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I was playing "Point of No Return" from Phantom of the Opera by ear on my keyboard, transposed to a-minor, and noticed a beautiful chord progression that I don't think I've ever seen before: A major(during "glances") leading into F (during "the games we've played") (I apologize for my lack of knowledge of musical terminology, I know there was a better way to say that).

Is this a very rare progression? What other well-known songs (I am particularly interested in more contemporary non-classical music such as pop, broadway etc.) use it?

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    Context would make this easier to answer. What are the lyrics over the chords you're talking about? Without hearing the context, it's hard to say if F is the target of the progression or just one of the chords leading somewhere. – Chris Erwin Aug 10 '16 at 20:44
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It's not particularly rare in classical music. It's there called (by theory)a "chromatic mediant." The voice leading is smooth; one possibility would A->A, C#->C, and E->F. Of course, the progression will have to fit with the rest of the piece.

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I agree with Chris Erwin's comment that context would make this easier to answer, but if the chord progression is from an A major tonic to F major, it's just a motion to ♭VI. This third relationship (some call it a "chromatic mediant") became especially common in the nineteenth century. It works because you get to hold over the A into the F chord, though the F and C are both chromatic notes in A major (and each are only one half step away from the previous chord: C♯ moves to C♮, E moves to F).

The most over-the-top example I've ever encountered is in the finale to Bruckner's eighth symphony; it's even wilder later on, and it's a key component of the coda.

Though composers certainly used this progression earlier, the most famous early example is probably in Beethoven's ninth symphony.

Edit: Here's a more rambunctious recording of the "later on" section of the Bruckner, if anyone is interested.

  • I've updated my question with the lyrics. To put it in musical context it sounds like (transposed to C/a minor) Am,E,Am,A,F,G,C. In my experience, which is non-classical, if A appears at all in the C/a minor key, it's usually followed by d minor, not F – Jack Aug 11 '16 at 19:02
  • In that case, I would say the F chord plays two roles; it first appears as bVI in the key of A, but this same F chord can also function as IV in C. This is what's called a "common chord modulation" (also sometimes called a "pivot chord modulation"). Thus the F chord is being used as a sort of half-way house to connect an A tonic to the new tonic of C. – Richard Aug 11 '16 at 19:11
  • You're right that an A major chord in C usually functions as a dominant of D, but in this case the A major chord is still functioning as tonic (the first three chords you gave were just i--V--i in A minor). – Richard Aug 11 '16 at 19:12
  • Thank you so much for your comments. I think I get the general idea of it, but I'll have to do a little research to translate all of it to my amateurish level (I'm self-taught from playing by ear and don't understand much of the terminology beyond chord and key names). I didn't even know that A minor and C major are considered different keys - they're together so much in pop music, I always assumed they're basically the same! Speaking of which, if you know any non-classical examples of Am,A,F or the equivalent in a different key, they would be most appreciated. – Jack Aug 11 '16 at 20:01
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Nice change, isn't it? The note A is in common of course.

Not terribly unusual. Almost a cliche when decorating a final tonic chord as in this example.

Looking at the songbook copy of "Point of No Return" there's lots more to get your teeth into harmonically than a simple bVI triad! The first few bars feature polychords - one triad superimposed on another. "You have come here" is set to Gm, A over Fm (that's two triads, not a chord and a bass note), Fm over Ebm and then a plain Ebm. I challenge you to work THAT out by ear!

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    you are quite correct, I couldn't work out the beginning by ear, but that wasn't the part that I loved, it was later by "no backward glances, the games we've played till now are at end" - and later as it's repeated a few more times in the song. To put it in perspective, it seems to me to be Am,E,Am,A,F,G,C. In my non-classical experience, if A appears at all in the C major/A minor key, it's almost always followed by d minor, never F. – Jack Aug 11 '16 at 18:57

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