# Beginner's theory: Emaj7 - Em7 - A what key am I in?

I've only very recently started to learn about music theory so forgive me if this is a stupid question.

I was playing around the guitar and was very fond of the following chord progression: Emaj7 - Em7 - A

But I couldn't figure out which key I was in. I have seen a Rott major and minor key in the same progression before but I don't really understand why it actually sounds nice.

• How about Emaj7 - Em7 - A - B (repeat). Or a continued series of modulations: Emaj7 - Em7 - A - Dmaj7 - Dm7 - G - Cmaj7 - Cm7 - F - Bbmaj7 - Bbm7 - Eb - Abmaj7 - Abm7 - ... etc. Feb 11, 2021 at 12:25
• Now you've changed it, the OP want's to know if the segment they've provided has a key in the first place.
– user50691
Feb 11, 2021 at 12:30
• Yes I changed it in two different ways. It would be excellent if the OP learned a way to play with chords and notes as tools for groping around to get a practical feel for where the tonic could be. The first one "Emaj7 Em7 A B" hopefully feels like a potential key change back and forth, and the longer one hopefully feels like a continuous sliding key change. Theory is best learned in practice, meaning, by playing examples. Feb 11, 2021 at 12:45
• Even though you’ve received answers I am curious about a few things, what is the timing of this progression? Maybe 2 bars Emaj7 then 1 bar each of the next two? Does it go back to the Emaj7 or somewhere else? Is the A chord just a triad or some type of 7th chord? Feb 11, 2021 at 17:40
• @John, it's one bar Emaj7, one bar Em7 and two bars A7 actually Feb 12, 2021 at 18:33

Based on your comment on the timing and having A7 instead of just A I hear it as E tonality, parallel major and minor. The A7 is more of a IV chord rather than having a dominant function, kind of like the IV chord in a blues.

As to why it sounds good, who can say? Maybe it’s going from happy to sad to bluesy. I personally like it a lot and it’s a time tested harmonic device. “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, “Norwegian Wood” and the old standard “I’m Glad There Is You” all use this tonic major/minor contrast to great effect in one way or another.

There is no one key for that progression. It could obviously be E, or A, but with nothing else around - before or after, it's impossible to tell. Just in isolation, a way to give a clue is to let one chord ring out, and make it sound like the final one. If it does, then as far as you're concerned, that's the key. Inconclusive? Read from the start again...

It looks like you have modulated. The E Maj7 would typically belong to either E or B. A is the 4th of E, if E was serving as the 5th of A I'd expect E7 and not E Maj7. It is common to resolve from the 4th to the key by going to the 4-minor. So the E Maj7 --> E-7 in my ear would make me expect to hear B, rather than A.

But if what you played sounds cool, then it's cool. Play it. Like Tim said, there not a key for it. Whatever "key" you determine it to be in there will be "accidentals". Keys are useful but a lot of great music does not adhere to a specific key.

Now that we have an accepted answer, I can add my own opinion.

Even if it's Emaj7 - Em7 - A7 - A7 (and not Emaj7 - Em7 - A), I hear this as a mode-mixing soul groove which moves around B major and B minor. A cheesy ending chord would be B major.