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Is it ok to play a g flat chord in a D minor scale? Basically I wrote a song where one riff plays a G flat at the end of it then goes right back to a D minor chord. It’s a rock song. It sounds cool and doesn’t sound super dissonant but has a cool and different tone to it where it’s placed briefly. Just not sure if it’s a G flat or an F# minor chord I’m playing considering that I’m playing it in a D minor scale? Or is it some mode? Appreciate any insight of what scale or mode I’m actually playing here.

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    Are you trying to play a major chord, a minor chord, or a power chord? With no other qualifiers, if I found a Gb chord on a lead sheet, I'd assume a major chord.
    – Dekkadeci
    Commented Jan 8, 2022 at 17:08
  • It’s a power chord when played in drop D on my electric guitar. Thanks!
    – Songwriter
    Commented Jan 9, 2022 at 13:34
  • I think you need to explain more what you're playing. Just tab it out. "One riff plays [an F#] at the end then goes right back to a D minor chord." How does that necessarily bring a full F# minor chord into the picture? A riff that plays back and forth with the scale third as minor and major is sort of bluesy/rock thing. Then again with chords of D minor and F# minor and a D minor scale, you could get some exotic sounding things. You wrote "one riff..." Are you hinting there are two parts playing together? The devil's in the details. Commented Jan 10, 2022 at 22:51

2 Answers 2

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Consider that a lot of pieces modulate between parallel keys. So being in D minor at one point becomes being in D major at another.

Your G♭m (probably better called F♯m) is from key D major, rather than D minor. So it's not surprising that it sort of fits in your song.

It's a useful bit of theory to keep handy - because as well as the usual 3 majors and 3 minors usually found in the piece's key, that number can be doubled, giving a lot more freedom to experiment with those other chords - found in its parallel key.

And - by the way - we don't ever play in a scale - we play in a key or a mode of a key!

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  • Hi Tim! Thanks so much for your reply and detailed explanation. I am very rusty on my theory. I’ve taken some theory classes but have forgotten the harder stuff. That is starting to make sense but not fully. So when you’re saying parallel keys (my bad for calling them scales that’s how rusty I am lol) are you referring to relative keys? That’s what I thought of first but the Gbm wasn’t linking up in F Major. I’m glad theory wise it makes sense b/c it’s a song I’m gonna release sometime this year. Thanks! Chris
    – Songwriter
    Commented Jan 9, 2022 at 13:19
  • @Songwriter - relative and parallel are not the same. Relative is C and Am (same key sig.), and parallel is same root note (A maj and Am).
    – Tim
    Commented Jan 9, 2022 at 13:49
  • @Songwriter - no song has to obey the 'rules'. Chances are that 'rules' can often be found that 'justify' what's been written. The old adage - if it sounds good, it probably is....
    – Tim
    Commented Jan 9, 2022 at 13:57
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Tim's answer above reinforces the fallacy that every chord must fit the scale of the key, so if it doesn't the music must have modulated to another key.

Not so. There is a thing called Chromatic Notes/Chords. This allows a progression like C - C♯dim7 - Dm7 - G7 - C to exist completely within the key of C major. It is not useful to consider the Dm as a 'temporary tonic' when it is so demonstrably ii7 in C major! C♯ is just the note in-between C and D. It smooths out the movement from I to ii7. In no way does it challenge the characters of those chords within a C major tonality.

And there's another way to use chromaticism. Consider C - F♯ - C (let's go the whole hog and have THREE 'outside' notes). It's not a momentary modulation. It's a violently contrasting chord to C major - possibly the MOST violently contrasting one possible! And that's enough justification. It doesn't become a new 'home' chord, it doesn't require any functional relationship to the home key, or to one of its related keys, its purpose is simply to clash with the existing home chord! And that's OK. Don't try to make everything fit into that 'circle of 5ths' diagram.

Back to the actual question: F♯m has one note (A) in common with all the common versions of the D minor scale (natural, harmonic and melodic) and another one (C♯) in common with two out of the three. That's enough to make it sound not COMPLETELY 'outside'. Though its F♯ challenges the F♮ which is what MAKES Dm minor rather than major, so it's still going to be quite an interesting jolt.

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  • I'm sorry, I still have to agree with Tim there. The C#°7 does tonicize D minor - or the ii7 chord of C major - for a little bit. The more of these tonicizations, the shakier my label for what key the overall piece is gets (even if it actually never budges from C major). So, the C# does challenge the characters of those chords within a C major tonality.
    – Dekkadeci
    Commented Jan 9, 2022 at 16:29
  • In addition, your C-F#-C example reminds me of the roughly Cm-F#-Cm-F#(-etc.) chord progression of the Toad's Factory theme from Mario Kart Wii (which is jazz). The F# chords don't actually shift this theme from being in C minor (especially since F naturals show up in the melody), but they do increase the chromaticism of the piece markedly, which already makes my C minor label shakier (this theme is a lot less conservative than style galant and is an example of a C minor piece I would not have wanted to use when initially training my ability to find keys of music by ear).
    – Dekkadeci
    Commented Jan 9, 2022 at 16:39
  • @Dekkadeci So, in your thinking, EVERY time a progression passes through a tension - resolution moment a new tonality is established. Every tension is a dominant, every resolution a tonic. There's a certain logic to this, but it's not a very useful way to look at a passage of music.
    – Laurence
    Commented Jan 9, 2022 at 21:39
  • Not quite. A lot of the time, a lot of the dominants (not all tensions are dominants - in the Toad's Factory example, the F# chords are non-dominant tensions) are for the exact same tonic/resolution chord. Therefore, the same tonality is used as last time and no new tonality is established. I guess it's a safe bet for me to say that, at least for me, the tonality does (however temporarily) shift with each dominant-tonic resolution where the dominant chord cannot be found in the previously established key (assuming common practice period harmony).
    – Dekkadeci
    Commented Jan 10, 2022 at 3:36
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    Tim did use the word "modulate" and yeah that over states it. But what is wrong the with terminology of secondary dominant, borrowed chord, tonicization to explain dressing up diatonic harmony with chromaticism, while not actually changing key? If C# in C - C♯dim7 - Dm7 were merely an chromatic in-between note, then Dm7 C#dim7 C should work just as well. But in the reverse direction isn't Dm7 Db7b5 C more typical? My point is the C# ascending does act and sound like a leading tone, and the descending Db does act and sound like a tritone-sub/augmented sixth resolution. Commented Jan 10, 2022 at 22:02

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