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I have a song in Bb major. It begins its verse in G minor like this:

Gm → C9 → Ebm → Ebm/Gb

Gm → C9 → Ebm → D7

I can relate that Gm and C9 are a ii-V, but it resolved not to F but to Ebm (bVII?). Strangely it sounds totally fine.

Is there a theory behind this? Any songs with similar structure?

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    There's no theory behind music, unless someone made music starting from a theoretical description. It's the other way around: music theory is descriptions of musical practices. Musical practices were first, then someone decided to try and describe them to someone, from some perspective, for some reason. It looks like you want someone to describe your chord progression. Who, from what perspective, to whom, for what purpose?
    – user94880
    Oct 17, 2023 at 9:04
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    @user94880 Hi, take a look at the site logo. :)
    – dz902
    Oct 17, 2023 at 9:16
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    You didn't understand. Practice is behind theory.
    – user94880
    Oct 17, 2023 at 9:24

3 Answers 3

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Thinking in Bb major, consider a slightly different progression: Gm Gm6 Ebm (vi vi[+6] iv).

Gm Gm6 Ebm

This is a relatively run-of-the-mill progression, related to the very common IV-iv progression, but with vi subbed in for IV — they share two pitches, so this is not such a leap.

Now add a stepwise bass line, D C Bb.

Same progression as above, with bass line added

This is Gm/D C9 Ebm/Bb, which, voicing aside, is the original progression. Ordinarily one would expect the C9 to operate as V/V, but in this case, it's really functioning more like a chromatically altered ii chord.

So in the abstract, the original progression is akin to vi ii vi (or, if you prefer, vi II iv). Up to a point, ii, iv, and vi, being pre-dominant chords and sharing common tones, are interchangeable. Thus, this progression could be viewed, in functional — though not literal — terms as IV-iv.

The expected next chord would be Bb, but instead we have a deceptive resolution back to Gm. The second line of chords functions more clearly as G minor: i IV vi V

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Theory does come afterwards, however if you're looking for a connection to understand why stuff works and sounds good, theory is not totally unhelpful.

Here is one way to see a connection and it depends on the context:

Ab7 is the tri-tone substitution for D7 (dominant of Gm). Then Ebm7 is the ii of that chord.

I guess you could call it the ii-V of the tritone, if you need to express it.

Gm goes naturally to EbMajor. Maybe your Ebm is a minor sub because the melody called for it.

Although we'd really need the melody to properly analyze this, and this might not apply in your case, another way to look at it (warning: more theory coming up) is that you are trying to get from G minor (as the tonal center in the verse) to BbMajor where the song 'starts'. They are pretty far away actually since that G minor has a sharp. F#. Playing through Ebm7 and Ab7 adds more flats than Bb Major has so you are kind of going past Bb Major in the cycle of fifths and then coming back. That is really what that chord motion sounds like anyway. It sounds like you are going too far in the other direction, or like coming at Bb from below, which makes the resolution satisfying. I'm assuming you use Ab7 to get to Bb, but if not maybe give it a try. And please don't quote me on all that theory.

So why does Ebm work? It's connected to Gm in all of those ways.
But ultimately, melody implies harmony. So you just need a strong melody leading to a note (maybe not even a common tone) in a chord "outside" of the key and then you can go anywhere. That's probably the simplest way to explain it.

Just do something that sounds good. (quote me on that). You can see how all that theory becomes somewhat meaningless after a simple statement like that.

Gm to Ebm directly is probably somewhat less common, but one song comes to mind: Dindi by Antonio Carlos Jobim. On the bridge. (But that's in Eb Major, so maybe functioning a bit differently there). But the melody is at work there with a nice common tone.

There's a million songs that go from BbMaj to Ebm7. "iv" minor. It's one of my favorite chords.
Hope that was helpful.

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It doesn't sound WRONG. There's no requirement for a progression to be a string of 'cycle of 5ths' resolutions. But I could criticise it for inconsistency in harmonic density. Ebm to Ebm/Gb sounds particularly bare after Gm to C9.

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