions? lol


EDIT: to above: classical and rock break the rules just as often. Its probabyl just more complex theory than you can find on lessons on most internet sites.

For example of the chromatic melodies that use out of key chords:
Something by the Beatles (C Cmaj7 C7 Am - the melody is C B Bb A and the chords use this to fit.)
Plush by STP (G, D, F, C, Eb, F. the melody is G F# F E Eb, then F, then back to G. it goes down in halfsteps and goes back up in whole steps.)
Beatles wrote a lot of songs in a lot of modes, and used chromatic modulations almost as often as they did regular ones, especially early on.
They also used replacement chords a lot. For example, In my life - they use D then Dm in it to use a brief chromatic melody, but they both act as the same chord, its just that one is major and one is minor.


There's plenty of examples. You just have to learn and search for them or be taught by someone who did, because there so rarely websites that are like HERES THEORY IN ROCK. THere are ones that are like HERES THEORY, and then there are ones that are like HERES ROCK. That doesn't mean they aren't out there.
Far from it.
I'm disgusted by the quote that suggested maybe classical stuck to the rules but rock doesn't.
That person knows nothing about classical music.
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#15
This is a perfect example of relying too much on theory.
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#16
Quote by guitarviz
You know, this is exactly the weakness of many theory sites, lessons etc. They talk about how things should work in theory, but they don't give examples of actual songs. They give you the impression that every song out there conforms to these strict theory rules. Maybe in jazz and classical, but not in rock. LOTS of exceptions. Cokeisbetter points out the most glaring example: the vii chord. I can point to tons of rock songs that use a bVII chord. I can point to very few that use a vii chord the way its "supposed" to be used (diminished). As a matter of fact, I throw down a challenge: name a popular rock song that uses a vii diminished chord. (rock only, I'm not talking about jazz)


Classical music and jazz deviates MUCH more from the rules than rock music does. And yes, you are right, the bVII is used much more in rock than the vii. You still lose though, because the bVII is borrowed from minor, which is completley within traditional music theory.

As for the OP: yes, everything in the progression you spelled out can be explained with music theory. In roman numerals it is:

I bVII IV V/V V

bVII is borrowed from the natural minor scale. Borrowing major chords from the minor scale tends to have a very rock and roll feel. B major is the V/V, which means in the key of E it would be the five chord. This is used a TON in just about all forms of music. If you are interested in learning how the V/V works run "secondary dominant" through wikipedia.
#17
Oh, and in reasponse to the challenge, Space Dye Vest by Dream Theater. If that isn't rock enough for you, Finally Free by the same band.
#18
Egads... I'd be willing to bet one of my nuts that it's just a secondary dominant. Google "secondary dominant" for more... hands down every offered explaination in this thread sucks so far.
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#19
Quote by Corwinoid
Egads... I'd be willing to bet one of my nuts that it's just a secondary dominant. Google "secondary dominant" for more... hands down every offered explaination in this thread sucks so far.


You are like the fourth person to say secondary dominant. Apparently you didn't read all the responses
#20
^ Yup. I hate it when people insult thread responses before actually having read them :-/
#22
My apologies to sins & shadows, who did actually bring up secondary dominants. It was a one liner and I skipped it, my bad. I won't accept 'applied dominants' though, even though the intent was there... and as for theodds; I'd tend not to use an altered roman numeral, even for mode mixture, unless there wasn't any better explaination at all.

However, you're right, I missed that it was mentioned, and overreacted.
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#23
Quote by UtBDan

I'm disgusted by the quote that suggested maybe classical stuck to the rules but rock doesn't. That person knows nothing about classical music.


That was me. You are right - that was a broad generalization. I was stereotyping classical music as sticking to the "rules". That was incorrect (all you have to do is listen to anything from the past century to ascertain that, ha). (now even there I am stereotyping, because one of my favorite pieces of music is circa 1970's, Gorecki "Symphony of Sorrowful Songs") (as a complete aside, I was surprised and please to see Derek Trucks mention in an interview that was one of his 10 current favorite pieces of music)

I was just trying to draw boundaries to the argument. I listen to and enjoy all genres of music. However I don't play a lot of classical or jazz, and I'm not knowledgeable enough to debate them theory-wise.

What I do know is rock. Some theoretical, but a whole lot of practical. I've been playing for a long time. And all I was saying is "hey, maybe it works this way in other types of music, but something seems fishy to me about saying rock always works this way too." Because that's the implication of a lot of theory sites. That these are the rules, and things always work this way.

And then they don't give any practical examples to back it up. (read: actual song examples). I'm a big believer in teaching (and learning) by example.

So speaking of which, let me type up a few more examples of things that have always struck me as odd about analyzing rock guitar thru the lens of "book-learning" (traditional theory). Gimme a few minutes.

