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I'm trying to understand this chord progression:

Ebmaj7 D7#9 Gm9

Ebmaj7 F#dim7 Gm9 Bb13

I know from D7#9 to Gm9, that's a V-i.

But where's the Ebmaj7 coming from? Does it come from the relative major of Gm (Ebmaj7 is the 4th degree of Bb)?

Which role does F#dim7 play here as well?

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    Eb is also a tritone away from A, which would be the II in a II-V-i... Apr 28 at 15:36
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    It's not enough context. It can be anything that makes sense. If that progression is looped then it is clearly a Imaj7. Do you realize that F#dim7 has the same note as D7b9(without the D)?
    – Gupta
    Apr 28 at 22:42

2 Answers 2

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EbM7 is the VI chord in G minor, a standard predominant chord. VI - V - i is a common progression. F#dim7 is the leading-tone chord (vii) in G minor — it's standard to raise the seventh degree in minor, particularly when leading back to the tonic — and serves the same purpose as a V chord; thus, VI - vii - i. The Bb chord is the V relative to Eb, so allowing the progression is a cycle, it serves to lead back to the beginning.

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where's the Ebmaj7 coming from?

This might seem like a controversial or even wrong statement, but you should consider relative major and minor as being one bi-polar key. It's like a person standing, sometimes her weight is more on the major foot and sometimes on the minor foot. There's a lot of music where it's completely ambiguous which is more "home", the minor or the major. It would make things easier and more honest to a lot of pop/rock/jazz music if everyone standardized on "I" meaning the major key's tonic and "vi" as the relative minor key's tonic within the same key signature.

In my experience, insisting that relative minor and major keys are completely separate things causes more problems than it solves.

In your progression the Ebmaj7 is the IV relative to Bb, or if you insist on the tune being in G minor, then it's a VI relative to Gm. But if later in the song, the balance shifts more towards Bb major being the center, then you'll have to change all the numbers. Is it worth it? The problem goes away if you look at keys as having two centers simultaneously, the major center and the minor center.

Try replacing every Ebmaj7 with Cm9 - not a very big change IMO:

 Cm9  D7#9  Gm9
 Cm9  F#dim7 Gm9 Bb13

But how could we make Bb feel more like being the home note. How about this, how does the minor/major balance shift?

 Ebmaj7 D7#9/A Bbmaj7
 Ebmaj7 F#dim7 Gm9 Bb13

What if you swap the lines, is this more like "in Bb" if it ends on Bb?

 Ebmaj7 F#dim7 Gm9 Bb13
 Ebmaj7 D7#9/A Bbmaj7

Even if you think G or Bb would be the more likely tonic, is a full re-numbering of everything needed, and does it change the way you treat the chords?

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  • I tend to agree with your “one bi-polar key” comment. There is no need to say “the song modulates from G to Em here”. However I do think it is sometimes a good idea to label a song as being specifically in a minor or a major key when the home base is clearly established as one or the other. Apr 29 at 5:34
  • @JohnBelzaguy I mean this more about how said things should be understood, not how things should be said. It is useful to say that a song is in such and such minor or major key, but it should be understood as meaning the minor or major side of a minor/major pair. All of the harmonic possibilities of both sides are simultaneously available all the time, regardless of which side happens to have more emphasis. Apr 30 at 12:23
  • Agreed, I’ll buy that. Apr 30 at 12:58

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