I was trying to understand the chord progression in Strange Meadow Lark, but it comes to a point where the changes are a little bit blurry of what is going on. Did anybody try to? Maybe we can discuss it here.

As requested, an edit:

Ok, the part I was struggling is when the music is in G Major. The part that I got was this:

Gmaj7, Cmaj7 | D(b5 b9) , G6 | C6 | Gmaj7, C,, G7 | G7(b9) | Cmaj7 | D7(b9) | Gmaj7, G7 | Cmaj7, D7(b9) | G13, Db7(+11)* | C6, C#dim | Gmaj7, G6,, E7(b9)** | Fmaj7***, G |

I tried to put in functional analysis, but maybe this is wrong in some parts.

Imaj7, IVmaj7 | V(b5 b9), I6 | IV6 | Imaj7, IV,, V7/IV | V7(b9)/IV | IVmaj7 | V(b5, b9) | Imaj7, V7/IV | IVmaj7, V7(b9) | I13, ?* | Imaj7, I6,, ?** | ?***, I |

After this I didn't even try to.. but there is more.

Db(+11)* - I just could see it as a tritone substitution of a modal exchange chord... I think here I have no clue of what music theory to apply.

E7(b9)** - No clue

Fmaj7*** - Didn`t even try to think about it.

What am I lacking to understand it?

Thanks in advance.

  • Are you looking for a transcription of the chord changes?
    – Aaron
    May 28, 2023 at 5:13
  • No, I have it here.. but I tried to apply some functional anaylsis and some parts are not quite obvious..
    – pbriquet
    May 28, 2023 at 6:05
  • 6
    Please post the changes for the part you're wondering about. Also, just know that functional analysis was developed to address Common Practice Era music and that jazz does not attempt to follow its principles.
    – Aaron
    May 28, 2023 at 6:09
  • Cool information.. I was seeing easily some I IV V, secondary dominant, etc.. but let me post and if you can help me understand, I'd really appreciate :)
    – pbriquet
    May 28, 2023 at 17:39
  • @Aaron there's definitely a functional component to jazz harmony, though. "Tritone substitution," for example, didn't come out of nowhere. Yes, functional analysis is sometimes going to come up short, but more often than not it won't. Besides, the same is true of classical music.
    – phoog
    Jun 9, 2023 at 7:41

2 Answers 2


I don't want to go into the functional analysis talk, because it gets to the dumb "which words are correct" discussion, and it won't make you really understand the harmony. Real understanding means being able to handle the situations in your own playing, to be able to utilize the same tricks in your own chordal improvisation, and to recognize the patterns when you hear them. And this comes through practice and not fancy theoretic words and "analysis".

Instead, I'll try to give exercises that utilize the same harmonic patterns that I personally see in the chords you gave.

  • Db7(+11)* | C6, C#dim

For basically any chord movement anywhere in any existing song you know, when you move from anywhere to chord X, try inserting a dominant-seventh chord a semitone above, right before chord X. Practice this on a lot of tunes, until the trick becomes familiar to you, so much that you can use it as part of your own chordal improvisation, and that you start to recognize it in music when you hear it. Then you've REALLY LEARNED it, and who cares what you call it or what's a "correct" name. (Unless your target is to become a theory talk youtuber where the gig is to impress people by saying fancy things)

One example. You start with the progression G - C - D - G - Em - Am - D - G. With the added chords this becomes: G - Db7 - C - Eb7 - D - Ab7 - G - F7 - Em - Bb7 - Am - Eb7 - D - Ab7 - G.

  • Gmaj7, G6,, E7(b9)**

Play this progression: G - E7 - A7 - D7 - G (repeat). Notice any similarity? Then play: G - E7b9 - A7b9 - D7b9 - G.

Combine with the previous trick, inserting a dominant seventh chord a semitone above, before every chord. G - F7 - E7 - Bb7 - A7 - Eb7 - D7 - Ab7 - G.

  • Fmaj7***, G

Practice this: G - Fmaj7 - G - Fmaj7 - ... Play over those chords until you feel comfortable operating with what's happening. Make your playing so that G feels like home. Let's support G as a home: G - F - G - F - G - F - G - D7 - G

Also try: Gmaj7 - Fmaj7 - Gmaj7 - Fmaj7 - Gmaj7 - Fmaj7 - Gmaj7 - D7 - Gmaj7 (just so that you'll have to keep switching the F note between sharp and natural)

In these exercises, play the progressions as chords, and use a looper or other accompaniment device and solo over the chords. After you've spent enough hours practicing, the questions about the Brubeck tune have been solved. Musical understanding comes through practicing, not through talking with fancy theory terms.

