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So two of my friends are learning a song on guitar:

The song begins with an instrumental intro and kick right into the chorus with vocals. The chorus, which is sung and played twice, is the main issue.

One friend (A) hears: Amin, Fmaj, Dmin, Amin, Fmaj, Dmin, Gmaj, Emaj, then this progression repeats

Second Friend (B) hears: Amin, Fmaj, Gmaj, Cmaj, Amin, Fmaj, Gmaj, Emaj, then repeat.

They both sound right to me, oddly, so I suggested loading the song into Riffstation, a popular program that calculated the chords for songs. And see what it would give. The results were from Riffstation:

Amin, Fmaj, Gmaj, Cmaj, Amin, Fmaj, Gmaj, Cmaj. which is also slightly different from both.

My questions are why do both of their progressions sound correct, is it a play on the ear? or can this be explained using theory? Also, what is the true progression for the chorus.

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    I hear it as Am F G C Am F Dm E, going more from the bass line than anything, although it's useful to determine whether a chord is maj or min, and tricky to decide between maj and relative min. The sequence is a fairly common one. Either works for the song, but technicalities come into play, as in bar 8 is probably E, the V of Am. – Tim Sep 22 '16 at 8:47
  • Are all these chords being played w/o inversion, and w/o any 7ths or other added notes? Your friends may be hearing 2 or 3 pitches and "filling in" their preferred pitch to build the chord they expect. I don't know how Riffstation works, so am suggesting you try doing a pure FFT to see what peak frequencies show up (if Riffstation doesn't do that) – Carl Witthoft Sep 22 '16 at 11:56
  • I'm with @Tim, simply listen to the bass line! (Along with some filling in by listening to the rest of the band of course). You don't need Riffstation. It is unequivocally Am F G C Am F Dm E. – Johannes Sep 22 '16 at 13:49
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So, Dm and G are confused, Am and F,also Am and C. I think a clearer listen is in order. Of course, any of these chords COULD fit, possibly in different orders, but the poser is why.

The answer may be shared notes, with C and Am, there's common C and E. With F and Am there's A and C. Dm aganst G is trickier, but if it was G7, a common V chord in the key, there's D and F.

When there is more than one player, each may not be playing all the notes from a chord, and often the bass player, especially in stuff like this, will be putting down the root note each bar. That's my go-to for working out chord sequences, and it usually works. There are occasional chords - like Em and Cmaj7, which are very similar in make up, so the bass note will define them. Each of the queries involves a choice between a major or minor chord. Just being able to hear the difference will sort that out.

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To answer the 'why' in the main question, this phenomenon has to do with tone relationships in the respective scales in classical theory.

The best example is where you equate Am & C above... A natural minor and C major are essentially the same scale with a different tonic - there are no sharp or flat tones in either. So, the C triad - C, E, G - contains the 3 & 5 of the Am triad - A, C, E.

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They are both hearing it imperfectly. Very likely they are both mixing what they DO hear and what their grasp of theory suggests as a possibility. (It's quite hard to 'hear' a chord that is beyond your 'theory' horizon. For instance, if you only know major and minor triads, a dim7 or a dom7(b9) is likely to confound you.)

Yes, there will usually be several equally possible chord sequences that fit the same song.

And although Riffstation can be a useful resource, it is by no means authoritative!

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