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A long time ago I wrote a song, and I am just now putting it through Hookpad to see how it works musically, and there’s this one part that I have no idea how it works but it does.

It goes like this:

C - Bb - Cm - F/A - Eb/Bb - - F/A - Bb - Cm/G - - Bb/F - Gm - C

What I think is going on is that, okay, the rest of the song before this is in C Major, the C - Bb sets up C Mixolydian (it goes backwards on the circle of fifths), the Cm - F/A sets up C Dorian (again backwards on the circle of fifths), the Eb/Bb — - F/A - Bb sets up Bb Major (the relative major of C Dorian), the Cm/G - - Bb/F - Gm sets up C Minor (yet again backwards on the circle of fifths), and then a Picardy third brings us back to C Major.

I’m only 16 and not super experienced in music theory, so I’m not sure whether I’m right, but it seems pretty cool. I just need someone with more experience to double check me on this, because I like learning about music theory, hehe, I’m a geek.

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  • It would be helpful to know the timing of the chords in this progression. The rhythm of a chord progression has an influence on how it sounds and what is stressed. Commented Jul 4 at 5:26
  • Yeah I didn’t make it very clear, but in the original post, each hyphen after a chord is the chord held for 2 beats.
    – jcfiggy
    Commented Jul 5 at 3:05

3 Answers 3

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It appears that rather than Mixolydian, the song flips between the parallels - C major and C minor. This is quite a common occurrence, and does work well, as the root stays the same - C.

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  • So, the entire part except for the end is in C Minor?
    – jcfiggy
    Commented Jul 5 at 3:07
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C - Bb - Cm - F/A - Eb/Bb - - F/A - Bb - Cm/G - - Bb/F - Gm - C

You're working with C as tonic.

I think you can make a case for Bb becoming tonicized in the middle of the passage. The progression F/A Bb provides a strong feel of tonicizing Bb by virtue of the A acting as leading tone ascending to Bb, and the chords would then be dominant/tonic Bb: V6 I.

When the music gets to Gm/G I think the second inversion weakens the sense of a C tonic. That tonic isn't obliterated, but it's weakly supported. A root position Cm chord could work better.

If we put in some line breaks to better see the potential phrasing, along with Roman numeral analysis, we get...

    C       Bb      Cm  
Cm: I       VII     i 

F/A     Eb/Bb    F/A     Bb   Cm
V6/VII  IV64/VII V6/VII  VII  i
        *

Bb/F        Gm         C   
VII64       v(min)     i
**          ***

A few comments on that:

At [*] the music sets up an appoggiatura 6/4 feel between the Eb/Bb and Bb. If the progression were just F/A Eb/Bb Bb the sense of Bb: V6 I embellished with a 6/4 over the tonic Bb would be perfectly clear and common. Inserting the F/A one more time, just before the root position Bb doesn't obscure or weaken that harmonic sense. It's a nice way to extend that harmony a bit. So, you could say that area is just Bb: V6 I or elaborated a bit it's Bb: V6 (IV6/4) I and elaborated just a bit more, finally it is Bb: V6 (IV6/4) V6 I.

That appoggiatura 6/4 is a bit tricky to explain, if you don't know about figured bass rather than root progression harmony. A cadential 6/4, by root progression harmony, is usually labelled as I6/4 V I where the bass pitches for those three chords are ^5 ^5 ^1. Another way that is sometimes labelled harkens back to figured bass and looks like V6/4 V I where the bass pitches are still the same ^5 ^5 ^1. The latter approach is basically saying V6/4 V is really just one chord, a dominant, and the 6/4 is just an appoggiatura embellishment. This is analogous to what happens in Bb: V6 (IV6/4) V6 I except the appoggiatura is on a tonic chord rather than dominant chord.

At [**] the chord is an inversion, but the bass pitch is ^4 continuing to root position chords over bass pitches ^5 ^1. This is a very, very common cadential pattern, but with a slight twist. In a tonal, rather than modal harmony style, a bass of ^4 ^5 ^1 is common harmonized with a first inversion chord followed by two root position chords, in Roman numerals it is ii6(5) V(7) I. The slight twist on that formula is rather than a first inversion chord on the ^4 it is a second inversion chord. Additionally, at [***] rather than a major triad on the ^5 it is a minor triad. In a modal style I think both of those twists work well. You get the nice tension of an inverted chord to help propel into the cadence while also getting the modal flavors of the VII and minor dominant v.

I don't know how you are handling the rhythm and voice leading, but the basic way I played this to get the tonic clear in the phrasing, and to have some nice voice leading, I played...

enter image description here

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Okay, so apparently the entire passage except for the C Major chords is in C Dorian.

Updated version of this part:

C - Bb - Am7(b5) - F - Eb/Bb - - F/A - Bb - Cm/G - - Bb/F - Gm - C

In relative notation:

I - bVII - vi7(b5) - IV - bIII - - IV - bVII - i - - bVII - v - I

The IV and the newly-added vi7(b5) indicate that it’s in Dorian and not Minor.

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