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I was looking at this song (which I think is in Gb Major) and tried to figure out what the chords in the first 4 measures are in context from this sheet music that I have: the first 4 measures

You can also listen to it here if it helps (the first 8 seconds or so):

Here's my attempt:

Measure #1 Ab minor sus 4 which resolves to Ab minor.

Measure #2 Bb Major flat 5 (?) which resolves to Bb Major.

Measure #3 I think this is maybe an Eb minor flat 13 which resolves to Eb minor?

Measure #4 I don't really know, maybe an Ab 9?

I'm not very knowledgeable about chord notation, so I'm probably doing something wrong.

I don't know how to write these as scale degrees of Gb major either (Tonic, Supertonic, Mediant, etc.), and I was wondering if someone could notate and help me understand this small passage properly in the context of Gb Major, or however it would make sense to normally interpret a passage like this.

Thanks!

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3 Answers 3

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I listened to the beginning of the piece (at least long enough to hit its vi - IV - V - I loop), and we're safer off treating all the first right-hand chords of these first 4 measures as non-chord tones. They sound that way, after all. Heck, this continues to at least Bar 6 (not notated in the question). Note that Bar 7 (also not notated in the question) has a particularly aggravating C♭m7 chord smack dab in the middle of this G flat major piece, implying this introduction is greatly chromatic and tends to follow good voice-leading instead of functional harmony.

Assuming the transcription is accurate (I have only been able to fully confirm the melody and bottommost notes):

Bar 1 ends with an A♭m7 chord.

Bar 2 ends with a B♭7no3 chord. The starting chord of Bar 2 sounds especially chromatic and out-of-place, to the point that its D natural sounds like an alien non-chord tone.

Bar 3 ends with a E♭no3 chord. It could be construed as an E♭m or E♭m7 chord based on notes in the starting chord.

At Beat 3, Bar 4 has a C7♭5no3 chord. It strongly gives off the impression that it is a secondary dominant, thus letting it be interpreted as Cm7♭5 (rooted on the leading tone of the dominant key). Note that the D flat in Beat 4 may be an anticipation, the start of a dominant pedal point that continues into Bar 6, or the closest to a proper resolution that C7♭5no3 chord gets.

Note that the non-notated Bar 5 also ends with an A♭m7 chord, which means that secondary dominant does not resolve properly and the piece opts to start at the beginning of the previous phrase chord-wise instead (a common tactic in more modern music).

Ignoring chromatic starting chords, we can interpret Bars 1-4 as ii7 - iii7 - vi7 - viiø7/V in G flat major.

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  • Thank you so much for the great explanation! It has helped me to understand this section way better now. I find it very interesting that we can interpret so much of it as non-chord tones, and yet to me it sounds really good.
    – KDJ
    Dec 31, 2023 at 22:45
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Based on the written chords, and without reference to the recording:

  1. Ab7sus4 moving to Ab-7
  2. Bb7#11 moving to Bb7
  3. Eb-7(add13) moving to Eb-7
  4. C-7(add b13) moving to C-7b5

The primary error in your analysis is missing that these are seventh chords, not triads.

The problem in attempting to label them according to function within the key of Gb is that they don't all function with that key. For example, which the first and third chords are the Tonic and (minor) Dominant chords, the chord is measure 2 is called a "secondary" chord, because it operates in relation to the key of Eb minor. Search this site for many posts relating to secondary chords, specifically secondary dominant chords.

To label the chord in measure 4, we would have to know where it's leading.

A (simplified) Roman Numeral Analysis of the first three measures (using I, ii, iii in place of Tonic, Supertonic, Mediant, etc.) would look approximately like this:

ii7 V7/V v ??

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The first rule of transcriptions: they are always wrong.

Here's another wrong transcription I made from the audio:

transcription of first 4 bars of "Rubber Human"

Musical notation is written communication from a person, to a person, for some purpose, in a context. Which aspects do you want to communicate, is it melody, bass, voice-leading, suggestions on how to divide the notes between the left and right hand... what is the point? Is it OK if similar harmonic ideas are executed with different voicings, or even quite different chords? Does it have to be a piano, or would accordion be OK? Do people need to sing this? Who might be the reader of the notation? Where do they have to perform this? Who is the audience?

If I had to give this to a beginner guitarist and flute combo, I'd make the following reduction:

rubber in Dm

I think many listeners would be happy with this. Don't you think? Why does it have to be in Eb minor anyway, six flats, completely unnecessary for a tune like this.

If the players or the audience or someone are familiar with the original Youtube video, and they're expecting to experience something closer to that, I could add some more detail:

Rubber Human beginning in Dm, more detail

But you must ask yourself: what do you want to achieve by writing something about this tune? Do you want it to sound exactly like the Youtube video? Then you'll have to play the Youtube video. Or do you want someone to create a sound that fools 99.9% of the general public that what they heard was identical to the Youtube video? Does it have to be a piano sound? Why do you care about chord symbols? What is the goal?

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