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I have written the following chord progression. Straight chords, no inversions or anything.

A > F > E > A

A > C > G > D7 (or D6)

C > G > B7 > B7

As denoted by uppercase, these are all major chords. My somewhat basic understanding of music theory tells me that this is modal interchange between A major and A minor scales, but the G and B in major forms don't fit either of those. This is where I start confusing myself. Can it be that the key has changed by the third bar, rather than G and B7 being used as major rather than minor? Or, if they are borrowed, then from where?

I would appreciate any resources, which could explain these topics in further detail.

Thanks

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    The G fits from A minor, and B7 is V/V in key A.
    – Tim
    May 20 at 11:09
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    What happens after the B7?
    – Richard
    May 20 at 11:35
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    Well, I don't know how I missed that. It goes back to A. May 20 at 11:59
  • Yeah, the B7 looping back to A is going to make analyzing this key-wise really difficult, along with the D7 -> C.
    – Dekkadeci
    May 20 at 12:02
  • this is harmonically non-standard, and there is a lot more context required to definitively put it in any key -- if it is even tonal at all
    – Esther
    May 21 at 0:25
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I agree with your assessment, modal interchange between A major and minor, or parallel major and minor. Many of the chords are borrowed from the minor, F,C,G. You mentioned the G doesn’t fit but G is diatonic to the A natural minor scale. The G, a bVII chord is widely used in both major and minor keys. (“All along the Watchtower” in minor, “A Hard Day’s Night” in major)

The D7/D6 is actually also modal interchange in a way but with the A Dorian mode (F# instead of F) or the melodic minor scale. The IV7 chord is also widely used in many well known songs in both major and minor keys.

I see the only oddball chord, the B7 as an unresolved V of V. You can also think of it as a non-diatonic II7, a chord used in many songs such as “The Girl From Ipanema” and “Take the A Train” among many others. However in those songs there is a delayed devolution to the V which isn’t the case here.

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    Thank you very much for the reply. I love music theory and hope to learn more here. May 21 at 6:31
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    @JessinPrison My pleasure, MPT is a great resource for asking questions or searching topics of interest to you, there is a lot of great info and discussions here! May 21 at 6:45
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This progression is better explained as modal interchange between E major and minor. From that perspective, the progression is

IV > bII > I > IV

IV > bVI > bIII > bVII7

bVI > bIII > V7 > V7

In terms of where each chord comes from:

major > "Neapolitan chord" (What is a Neapolitan 6th?) > major > major

major > minor > minor > minor

minor > minor > either > either

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    Maybe it can be explained that way but it doesn’t sound like a chord progression in the key of E. The only E chord functions as a dominant. May 20 at 17:46
  • Thank you. I will be sure to read up on the Neopolitan 6th. I've also recently fallen in love with the Picardy 3rd. May 21 at 6:32
  • I'd have to agree with @JohnBelzaguy, the argument for E major as the key here doesn't look too good. If B7 in A is a stretch, then what the heck is G major doing going to D7 in E? Seems a lot more logical to call it A major, if not purely based on where the A chords sit in relation to the hypermetric structure - why start and end sections on the IV like that? It's an interesting alternative theory, but IMO a bit far-fetched with no context to point to as evidence for me to believe it at the moment.
    – user45266
    May 21 at 11:10
  • @user45266 - A G chord going to a D7 chord always makes sense (if all else fails, temporarily tonicize the G chord).
    – Dekkadeci
    May 21 at 12:29
  • It feels and sounds more like A is tonic, and the only E in there works as dominant.
    – Tim
    May 22 at 12:40
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As other answers have concluded, modal interchange is a great term to describe what's going on here. Between A major and A minor, a majority of the chords can be explained pretty nicely. I do have a few additional thoughts about the progression (mostly in question form, since there's not enough context for me to make the determination myself - however, the principles behind what I'm asking apply to any analyst):

  • The second line A C G D is a pattern often referred to as the plagal cascade when it is done in A minor, so perhaps that pattern dictates the perception to some degree.
  • The last line C G B7 B7 on its own is reminiscent of E minor, however the progression jumps back up to an A chord to repeat. Is it possible that your progression could be better interpreted as periodically shifting between two (or more) keys?
  • The fact that most of the apparently-nonfunctional chord movements occur between 4-measure phrases might also be of relevance. Perhaps this means there's merit to looking at each unit of hypermeter (relax, every phrase of 4 measures) as its own separate thing?
  • There are two dominant 7th chords, D7 and B7. Both are immediately followed by the major chord built on their 7th (e.g. D7's 7th is the note C, which is the chord after the D7, and same for B7 and A). Could that parallelism reveal anything about the structure of the music? In fact, similar things can be noted about other mini-sequences: I noticed also that there are three occurrences of a major chord moving downwards by a major third, which is not common in most functional progressions. Do you think this observation has meaning?

Context is everything here. Is there a melody? It may even be best to simply accept that the progression defies functional expectations, and there may be little we can do to map it onto the patterns we commonly observe in functional music. My best advice if you want to understand the progression is to ask yourself why you picked the progression that you wrote. You weren't just randomly throwing chords together, right? You probably liked the sound of the progression, otherwise why isolate those specific chords as worthy of analysis? So try changing things, little things, and see what changes make it sound similar and which make it completely different and wrong. If you can pick out what the important things about the progression are, you can start to understand why you like it and how to (re)create similar things in your compositions.

Here's a head start on some little changes: Strip it down to only the root movement. Do you still like it? If all the A major chords were changed to A minor, does it still sound good to you? What about if some of the major chords become 7th chords? (if you can figure out which 7th chord type to pick that's a clue as to function) Or what if the last B7 chord were an E7 chord? See what changes matter, and which ones don't.

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