(p.s. speaking of song examples, UtBDan, did you purposefully leave out a few chords in Something, in between the C7 and Am?)
#24
OK, I'm still stuck on the vii vs. bVII thing. Let's talk more about that first.

Here are some songs that to my ears have a bVII chord in them. I've given the assumed key of the song next to it. So (obviously) the bVII chord would be a whole step down from given key. Note: the chord may only be in one small part of the song, for example, Purple Haze, the D chord is in the bridge section (A B D)

Purple Haze - E
Foxy Lady - F#
Wind Cries Mary - F
Little Wing - G
Good Times Bad Times - E
Whole Lotta Love - E
Ramble On - E
Back in Black - E
Highway to Hell - A
Panama - E
Basket Case - E
Walk - E
Satisfaction - E
Pinball Wizard - B
Won't Get Fooled Again - A
Ramblin' Man - A
Free Bird - G
Sweet Home Alabama - D*
* depends on which guitarist in the band you talk to..

That's just my ear. But here's one of the better books on rock music theory that I've read: The Songs of John Lennon, written by a Berklee prof, published by Berklee Press. He does some theoretical analysis of some Beatles (Lennon's) songs. Here are a few songs he has notated as using the bVII chord: Hard Day's Night, Ticket to Ride, You've Got to Hide Your Love Away, Revolution...

The above is just a few songs. I'm sure if we thought about it we cauld all think of more. Compare that to, what are the examples so far of the vii diminished chord in popular music? A couple of Dream Theatre songs. And we haven't even touched on blues, country, or other forms of popular music.

Now, its all very well and good to describe the bVII chord is a "substitution" as someone else said. (seems kind of a strange way to phrase it, to say that something that happens 90% of the time is a "substitution" for something that only happens a small percentage of the time, but whatever, I realize that percentage may be a lot higher or even reversed in other types of music, as I said, I'm just talking about rock, and most sites that talk about theory don't confine themselves to just one genre of music).

But my point is: if its so common in popular music, why don't we hear more about it at theory sites and in theory books? Usually its the same old crap: "the vii chord in a major key is always diminished.." blah blah blah. THAT'S what bugs me. Like I said, it makes it sound like that's the golden rule, like it always happens, IN EVERY TYPE OF MUSIC. Well, not in rock, it doesn't seem to.

If someone can explain this to me, I'm all ears... like I said, I know just enough formal theory to be dangerous. Would love to hear an explanation that makes sense. Just chalking it up to "chord substitutions" or "you're changing keys for just one chord" doesn't seem to make much sense to me, and honestly I don't think it would make much sense to a lot of rock guitarists either.

(nor does the other common explanation, that the whole song is really in a different key, for example Back in Black would be in key of A, not key of E, Highway to Hell would be in key of D, not A, etc etc.... but that's a whole other can of worms. See Sweet Home Alabama note above)

Gotta go put my daughter to bed, but look forward to resuming the conversation and moving beyond the bVII, I mean vii chord to talk about a few other things in formal theory that seem odd when you start analyzing a lot of rock songs.
#25
secondary dominants


/fifth

there might also be modal interchange, but its too late for me to figure that out...
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#26
I realize some of you are saying that borrowing the bVII chord is perfectly within bounds of traditional theory. All I am saying is a lot of sites and books don't talk about how often that borrowing actually occurs in rock and how common it is.
#27
Quote by guitarviz

Now, its all very well and good to describe the bVII chord is a "substitution" as someone else said. (seems kind of a strange way to phrase it, to say that something that happens 90% of the time is a "substitution" for something that only happens a small percentage of the time, but whatever, I realize that percentage may be a lot higher or even reversed in other types of music, as I said, I'm just talking about rock, and most sites that talk about theory don't confine themselves to just one genre of music).


The reason that the vii chord is in there is because it is a diatonic triad. The triads that are presented on those theory websites are all built diatonically from the major scale, and vii happens to be the black sheep of the bunch. It isn't used much in any genre of music, and when it is used it is usually either extended to give it a better definition or put in an inversion so that it sounds like a "V7 chord without the root."


But my point is: if its so common in popular music, why don't we hear more about it at theory sites and in theory books? Usually its the same old crap: "the vii chord in a major key is always diminished.." blah blah blah. THAT'S what bugs me. Like I said, it makes it sound like that's the golden rule, like it always happens, IN EVERY TYPE OF MUSIC. Well, not in rock, it doesn't seem to.


If they say that, then those are bad theory sites. There is one major thing I want to clear up: music theory is NOT intended to be a set of rules. It is a description of the way things sound, and the purpose is to be able to catagorize and group sounds mentally so that when you hear things you know what you are hearing (actually, it serves a slightly different purpose for performers. It helps them identify tense points and play accordingly). When people who play rock songs play a bVII chord I don't look at that chord in a book, analyze it, and say "oh, that's a bVII chord." I hear it and, because I know what bVII chords sound like, I know what is being played.

