I'm a newbie. Let's take for example Radiohead - Creep song It has 4 chords G B C Cm

So i started to writing G Ionian scale progressions

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It seems that G and C matches, so i tried to use relative E Aeolian key progressions using 6th note enter image description here

Now G and C still matches, but B here is minor instead of major, and C is used in this song both way minor and major too. I'm confused How can i determine key of song using chords like this with chord used both ways minor, major and this B? Is there any other method of determine key of a song instead of progressions built on the top of a scale?

3 Answers 3


Whilst it's often possible to look at all the chords in a song and determine what the key is, it doesn't always work. And going through modes isn't much help, either.

There are so many questions in similar vein that it would appear there's some sort of 'rule' being taught that says 'chords must only belong to a song if their notes are diatonic to that key'. Sorry, it just doesn't work that way.

True, in the majority of songs, the majority of the chords are diatonic, but it's certainly not 'breaking the rules' (what rules??) to include other chords/ntes.

The simple way to find a key is to listen to where the song feels at rest, where it's 'come home', where it could finish, and feel ended. That chord will generally speaking be the key chord. Not 100%, but broadly, a good 99%.

The main reasons other chords are used are secondary dominants, modulations and borrowing chords. Those excuses excuse just about all 'foreign' chords in songs!

Out of the 4 chords, G, C and Cm all legitimately emanate from key G. The B chord could be a seconday dominant, in fact, will be, except as V/vi it usually leads to Em, but here, it goes straight to C - which after all, is only one note different in make up from Em.

  • Can we mix up minor and major keys? I tried to create G minor chords progressions and it looks like those non diatonic chords came from it. G-A-B-C-D-Eb-F, where 3rd B is Major, and 4th C is minor in it. It looks like this song is mixed up of G major, and G minor. Can we mix up minor and major keys? Would it sound good?
    – Alex12355
    Sep 14, 2020 at 21:50
  • You need to look at minor, specifically natural, harmonic and melodic. All three have G A Bb C and D.Then there's a choice of every other chromatic note back to G. Given all these notes, the only missing ones are Ab, B and C# !! So, yes, use any of those notes to make chords. Can we mix? YES, we cerainly do. Would it sound good? TRY IT.
    – Tim
    Sep 15, 2020 at 7:14

"I'm a newbie" and "Let's take for example Radiohead" are two statements that unfortunately don't go well together. Radiohead is the go-to example when talking about bands that use non-diatonic chord sequences to create an eery, unheimliche atmosphere in their music. (The same is true to some extent for Nirvana.)

You'll find many resources on the 'net discussing how Radiohead create their sound, and how to sound like Radiohead in your own songwriting. But this is a classic example of having to learn to color inside the lines before you can color outside the lines. It will be difficult to learn about basic techniques in songwriting from a band who deliberately and consistently break the rules – even if the rules in music are not actually hard rules, and you can always choose to ignore them if the result sounds right to you.

Obviously you're analyzing Radiohead because you like their music, and want to be able to play it and eventually write music in a similar style. But you'll have to accept that for the time being, some aspects of it will be somewhat mysterious, and explanations about how it works may use theory that is equally mysterious to a beginner. As your theoretical knowledge advances, you'll be able to make more sense of it. (But you'll also find that sometimes music theory can only describe music and not actually explain it.)

But the ear is an important tool in music-making too. If you can develop a good ear for the sound of this genre of music, then you may find that you can play along to it and write your own songs without using much theory. Just don't expect to be able to use simple recipes that tell you that if the chords are X then the key must be Y and the melody must use mode Z.

  • I'm trying to find how this actually provides an answer.
    – Tim
    Sep 13, 2020 at 16:48

This song is very probably in G. It would be interesting to know the final chord. If it’s a G major it will be definitely G. It might also be fading out with this 4 chord pattern ... and it would be still G major even if latest chord you can hear is one of the 3 others.

I guess I would play it hearing it in G, I can’t imagine a melody that fits to these 3 chords without fitting to G major:

I give you 3 arguments:

  • the song begins with G
  • it progresses to C followed by Cm (subdominant and minor subdominant) leading to the tonic G.
  • the subdominant is reached by B, the secondary dominant of the relative key of G:

I - III - IV (III = V/vi)

is a very common progression in pop music


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