2

melodic passage: A - B - C# - D - E - F - E - D

From a previous exam. Possible answers were D maj, G maj, d min or a min.

I think it’s a minor: if D or G then the F needs to be sharp and if it’s d the B would need to be flat. I think the c# is outside of the key signature. Is this reasoning correct?

1
  • 1
    It's worth noting that under the traditional rule for key signatures it's impossible to have an F natural and a C sharp without accidentals. This follows from the fact that F sharp is always the first sharp and C sharp always the second.
    – phoog
    Jun 17, 2023 at 7:39

3 Answers 3

10

It's D minor, making use of the ascending melodic minor scale.

The reasoning is:

  • D major: F# is characteristic of D major, so the F natural makes D major impossible. The passage cannot sound D major-ish without the F#.
  • G major: G major does not contain C# and does contain F#.
  • A minor: Similarly to the D major case, the C# guarantees the passage won't sound like A minor.
  • D minor: D minor, staying strictly with the key signature, contains only one flat — Bb. However, it's common to raise the seventh scale degree to form a leading tone — C# in this case — and in order to avoid the augmented second from Bb to C#, it's also common to raise the sixth scale degree — meaning B natural.

This reasoning works primarily because we're talking about a test question, so the answer is based in how these kinds of tests work: in particular, the limited choices for what the answer will be.

However, in "the real world", there's not enough information in the passage to determine the key. To my ear, for example, it sounds more like A major, with the F natural (flat 6) serving as an upper neighbor to prolong the E.

4
  • Of course… raising the sixth removes the b flat. And the raised seventh is a giveaway. I should’ve seen that! Thanks for the full explanation.
    – Ryan
    Jun 17, 2023 at 0:48
  • 1
    @ToddWilcox Agreed. My answer only works given the fact that this was a test question. In the wild, this passage isn't enough to establish a key, and, in fact, by itself it sounds (to my ear) more like A major with a decorative flat 6.
    – Aaron
    Jun 17, 2023 at 6:14
  • @ToddWilcox indeed. I'm thinking of the questions on this site such as those about the raised fourth degree in the Star-Spangled Banner and the lowered seventh degree that Bach often uses to set up a final cadence. With both of those alterations, this could be G major, but given the choices there's no question that the correct one is D minor.
    – phoog
    Jun 17, 2023 at 7:17
  • Ascending melodic minor scale = jazz melodic minor.
    – Tim
    Jun 20, 2023 at 21:04
3

I’d say this whole passage is in fact A major as a dominant to D minor. The minor tonality includes both the raised 6th and the raised 7th, the raised 7th as leading tone which has to resolve to the tonic, and the raised 6th as preparation of the raised 7th which is supposed to be followed by the raised 7th.

So technically it is not a problem for this being D minor, although this raised 7th is something typical for the dominant. Now, the problem is that in this passage all strong notes fall on notes of the A major chord, which makes this not feel like a tonic in D minor, but a dominant in D minor.

I’d naturally expect this phrase to continue something like this:

enter image description here

On the other hand if we simply shift the phrase a bit so the d minor notes fall on strong beats it becomes very clear D minor:

enter image description here

4
  • Shifting any phrase may well change the analysis afforded to it.
    – Tim
    Jun 17, 2023 at 12:58
  • @Tim Yes? Isn’t this what I said?
    – Lazy
    Jun 17, 2023 at 15:39
  • Can I not agree with you?
    – Tim
    Jun 17, 2023 at 15:55
  • 2
    @Tim You are very much welcome to do so, but it is sometimes hard to understand how things are meant, especially if you do not speak a language natively, so please be lenient of me asking :)
    – Lazy
    Jun 17, 2023 at 20:57
1

Going bar by bar - the 1st bar could be either Dmaj or Amaj. It could also be Dmin, but not Gmaj or Am - the C♯ denies that.

2nd bar, with only natural notes, rules out Dmaj and Amaj. Leaving, by a process of elimination, only Dmin. For reasons Aaron's already stated. The fact that it ends on a D note sort of underline it's in a D of some kind also.

Pretty poor exam question, I'd imagine at a low grade II or III level at most! Love to know which board...

3
  • 1
    It was G4! I deliberately left out the board and changed the rhythm to avoid posting an exam question :)
    – Ryan
    Jun 18, 2023 at 22:53
  • 1
    @Ryan as you can see, the rhythm you applied seems to have created some confusion.
    – phoog
    Jun 20, 2023 at 17:42
  • Ah I see why it can cause a problem. That in itself is also a lesson. My apologies for any confusion
    – Ryan
    Jun 25, 2023 at 5:31

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.