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Basically I am learning piano, so I was trying to play an Indian song 'Janam Janam' in the key of A minor. 2 chords are out of scale but they don't give a dissonant sound and melody. They are A sharp major and E major which don't belong to the A minor key.

Please help.

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    I guess it should be called Bb major instead. – Tim Feb 16 '16 at 16:19
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    In a tonal piece in A minor, E major is the dominant chord, and so is frequently used, even though the G sharp is not in the key signature. If this was a Schubert song, I would guess that the B-flat chord is used as a "Neapolitan sixth", a kind of funky added chord that leads to the dominant and creates an extra feeling of tension. Without knowing your song, though, I can't say how the chords are used. – musarithmia Feb 16 '16 at 16:37
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    In classical music of the 18th and 19th century, and in a lot of popular music, a key is just a center around which the rest of the harmony is oriented, a home base from which the harmony departs and then returns. You can go just about anywhere you want on that journey (sharps, flats, even moving temporarily to other keys), as long as you return home in the end to the main key. – musarithmia Feb 16 '16 at 16:39
  • One can define three versions of the minor scale (more info here). There is a G sharp if it is A minor harmonic. – Karlo Feb 28 at 12:46
  • I'm firmly of the belief that you can use absolutely any "guest" chord that you wish. This is doubly true if you are attempting to play songs from another musical zone on an instrument that was not intended for it. If it sounds good, do it. How would Blues have become accepted otherwise? It did not follow "the rules" – bigbadmouse Mar 15 at 12:00
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Basically the answer to your question boils down to the relationship between chords and scales, and what "makes" a given key major or minor. In the case of the A#maj, the root is out of key (translating to a sharped octave or flat 2nd, depending on enharmonic context) but the double sharp third and fifth translate to the fourth and sixth of the natural A minor scale, so depending on what chord it resolves to there wouldn't be a big dissonance. With the E major, the G# which defines the chord as major is part of the A HARMONIC minor scale (the natural minor scale with a raised 7th) which again depending on the resolution of the chord produces a very pleasing "minor key feel".

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    We could also introduce the concept of the b5 substitution for the dominant which basically allows any dominant seventh type chord to be replaced by one rooted a diminished 5th higher. But, above all, "out of scale" notes and chords are acceptable and commonplace, There is no set of notes or chords that are "allowed" in any given key. You can confirm this by glancing at the music copy of anything but the most simple song. – Laurence Payne Feb 16 '16 at 17:39
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It's very likely that the mode that Janam Janam uses is very much like the West's Phrygian mode, which features a flat second degree (B♭ in this case), which acts as an upper leading tone to the tonic. It would be common to set such a leading tone with ♭II (B♭ major in this case) or ♭vii6 (G minor in first inversion). It's also quite common with minor-like modes to sharp the melodic seventh degree to act as a lower leading tone to the tonic: that is almost invariably set with V (E major in this case).

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OK, let's look at the piece. This is a very simplified version I found online, transposed into A minor (or at least with a starting chord of A minor). But it seens to line up reasonably well with the recording.

enter image description here

(I was expecting something more 'Indian'. This could have been written by Michel Legrand!)

We're in A minor. We rapidly re-focus on C major (but the relative major is barely considered a modulation.) The Dm chord isn't surprising in an A minor/C major environment, and the E7 run back to Am is bog-standard. So it's just the B♭ chord that's a bit of a worry.

Well, it's got two notes in common with the preceding Dm chord. We could explain it as an alternative colour of that chord. What I DON'T think we can usefully do is force it into some sort of 'cycle of 5ths' dominant relationship to the E chord after it.

I take it we're OK with E7 being part of A minor now?

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"How can A minor have a sharp chord in it?"

A minor has a G♯. (Please note I am using the harmonic minor scale.)


We have a set of diatonic chords that belong to all keys. In A minor, we use the A minor scale, which is A - B - C - D - E - F - G♯ - A. Stack two generic thirds on top of each note. We get the results below:

  • Tonic (minor) Am (A-C-E)
  • Supertonic (diminished) Bdim (B-D-F)
  • Mediant (augmented) Caug (C-E-G♯)
  • Subdominant (minor) Dm (D-F-A)
  • Dominant (major) E (E-G♯-B)
  • Submediant (major) F (F-A-C)
  • Leading-tone (diminished) G♯dim (G♯-B-D)
  • Tonic (minor) Am (A-C-E)

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