While messing around with my piano, and experimenting with different chords, I created a pleasant-sounding chord progression. Problem is, I've spent a long while trying to identify what scale is actually being used (to guide my melodic structure) and can't figure it out.

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I suspect that there is potentially a key change at some point, perhaps at the start of the third bar, as the sound of song seems noticeably different? But then I'm not sure where the key would change back. I've attempted to use online "scale finder" websites on various different chunks of the song, but they never provided a clean fit and a wide variety of possible different scales. I recognize that this is potentially all the more difficult as the chords could be inversions, and perhaps certain chords could be out of scale.

Many thanks!

  • What makes you think there's any one particular scale that will go with any chord sequence?
    – Tim
    Commented May 2 at 15:55
  • @Tim "I suspect that there is potentially a key change at some point."
    – Aaron
    Commented May 2 at 16:40
  • @Aaron =- at which point, probably a different scale would be expected...
    – Tim
    Commented May 3 at 5:33
  • @Tim Yes. That's exactly what OP was getting at.
    – Aaron
    Commented May 3 at 5:51
  • @Aaron - what I was hinting at is that there needn't be a particular scale that would apply to three or four chords - there could be (and often are) several. It's always seemed a somewhat blinkered way of looking at improvisation, although there are those who would disagree.
    – Tim
    Commented May 3 at 7:13

1 Answer 1


If you didn't use a scale to generate the chords, then there isn't really any reason to think all of the chords are going to fit into one scale.

I've spent a long while trying to identify what scale is actually being used (to guide my melodic structure)

You don't need to do that. In fact a lot of music generates melody from chord tones.

I suspect that there is potentially a key change at some point ... I'm not sure where the key would change back.

Yes, there is this potential. But, this also shows you do understand that a chord progression does not necessarily come from one scale... or any scale. I don't mean to harp on the point, but you should acknowledge that you don't need to keep hunting around for scales that match the chords.

Having said that, I think you want some practical approach for how to handle chord progressions that may change key.

Probably the first thing to look for are segments of clearly functional chord progressions. In "classical" harmony and many standard jazz songs such progressions are fairly clear and are either cadential or descending fifths sequential harmony. Part of the trick in finding such segments is understanding they may be only two chords in length. You may see chunks of ii V or V7 I in various keys.

Another think to do is look for accidentals that would fit closely related keys, which are key signatures that differ by one sharp or flat. For example, in a chord progression in C major, seeing an F sharp or a B flat, indicates moves to the dominant of subdominant respectively, or to their relative minors. That means potential moves to G major or E minor, or to F major or D minor. The exact details of such passages often don't matter to the large scale design. The key changes are often apparent regardless of the note to note details.

There are two other things that can account for accidentals in the harmony: borrowed chords which are typically chords from the parallel minor being used in a major key. For example, an Fm chord being used in C major. The second idea is simply chromatic passing motions. A good "classical" example is Chopin's piano prelude in E minor which features many interesting seventh chords most easily understood as passing motions formed by many descending half steps in the left hand accompaniment over many measures that simple connect a tonic chord to a dominant chord.

In your passage (which I'm just reading from the screen, away from keyboard) starts in C, seems to touch upon E minor, then uses a cluster of flats in what probably works as passing motion connecting an Em7 chord to a Dm7 chord, then there is a B diminished seventh chord, which can function as a kind of dominant harmony, moving back to the tonic C chord.

One thing I notice is the quality of the F over the course of the passage. Its first appearance is with a sharp. It doesn't appear again until just before the ending Cmaj7 chord, where it is F natural. You might question whether you really start with a key signature of zero sharps/flats or one sharp, because the harmony isn't doing anything to explicitly confirm F natural at the outset. However, all the flats that come after that initial F sharp, make me think there would not be any real sense that the opening key signature is one sharp. It's just something to think about, especially if you are concerned with setting up a clear sense of keys and modulations in the overall structure.

So, your first measure could be treated as C major, the second measure to the Em7 chord of measure three could be E minor, the fourth measure will probably me handled most easily using just chord tones and passing tones, then go back to C major for the end, but treat the Bo7 as a borrowed chord being mindful of the A being flat. That's how you could conceive things in terms of scales.

The other approach is just make a melody from chord tones with embellishing passing tones.

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