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I am playing guitar for some years now, mostly self-taught. I had never studied that much of music theory, but now as I want to improve my improvisation skill and want to get a broader view I started learning music theory. One of the first things I learnt is that certain chords match naturally, and these could be read off from the circle of fiths, for example in C major common chords around the key are C, G, F, d, a, e. Most songs I looked at indeed just use chords which lie near its key in the circle of fifths.

Now I started to take a closer look at the famous "Sultans of Swing" by Dire Straits. According to wikipedia it is in the key of d minor, and the chord progression basically is

d C Bb A

in the verse and

F C Bb D (+C Bb in short sequence at the end).

in the chorus.

But when I look at the circle of fifth the A major chords is quite far from the d minor, almost on the opposite side of the circle of fifth. I am wondering, this contradicts the theory (at least what I have read about it), but it still sound greats?

Is there an explanation of this phenomen. As I said I still started with my studies in musical theory, so maybe I got something wrong about chords and the circle of fifth, but when I look at my resources they almost always say something like the chords nearest to a key fit the best?

  • Your D in the chorus should be d. – TonyK Nov 14 '16 at 0:39
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The A major chord is the dominant chord (V) of D minor. The chord leads very well back to the Dm chord because of the use of the leading tone (C#) and it's very typical to use in a minor key even thought it's not in the natural minor scale (it is however found in the harmonic and melodic minor scales).

There are many questions that go into more detail about this including:

Understanding minor key harmony

Why are the harmonic and melodic minor scales called what they are?

Is Emajor the dominant chord in the key of A minor?

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If I remember my circle of fifths, the relative major key of D Minor is F Major, which has an A major chord in that key, so it makes sense that it fits with the rest of the song.

Also if I remember correctly, the exact opposite key on the circle of fifths is that key's relative major/minor, so that's likely why it is on the opposite side.

You are correct in saying that modulating to the next nearest key generally sounds best, but remember this is all in the eye of the beholder and good music is subjective too!

  • In what sense has an F major and A major chord in it? The notes of an F major chord are f,a,c, those of an A major are a cis,e, which for me seem t be quite different? – StefanH Sep 22 '15 at 15:54
  • @Stefan sorry I mean the key of F Major has the notes F, G, A, B♭, C, D, and E so therefore it has an A Major chord if you are playing in that key. – Jamie Brace Sep 22 '15 at 15:56
  • But where is the cis from the A major? I see just a c, so still It is not clear to me in what sense we have an A major chord in these notes? – StefanH Sep 22 '15 at 15:57
  • if you're playing an A Major chord in open position on the guitar, you will be playing the notes A, E, A, C#, E. When playing the harmonic minor, you raise the C to C# – Jamie Brace Sep 22 '15 at 16:06
  • Ah, guess I know what is it about, it has to do with the harmonic minor scale. Just to note because I think you have a different drawing of the circle of fifth in your mind: When I speak about opposite side I refer to pictures like the one here on wikipedia: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Circle_of_fifths Here F major and d minor are not on opposite sides, they are at the same point (major are outside of the circle and minors are inside), but you wrote the F major is opposite, but in the linked picture it is not, exactly opposite to d minor/F major is gis minor/B major. – StefanH Sep 22 '15 at 16:09
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The chord sequence d, C, B♭, A has an interpretation as the "Andalusian Cadence" (although it's not really a cadence as such.) It can be read as ⅰ, Ⅶ, Ⅵ, Ⅴ in a minor key or as ⅳ, Ⅲ, Ⅱ, Ⅰ in a major or ⅵ, Ⅴ, Ⅳ, Ⅲ in another key. This pattern is common in Flamenco and some other Spanish style music. There is a Wikipedia page for it.

Among the popular songs using this pattern are "Hit the Road Jack," "Good Vibrations," and "Runaway."

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