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I've got a song on the piano, which I've been learning for years now and for which I just recently decided to actually dive into a chord analysis. Early on in the piece, there's this climactic build of chords that transitions into the next portion of the song and goes: D-D-?-Dm7-Dm7-Gm-(start of next portion with a D) The problem is that I just can't figure out the question mark chord. It contains C#, E, F, and A, making it kinda like a Dsus2 over A except without the D...

That seems odd, so I could use some help identifying what the chord is, and what sense it makes from a music theory perspective! 😅

Image of the phrase for added context: Image of the phrase

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    Music theory is talking about musical practices. The title makes it sound like there was such a thing as THE music theoretical basis for the chords, as if there was one Correct Way of talking about it or looking at it. :) And of course, it would follow that other ways must be incorrect or wrong. I disagree with this implication. There are many ways of thinking about it and talking about it. Jun 6 at 15:27
  • Related: youtube.com/watch?v=eXqNyWehVEQ Jun 6 at 20:56
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    piggybacking off of @piiperiReinstateMonica - music theory is based off of music, not the other way around. While you can certainly use theory as a creative jumping off point, the only actual rule that music has to follow is that people like it or find it interesting. Jun 6 at 21:37

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Your chord is a combination of an A/C# and a Dm chord. I wouldn't give it a name. The composer wants the whole passage to sound like it continues to hammer out Dm chords, but they also want the chromatic movement of the descending bass. Hence both the F-A of the Dm and the C#-E of the A. You can call this a "poly-chord", or consider both the C# and the E as passing tones between the Dm and the Dm/C chords.

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It's Dm A/C# Dm7/C with the F5 held during the change through A/C#.

With C# and E in the outer voices and an A included it has all the tones and movement of Dm: i V6, and I think that progression sounds out pretty clearly.

You could call the F5 a non-chord tone, perhaps a pedal or a sort of suspension.

To make the point about Dm: i V6 cleared just play the F5 as G5 and the progression will become a clear Dm: i V6/5. To play F5 or G5 in an inner voice doesn't really obscure the main harmony that much.

Another way to look at it is a progression simply of Dm Dm7/C where the non-chord tones are the C# and E which would be called passing tones.

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  • Thanks for the response! Could you elaborate a little on what the notation Dm: i V6 means? I haven't seen it before. Jun 6 at 19:03
  • That's Roman numeral analysis, Roman numerals assigned to each of the scale degrees which are the roots of chords. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_numeral_analysis Jun 6 at 20:49
  • I see, so the "Dm: ..." just indicates that you're talking about the Dm scale here? (This was my confusion ^^) Jun 7 at 7:34
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    @MitchellFaas, not the scale, the key. Scale and key are not synonymous. Jun 7 at 16:24
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It's an A maj aug 5.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minor_sixth

That part is just bouncing between a Dm and A maj. The F is just carrying over to the the Dm7.

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  • By looking only at the notes one could call it an A+. Except that it has both E and F, and F is not an aug 5, it's a minor 6. But that ignores the harmonic function. The whole function of that C# is to go to C natural, as a chromatic bass line. Calling it an A chord of any stripe -- and therefore having somesort of dominant function -- misses that. Jun 6 at 22:06

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