(caveat: I wrote this on my phone and didn't physically listen to the tune or any of the chords I wrote. If it sounds wrong when I get to an instrument to test it, I'll say oops and remove the answer)

  • I could do the same exercises to drill common heavy metal chord progressions into my head and gain a similar "understanding" of them (e.g. i - bII - i, i - VI - VII, i - #IV - i). However, this does not explain why these chord progressions are common or why they make any musical sense. (In particular, I've been forced to conclude that i - #IV - i is used precisely because it sounds transgressive and doesn't otherwise make musical sense.) I don't think this is a satisfactory answer as a result.
    – Dekkadeci
    Oct 28, 2023 at 12:26
  • @I strongly disagree and claim that you are not only wrong but also that that kind of thinking does a disservice to music. What I'm trying to say here, and what you obviously did not understand - is that real understanding comes from living and experiencing interactions and cause-effect relations in practice. Understanding does not and should not be required to come primarily from verbal descriptions, because verbal descriptions are a very badly working way to transfer the said real understanding from one person to another. Which was proven by your failing to understand what I tried to say. Oct 28, 2023 at 16:05
  • @Dekkadeci I don't believe that descriptions in the prevailing theoretic language somehow provide more true answers to the "why" questions. Musical patterns are used because they work. Theory tries to give names to the practices. Theory is not a law of nature, and being able to verbally legitimize one's actions in a way that satisfies theory worshippers' judgement is not a better "understanding". The idolization of theoretic language is harmful, and it is the reason why the OP has been mislead to come to seek help from the gods of theory, when he should play more tunes to learn patterns Oct 28, 2023 at 16:57
  • Drawing from my own experience, I am not convinced that playing tunes leads to naturally learning patterns as anything more than "these chord progressions are common/used and I don't know why". I had no understanding of why bII, augmented 6ths, and common-tone diminished 7ths were used until I took the RCM's Harmony 3 & 4 courses, despite encountering them in my piano repertoire before that point (and also failing to process them fully at that point to boot, a la "Schubert is using A major scales in an A flat major section and I don't know why").
    – Dekkadeci
    Oct 28, 2023 at 22:51
  • As a result, I am convinced that "being able to verbally legitimize one's actions" is a better understanding than being unable to do so. Without this verbal legitimization, all I can conclude is that the chord progressions are common in some genre and, in order to compose in that genre, I should use those chord progressions - and the best justification is that imitating the masters makes my music sound like theirs and therefore be more societally acceptable simply because they're the trend-setters people like. This is unfortunately how I've self-learned heavy metal music theory.
    – Dekkadeci
    Oct 28, 2023 at 23:01

Assuming the chord chart is correct...

Major-minor 7th (a.k.a. "dominant 7th") chords are so common in jazz that I treat none of them as secondary dominants. Until you hit the Db7(+11) chord, I wouldn't treat the music as straying from (a rather chromatic) G major at all.

The Db7(+11) chord resolves to a C6 chord and can therefore be interpreted as a tritone substitution of V7/IV. Note that both the Db7(+11) chord and V7/IV in G major, the G7 chord, have an F-B tritone in them.

The C#dim chord resolving to a Gmaj7 chord is hard to explain, but you can kind of treat the C#dim chord as vii°/V and the Gmaj7 chord as a I6/4(/3) chord that never properly resolves to V.

The E7(b9) chord resolves to a Fmaj7 chord, so I'd say the E7(b9) chord is a V7(b9)/ii chord with a deceptive (cadence-style) resolution to VI7/ii, a.k.a. bVII7. The b9 a.k.a. F in the E7(b9) chord should make the deceptive resolution more convincing.

bVII resolves often enough to I in pop-like music that we can treat the Fmaj7-G chord progression as bVII7-I.

  • Thank you so much. I'm reading carefully right now. The chords were in a music sheet I was using to play it, so I assumed to be correct, but I didn't double check it.
    – pbriquet
    May 31, 2023 at 2:23

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