enter image description here

This piece (called Roundabouts) is from a book on how to play the piano. I thought it would be fun to analyse this piece but it seems to be very difficult.

It's in the key of C major and the two first bars is a C major chord with some NCT (non-chord tones). The third bar could be a D major chord or F major (but finding the chords may not the the right way of doing the analysis).

Is this way of analysing the piece even correct or helpful at all? How would you go about analysing this piece as music theorist and as a pianist who want to learn this piece?

  • I have edited the title and removed the extra question. Please limit your posts to single questions - that one on time signatures is covered already on this site.
    – Doktor Mayhem
    Commented May 28, 2016 at 23:01

4 Answers 4


As you said, all the notes "on the beats" in the first 2 bars belong to a C major chord, and the piece ends on a C major chord. So it's a reasonable assumption that the key is C major.

Before you can identify the "chord changes" you need to decide on the "harmonic rhythm", i.e. where the changes occur.

The first step towards that is finding where the cadences (at the ends of the phrases) are. There seem to be two 4-bar phrases. That would suggest some sort of cadence leading away from C at bar 4, and back to C at bar 8.

In bars 3 and 4, the notes on the strong beats are D E F G which suggests using a standard way to harmonize a scale ending on the dominant chord (G).

The second phrase, bars 4-8, again starts with two bars of C major chord, and the last bar looks like a perfect cadence G (or G7) C, taking the right hand C at the start of the bar as an unessential note. Copying the harmonic rhythm of the first phrase, you need two chords to harmonize bar 7.

Of course you could do something completely different - e.g. take bar 4 as a nearly-but-not-quite-Phrygian-mode cadence like B-half-diminished-7th-second-inversion E-minor, and then fit everything else around that idea (which would most likely not involve starting and ending on a C major chord) .....

But that's the difference between "getting an A grade in a Music Theory 101 exam by demonstrating that you know how to apply the conventional rules of common practice harmony and give what examiners expect to see as the right answer" and "being a composer." (Look at the first volumes of Bartok's "Mikrokosmos", for more examples of what I mean by that.)

  • Nice explanation - and I might even suggest the early volumes of Mikrokosmos as a great way to learn both piano and some interesting ideas on composition.
    – Old John
    Commented Jul 23, 2015 at 20:50

The second bar seems to me to still be built on C-E-G. 3.1 Seems to be Super Tonic chord while 3.2 seems to be Mediant chord. The cadence point in bar 4 seems to be Imperfect (Iv-V).

Bar 5 seems to be the tonic chord again. In bar 6 you see in the first pulse a D jumping to a G. This would indicate that both the G and D is chordal notes which would give me the idea of dominant. Second Pulse 2 of bar 6 seems to be Tonic again.

Bar seven seems to imitate bar three with the same chords and finally we end on what looks like a Perfect Cadence V (G-B-D going to I (C-E-G)


The key signature is 2/2 (cut time), because the tempo is fast and they'd like to emphasize the first and third quarter notes of each bar. The "feel" of the piece is in "2."

You're correct that the piece can be thought of in C major. Because the piece is only one line of melody in octaves, one can only perform a horizontal analysis in that you can't glean information from the vertical counterpoint of multiple tones.

One way of analyzing it would be to harmonize the melody and with different supporting triads. For instance, the first two bars sit very comfortably on top of a C major triad ("C-E-G" tonic in the key of C major). The first two beats of measure three ascend from D to F with an E passing tone. This could be thought of as the first and third of a D minor triad ("D-F-A" supertonic in the key of C major), but there are other acceptable harmonizations as well. For instance it could be harmonized with a G dominant 7 tetrad ("G-B-D-F" dominant in the key of C major), but that might give too strong of a yearning for tonic in the middle of the phrase.

All this is within the harmonic land of the key of C major. You could harmonize the piece in the relative minor of C major. By harmonizing the melody in A minor you wouldn't hear too much dissonance aside from the misplaced rhythmic stresses of C, which would be the less stable mediant in A minor as opposed to tonic in C major.

All of this being said, it's very likely that it should be interpreted in C major, because the final three note chord of the piece is "C-E-G."

  • why would harmonizing the piece in A minor make it less dissonant?
    – user20754
    Commented Jul 24, 2015 at 15:55
  • It wouldn't make it less dissonant compared to C major, but much less compared to say, F# major. The key of A natural minor and C major share all seven unique notes. The key of F# major only shares 2 of 7 notes with C major. There are only 7 unique notes in the whole piece and they happen to be the seven from the key of C major. Therefore C major and it's relative minor are good fits for a harmonization. Shifting keys on the circle of fifths gives the key of G major or F major that have 6 out of 7 notes in common, which could be very consonant. The farther you go the fewer common tones.
    – Art Cooper
    Commented Jul 24, 2015 at 17:10

It's in C Major, and the progression is basic I-V-I-IV-V-I (C-G-C-F-G-C). It's 2/2, because larger note values are easier to read and write. The tempo is fast, and to write in 4/4 would probably mean using 16ths instead if 8ths for most of this.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.