I'm writing a song where the notes do not align to any particular key. The way it works is this

Chord 1 leads to Chord 2. Chord 2 leads to chord 3 but Chord 3 does not have to relate to Chord 1. Chord 3 leads to Chord 4 but chord 4 does not have to relate to chord 1 or 2.

It is a 16 bar chord progression and here is the progression:

Cmin - Gmaj - Dmin - Cmaj - Amin - Gmaj - Emin - Dmaj - Cmaj - Gmaj - EbMaj add9 - Fmaj sus4 - BbMaj - EbMaj - BbMaj - Gmaj

It is a little weird, but so far it works.

Does this have a definite key (or maybe 2 or three)? Or no and this is a truly fluid piece.

Also this loops - The final Gmaj goes back into a Cmin;

Finally, here is an audio file if this helps: https://drive.google.com/file/d/19XYlxpu3c4V_ohi-H9knjJ8k1LWWYscd/view?usp=sharing

  • It seems a C major to me... Jan 15 at 0:03
  • What makes it so? @musicamante Jan 15 at 0:06
  • I can give you some explanation about that assumption, but I'd like to understand a couple of things before that: 1) the first part of the question seem to indicate some sort of rule: is this some homework, is a composition "study" you're doing ("let's try to follow these directions..."), or is that list of chord relations just an observation? 2) you've given us just half of the progression: is it because you've not completed it yet? Is the song always based on this progression? Jan 15 at 0:29
  • 1
    Do all of the chords last for the same amount of time? The pacing of the chord changes can influence the sense of key.
    – Aaron
    Jan 15 at 1:21
  • 1
    @Aaron yes each chord lasts a measure and is also in an arp if that helps Jan 15 at 1:47

A couple of things you should be aware of, first the Fsus4 shouldn’t be labeled as major since Fsus4 has no 3rd. Also, major chords don’t need to be labeled as maj, C and G is all you need.

I agree with Lawrence that this can’t be labeled as any key in particular, to me it mostly wanders around different tonalities every 2 bars, which is totally fine.

My take is this:

Cm | G | iv to I in G

Dm | C | ii to I in C

Am | G | ii to I in G

Em | D | ii to I in D

C | G | IV to I in G

The next 5 chords are IV Vsus4 I IV I in Bb

It ends up back in G with no transition chord.

It spends a decent amount of time in G major and after some time in Bb major ends back in G so that is somewhat of a tonal center but the C and D segments don’t sound like IV and V chords in G because of the chords preceding them.

Analysis can be interpreted in different ways so I wouldn’t argue with someone that has a different take on this if their ideas make sense.

  • Can't hear that F in final bar - sounds like simple triad to me.
    – Tim
    Jan 15 at 9:22
  • @Tim you’re right, I think I heard the F from the Bb carry over into the G with the reverb. I corrected my answer even though the question was closed.maybe that explains the dv :0 Jan 15 at 15:36
  • The reverb on that recording didn't do it many favours. I doubt the dv - but as usual, we'll never know. Not sure why the question was posed, but for me, it'd be in order to write in a key signature, so for that reason, it was good to ask.
    – Tim
    Jan 15 at 15:59
  • @Tim as much as I dislike unexplained downvotes, I can't agree that a small number of them makes the site meaningless.
    – phoog
    Jan 16 at 4:57
  • @phoog - maybe not the site - yet. But a dv on an answer makes that answer lose credibility. A lot of the times, there's actually nothing wrong with that answer. And if there is, logic says tell why, at which point, the writer has the opportunity to edit.
    – Tim
    Jan 16 at 8:47

With the given material, we can be pretty sure that it clearly is in C, and most certainly in C major. The fact that it begins in C minor is not that indicative of the overall mode, and there's plenty of music that begins with a different mode.

There are many clues for this assumption.

It's in C because:

  • it begins with a C chord;
  • it returns in C within the first four bars; while the cadence is not very strong, its pretty common (and valid) in modern music, and having a chord that has the same fundamental as the first one makes that key much more important (no matter of the mode);
  • it returns to C on the downbeat of the fourth bar; accents are not only important within the bar, but also within a phrase: in 4/4 the third beat is rhythmically less important than the fourth, but is also more important than the second and fourth; it's commonly considered as a "semi-downbeat"; the same happens for binary ("squared") forms: what happens on the fourth bar of an 8 bar phrase is usually more important than other bars (excluding the first, obviously);
  • all chords are diatonic for the major and/or minor modes of C;

It also is probably in C major because:

  • there's only one C minor chord, while all others instances are major;
  • except from what happens from EbMaj to the last BbMaj, everything else belongs more to C major;
  • there is almost no tension that clearly leads to a minor mode: while the Eb->Bb section uses notes from C minor, it doesn't have any clear reference to it; an Ab note would have been a valid hint, but there's none, and the only situation in which it could have been used, it's skipped (Fsus);

As you say, there's no one key that contains all those chords. But there's a lot of keys that it definitely ISN'T in :-)

There's some C major/C minor. Then some E♭ major (the relative major of C minor).

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