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I'm pretty much a newbie in music, and I wanted to ear train a little, to be able to improvize with my guitar. So I learned what I thought to be the minimum before that : major scales, minor scales (natural, harmonic, melodics), and how to recognize them by ear, then harmonize them. I wanted to try that method on a popular song : Sweet tooth by Scott Helman.

I think it's in natural G# minor, but when I compare the chords I found with the real ones (example : https://tabs.ultimate-guitar.com/tab/scott-helman/sweet-tooth-chords-3121649), I don't understand some things, like why do we sometimes have the chords G# or C# (while we should have G#m and C#m in this tonality)? Could you help me understand that, in theory for example ?

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    1) Don't rely too much on a tab, for a couple of reasons: 1a) because they're often crowd-sourced and inaccurate to begin with, and 1b) because, even if accurate, they don't necessarily record music theory but a systematic record of music performance. 2) As for why you find major chords where you might expect minor, that's modal mixture, baby. 3) I think actually we're in major overall, and it's the minor chords that have some explaining to do. Oct 27 at 20:29
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    Minimum scales should include pents and blues - not so much melodic minor, unless you're tending towards classical.
    – Tim
    Oct 28 at 7:47
  • Thanks a lot ! I learned about modal mixture, but I can't get my ears accustomed to hear that for now ; I guess I'll have to struggle with it for some time. Also, how did you find that the song in mostly in major ? Oct 28 at 8:08
  • Tim, thank you for your advice ! I will learn about these scales ! Oct 28 at 8:11
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Although we speak of music as being "in the key of ...", that means only that the music, overall, is based in that key. However, music routinely changes key or mixes in chords/scales from other keys.

For a piece in G# minor, for example, one would expect to find a fair number of G#m, C#m and other chords native to that key, but it wouldn't be surprising to find other chords, like G#Maj, to add color to the overall sound.

To learn more about how music theory explains such chords, search this website for terms like: modal mixture, borrowed chord, and secondary dominant. The links provided offer some basic searches to get started.

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  • Thank you for that ! I still have a lot more to learn, it seems. Oct 28 at 8:13
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Improving your ears is always commendable and very useful to us in the long run. Identifying melodies and the harmonies under them is a great thing to work towards being able to do. One thing you can not assume though is that the melody and the harmony will always match up, take everything at face value. This is one of those cases.

The main characteristic of this tune is that it has a blues minor/major duality to it, as well as modal interchange, that is, basically a G# minor pentatonic melody with some other notes from the minor scale in spots against major chords in a major key, G#, not G#m. The chords in the tab are right, at least at first, they never go to minor chords towards the end of the song like it says on the chart.

As for the modal interchange, the E and B chords are borrowed from the parallel minor, bVI and bIII respectively. You can also think of the bIII as V of VI.

The progression is basically bVI-IV-I with the bIII, (or V/VI depending on your viewpoint) thrown in at times. If you listen closely you will listen to the rubs of the B’s in the melody and the B#’s in the harmony on the G# (I) chords.

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  • Yes, don't know where 'G#m' came from. The intro is G#5 - neither major nor minor. Virtually every chord played is in fact major. And the tune sung could fit over quite a few different chord patterns, being, as you say, pent. based. +1.
    – Tim
    Oct 28 at 7:32
  • Thanks for your answer ! I didn't understand what you meant by a "blues minor/major duality", could you explain that notion ? Oct 28 at 8:16
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    @XavierGEVIA Sure, in blues when playing in a major key the melody/singer/soloist will often (and sometimes exclusively) use notes that are part of the same key in minor. For example, a blues in A major will often use notes from the A minor, dorian, minor pentatonic or minor blues scale, ABCDEFG ABCDEF#G, ACDEG or ACDD#EG against an A major or A7 chord. The rub between the minor melodies and the major chords is a very distinctive sound which we are used to hearing. This practice has been adopted in pretty much all pop styles as well at times. Oct 28 at 15:53

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