When people say things like "Hendrix didn't know theory" it is a little misleading. In a certain way, he did know theory because he knew what things sounded like. It isn't that Hendrix didn't know theory, it's that he basically had to reinvent the wheel for himself. And he did a pretty good job of it. But there isn't any need for people to have to go about reinventing the wheel for themself the way Hendrix did.

The reason why I'm explaining the bVII chord as a bVII chord isn't because of some rule in music theory. It's because that is the way it sounds. Music theory is just a language to describe those sounds without having to play them.


(nor does the other common explanation, that the whole song is really in a different key, for example Back in Black would be in key of A, not key of E, Highway to Hell would be in key of D, not A, etc etc.... but that's a whole other can of worms. See Sweet Home Alabama note above)


I'm not a fan of those explanations either, because they don't describe the sound of the song. Sweet Home Alabama is a little different for me, because it sounds like its flirting with G and D. The focus is on D, but most of the song is just too close to I-IV-V to not hear G.

Every genre is going to deviate from diatonic harmony. Music theory can still deal with it though, because at the end of the day 99.999% of music has a tonic. Harmonically almost everything being done now in rock music was done hundreds of years ago (a few notable exceptions, Jazz influenced rock or atonal metal) so of course it can explain bVII chords with the rock feel. To put in perspective a little, music theory can do a pretty good job of explaining music that is completley atonal.
Last edited by theodds at Mar 24, 2007,
#28
There's a very good chance that they aren't using theory at all, and are just improvising what they think sounds right.
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#29
Quote by JL_Shredder
There's a very good chance that they aren't using theory at all, and are just improvising what they think sounds right.


The intent of the performer doesn't matter. If I play I IV V in G without knowing what it is, it is still I IV V whether I like it or not.
#30
Quote by theodds
The intent of the performer doesn't matter. If I play I IV V in G without knowing what it is, it is still I IV V whether I like it or not.


That's true.
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#31
Lots of times they are just progressing the song by the circle of fifths (or maybe fourths) thats a pretty common idea too. BUt as you can see from all the responses, there is no one answer.
#32
guitarviz - I meant nothing harmful out of my comment. And no I just forgot the whole chord progression, it goes to F next but it still works out with an A and I remembered that and I remembered it ended with Am and...
forgot everything in between.


theodds was the post to pay attention for here. Music theory is not RULES, its a way of understanding, almost as a way of making sense of things and a way of BREAKING THE RULES.
I remember reading John Mayer's interview with berklee (after he became famous when he came back and did a show for them for free), and he took questions from the audience, and someone asked how he used music theory he learned because for the audience member, all it taught him was that you can't use things other than I IV V vi.
And John Mayer was basically like, if thats what you think then you don't really understand music theory. You can do whatever you want and it will make sense in some complex music theory, but these people who use staying in key and sticking to chords as the golden rule either don't know enough theory or don't know what the point of theory is.

Theory is there to help you when you get stuck, for me.
Theory is guidelines, an explanation of why things will sound good.

It's not a demand that IN THE KEY OF THIS, YOU WILL STICK TO THIS.
#33
I'm not sure if someone has said this already, but the bVII major triad shares two notes with the vii diminished triad.

For example in C major

B diminished - B D F
Bb major - Bb D F

So I guess it's not a surprise that the bVII gets used a lot in place of the vii dimished.
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#34
^ its often even used as a link between i & I, such as the bridge in tiny Dancer
(Ab Bb Gm Cm Ab Bb B diminished C.)
when it does it like that, only the bass note changes and with that one note, the whole key. It's really eery actually.
#35
Quote by UtBDan
theodds was the post to pay attention for here. Music theory is not RULES, its a way of understanding, almost as a way of making sense of things and a way of BREAKING THE RULES.


I agree, that's very well put.

And I also thought theodds hit the nail right on the head. That was a good post.

Some people, especially beginners, I think do take it too much as rules. I've seen a fair amount of posts that are along the lines of "I'm writing a song in this key, and I think I'm allowed to use these chords.." or "what chords can I use in this key".. etc
#36
Quote by theodds
Sweet Home Alabama is a little different for me, because it sounds like its flirting with G and D. The focus is on D, but most of the song is just too close to I-IV-V to not hear G.


Well you aren't the only one. I guess you heard the story about the guitarist ( Rossington?) and the producer arguing about what key he should be soloing in. Producer thought it should be D, guitarist thought it should be G. Producer won, so guitarist grudgingly solos in D, but then sneaks back into studio in middle of night and re-records it in G

or I think that's how the story goes
#37
Quote by Corwinoid
I won't accept 'applied dominants' though, even though the intent was there...


Could you explain further? My impression was that they were interchangeable.
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