It looks like a ii-V-iii-vi going around the circle of fifths but with the V replaced with a iv, but I don't know what the theory behind that replacement is. I'd heard of tonicization before but I'm not sure if that's the case here. I'd be grateful if someone explained that to me.

Quick disclaimer: I'm almost a complete beginner in analyzing chord progressions with no knowledge of anything except the fundamentals and some common progressions so it would be nice if you guys took that into account too :)

  • "It looks like a ii-V-iii-vi going around the circle of fifths but with the V replaced with a iv" That's pretty much what I was thinking
    – user45266
    Apr 26 at 15:56

In terms of "anything special", I would probably look for what chords fit into diatonic groups and those that don't as an initial analysis step.

You can apply two rules of thumb:

Chords of the same quality with the roots all separated by perfect fourths/fifths fit in a diatonic set. So Bm Em Am - or by fifths Am Em Bm are all the same quality and separated by fourth/fifths and therefore diatonic. You can do the same with all major chords. Basically the two sets are V I IV for the tonal or primary triads, and iii vi ii for the modal or secondary triads.

Chords of the same quality with roots separated by thirds are not diatonic if they are the same quality. In the group Am Cm Em the Cm is the odd one out that won't fit into a diatonic group.

Just from a chord progression there isn't enough to say this is in G major, but that's a different topic.

The chords Am Bm Em are diatonic to some tonic and the Cm is "special" in that it cannot be part of a diatonic group with any of the other chords.

  • I see, so all I have to do now is figure out what Cm really is in context to whatever the key of the song I'm looking into is. Have you any thoughts on what points I should look into next to figure out what it is? Apr 27 at 15:55

In key G, three of them are diatonic - Am, Bm and Em. The 'odd' one is the Cm. It could be said that Cm is the iv of the parallel key to G major - G minor. There's often a bit of 'borrowing' between parallel keys.

The Bm > Em > Am can be considered as being part of the 'circle of fourths/fifths, but that would only be if the pattern cycled. And interjecting the Cm anywhere will destroy that pattern.

  • That makes sense. Just curious, but is there a term for this parallel borrowing technique? Apr 27 at 15:58
  • 1
    'Parallel borrowing' seems about right. It also works for modal stuff too. 'Modal interchange' comes to mind. Although borrowing from maj. to min. isn't strictly M I.
    – Tim
    Apr 27 at 16:17

If these were V7 chords in jazz, or power chords in metal, nobody would bat an eyelash.

My advice is to treat the chords as textural, not diatonic. You don't need to analyze all the notes, just note that the root motion implies E minor, i.e. that you've moved to the relative minor of G.

  • 1
    How can we tell that the power chord version is Am-Cm-Bm-Em and not Am-C-B-Em?
    – Dekkadeci
    Apr 27 at 13:03
  • Power chords aren't major or minor. They're tuned to open fifths, but aren't really treated as chords at all. That's what I mean by "textured." The same for V7 chords-- sometimes you don't resolve them "normally" (with the 7th falling) but you just treat that as a chord texture. Another tip-off is if all the chords are in the same voicing-- then you can 100% for sure say they are textures rather than multi-phonic lines. Apr 27 at 19:14

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