I am learning a song that is in C major and most of the phrases end on one of the stable tones (C,E,G) however, there is a part of the song where the melody repeatedly ends on the A note (6th degree) which is supposed to be a note that resolves somewhere else (usually down to the 5th). Does this mean that for that section the chord progression is in A aeolian since if the melody feels at rest here then it won't be in C major anymore right?

Here is the whole chord progression of the verse


The chords each get half a bar except for the last two chords Am, G which get a beat each to return back to the C chord

The meldoy ends on A over the Am and over the F chord but then ends on G on the last C chord. So perhaps I am looking at this wrong and should only consider that the end of the melody is in fact the G over the C chord instead of those brief stops on Am and F on the A note.

FYI, the song is by oasis called "Dont look back in anger"

  • You should update your question with the chords involved in the phrases. Jan 20 '21 at 18:02
  • This question would be much easier to answer if we were looking at a notated melody with chord symbols. Jan 21 '21 at 21:26
  • Take any song with a melody that has 6th degree notes. When any 6th degree note comes, stop the playback. Did your pressing STOP change the mode of the song? What if it's not a modal song, does it become modal now? Feb 20 '21 at 23:16

Don't Look Back in Anger is made up of three phrases:

Verse / Chorus

The progression here is a variation on the canon, there is no modulation at all, it really wants to resolve to a C (like the end of the song).

The pre-chorus (So I start a revolution form my bed...)

F / Fm / C

This is a cliché line that you find in many songs. Fm has dominant function, and creates tension that resolves over the C.

The "Stand up beside the fireplace" part

G / G#dim / Am / G / F

Yes, this little section is more properly in Am, because of the G#dim (or E7) passing chord. It is a brief dramatic detour, before jumping back into the chorus.

The same idea is used in Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah - (G) The baffled king (E7) composing Hallelujah (Am).

  • Thanks. I was actually asking about the melody, not harmony
    – armani
    Jan 21 '21 at 15:38
  • 2
    You can't really separate a melody and harmony like that @armani (unless if the composer made them really separate) If compared to a drawing: harmony would be the dark and light patches, broad and thick strokes, then the melody would be the small intricate detail in thin strokes residing in those patches. When talking about a song's progression you're almost always talking about the whole. (But exceptions can be found of course)
    – Creynders
    Jan 21 '21 at 18:40
  • I can take a melody and change the chords to get multiple options for harmony... the melody is still the same so in that sense it is very independent IMO. Yes the meldoy will sound different depending on what chords are used but the notes still function as they do in the scale without the chords. If you look at bands like Coldplay (old albums) they purposefuly make sure the melody and chords don't work together which gives them their unique sound.
    – armani
    Jan 22 '21 at 8:14
  • Yeah sure, you can change the harmony as much as you want, but then it becomes a different progression. That's the point. You're asking about a specific melody in a specific rendering of a song, i.e. with a specific harmony.
    – Creynders
    Jan 22 '21 at 12:59
  • I know it becomes a different progression which is why I was even reluctant to even put the progression int he question. I asked about the melody in my OP then added the chords later.
    – armani
    Jan 23 '21 at 9:06

It is very common for melodies to have one or more contrasting phrases that cadence on a note other than the tonic. This contrast is often realized in the harmony by moving temporarily to another tonal area, for example the dominant. (In fact, the term "dominant" arose from melodic theory before current harmonic practice ever developed.)

In the big picture, that doesn't mean that the key of the piece has changed or should be called into question, but it is common to say that a section or phrase is "in" whatever related key when analyzing a piece at a smaller-scale level of detail.

Contrasting harmonic areas are most commonly the dominant and the relative minor, and A minor is the relative minor of C major, so that's clearly what's going on here.

So perhaps I am looking at this wrong and should only consider that the end of the melody is in fact the G over the C chord instead of those brief stops on Am and F on the A note.

Consider for what purpose? To determine the overall key of the song? If so, yes. But to identify a phrase that moves to A minor in some way or another to set up a return to the tonic, you obviously don't want to ignore the cadence on A.

I don't see any reason to prefer "A Aeolian" here instead of "A minor"; on the contrary, A minor makes more sense as it is a tonal shift. (Consider: if it moved to the dominant, we would say "G major" rather than "G Mixolydian.")


A Aeolian and C major are alike in many ways, the main one being a complete set of shared notes. The only difference in reality is where 'home' is perceived to be. Usually, in key C major, it's C, in A Aeolian, it's A.

It could be that it's slipped into A minor for a short while - not so much a key change as a modulation. It will depend on what the harmony is at that point. If there are Cs and Es along, then it would seem to be , at the end of a phrase, an interrupted cadence.

It may also be accompanied by Cs and Fs. In which case, there's an F chord. Giving, I believe, another interrupted cadence.' sort of an unfinished plagal cadence. Another term is deceptive cadence - a lovely term which encapsulates what has happened. 'You didn't really expect that, did you?'

So, it hasn't officially left key C major, just gone for a small detour - obvious, as it returns shortly after anyway.

  • 1
    The progression is C,G,Am,E,F,G,C,G,C (Don't look back in anger by Oasis). It is rather long but the melody repeats ending firs on the Am chord (on the A note) and again on the F chord ( again on the A note). At the end of the whole progression on the C chord it does end on the G but the first two phrases end rather comfortable on A which is supposed to be an unstable tone in C major.
    – armani
    Jan 20 '21 at 11:11
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    If C, E and G are stable tones in C major and A,C,E are stable tones in A minor then doesn't it make more sense to add A to the list of stable tones in C major since it is seems a common tone to end a melody in C major?
    – armani
    Jan 20 '21 at 11:14
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    Is it official that A is an unstable note in key C? I've always considered it pretty stable. So much so that some numbers actually end with a C6 chord, containing that A.
    – Tim
    Jan 20 '21 at 12:17
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    @Tim: I considered the 1st phrase to be "Slip inside the eye of your mind" with the word "mind" ending on A. Can I understand why you did not consider the same? Yes the whole section ends on G but I consider where a melody stops firmly to be the end note of the phrase. Am I incorrect?
    – armani
    Jan 21 '21 at 10:05
  • 1
    @Tim, yes my apologies, Am and G at the end each for a beat before returning to C
    – armani
    Jan 21 '21 at 10:11

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