on this site It gives a chord progression in C major by default(C G Am F), and I'm interested in one of the "Alternatives" it offers for the progression: G,D,Em,C

the progression is also quoted in this article, explaining how that progression is fairly common.

my problem is that the D major is composed of D F# A, and F# should not be present because it's not in the key of C, so what am I missing?

Why can a progression involving D major be used as an alternative to a C major chord progression?

BTW the progression sounds horrible if I replace D with Dm ( using D F A ) that should be a chord in the key.

  • 2
    Think of it like this: C G Am F = I V VIm IV (in the key of C). ... G D Em C = I V VIm IV (in the key of G). The same chord progression in different keys. Commented Nov 6, 2014 at 0:16

5 Answers 5


You are missing the fact that you are looking at two different keys.

  • The chord progression (C G Am F) is in the key of C.
  • The chord progression (G D Em C) is in the key of G, which contains F#.

The first site you were looking at, shows you alternatives for a C major chord in different keys than C. (Maybe compare the third alternative when you are searching for a chord progression in the key of G and you will find the chords (C G Am F))

  • 1
    Thank you, you solve my dubt: note than in the signaled progression the site report the D chord as composed by D F A that actually is a Dm so maybe there is some bug. Commented Nov 5, 2014 at 10:45

As MartinK said, this alternative is simply the same chord sequence, modulated to another key.

What I'd still like to say: even in a given key, it may be possible to use notes which aren't in the key's standard scale. For instance, it's possible to substitute a D chord in another way into the original sequence:

C G D7/F♯ F

That would sound quite different from the original, but will probably still work with the song's melody. The F♯: makes for a chromatic bass descent here; such descents are found in numerous songs.

If you want to analyse it more closely: the occurence of a D chord in the key of C means you're "borrowing" the F♯ from the Lydian mode. (The standard major scale is Ionian mode.)

  • interesting point. As you guess I'm learning the basic theory and any info is precious. Commented Nov 5, 2014 at 14:26
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    Another case where a D major (or other seemingly "wrong" chords) might be used in the key of C major is to create a so-called "secondary dominant": music.stackexchange.com/questions/22057/… Commented Nov 5, 2014 at 23:29

If you were in C (ie it wasn't a key mixup as noted above), D Maj would be a Major II chord, which could be considered to be a secondary dominant of V. (D is the V of G). This would normally be seen more commonly as II7 with a C natural on top, but if you were playing only triadic harmony, it might be a simple D triad. It's commonmore in standards (ie musical theatre songs) where a II7 chord tonicizing V briefly is really common about three quarters of the way through a form before returning to the home key. It makes the song temporarily "pull up" a key and sound brigher, and is frequently seen after going through a modulation to IV ( which pulls the other way and sounds darker). You see II7s a lot in the last line of A sections in standards: II7 II7 IIm7 V7 or VIm7 II7 IIm7 V7

It's a great chord to play over! Good tunes to hear it in are "There Will Never Be Another You" and "All of Me". (But there are loads more too)


Thanks for the info everyone. A perfect song example of this is the rolling stones' "can't always get what you want". Key of C, chords are the 1 and 4 and then "but if you try sometimes" goes to Dmaj. So, it essentially changes key momentarily? I'm a self taught guitarist with minimal music theory knowledge, but I think this is a perfect song to use as example.

  • This doesn't seem to be exactly an answer. Can you edit it to reword it to address specifically what the question is about? Why does the D major chord work in "Can't Always Get What You Want"? Commented Jul 27, 2015 at 20:02

Broadly speaking there are two types of chord "progressions." There are progressions that stay in the key you're in, and there are progressions that span multiple keys. Studying music theory helps with this. It very easy to mix the two, and that's where the confusion sets in for someone who is unfamiliar with music theory.

  • not agree, being unfamiliar with music theory would just not ask at all Commented Nov 6, 2014 at 8:08
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    That's a good point, but really there are three. There are diatonic progressions: they stay completely in the home key. You would never sing something else naturally as the root. Then there are progressions that modulate, these actually change key long enough that you would sing a new note as the root, and some notes of the original home key scale would sound "wrong". And then there are diatonic progressions with borrowed chords (secondary dominants). We never hear a new root, but we briefly hear stronger pull to certain chords, which musicans call tonicization instead of modulation. Commented Nov 6, 2014 at 16:10

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