In the song 'Respect' by Aretha Franklin which is a fairly simple progression in Bb major the saxophone solo part of the song seems to make a key change to the key of Em. I don't understand why this works musically. Could anyone explain?

You can hear it around 1:10 in this video:

  • Do you mean Bb major, Bb minor, F major, or D minor?
    – Luke_0
    Commented Mar 13, 2012 at 0:45
  • 1
    Luke: Bb major - I clarified in the question above. Commented Mar 13, 2012 at 9:02
  • Video does not exist
    – Caleb
    Commented Sep 19, 2014 at 17:45
  • The version on youtube I listened to is in Cmaj.The original version, it said.
    – Tim
    Commented Sep 22, 2014 at 11:48

4 Answers 4


Consider how the key change is approached.

In Bb, the chord progression is just going from I to IV and back again, i.e. Bb - Eb - Bb - Eb.

The key change comes right off of one of those IV chords, so you get a movement from Eb to Eminor.

This sounds like a key change up half a step, which is rather common in this genre--this hides the fact that the tonic note is shifting by a diminished 5th (tritone).

  • 1
    In Bb the V chord is F not Eb, Eb is the IV so... Bb-Eb-Bb-Eb would be I-IV-I-IV in the key of Bb; or... Bb-Eb-Bb-Eb could be V-I-V-I in the key of Eb. In other words you've unfortunately gotten the intervallic relationship inverted... Bb => Eb (Bb, C, D, Eb) Eb is a 4th up in the key of "Bb"; inverted... Bb => Eb (Bb, Ab, G, F, Eb) Eb is a 5th down in the key of "Eb" (Bb interpreted as a V in Eb Vs. Eb as a IV in Bb). Furthermore... that E (Emin => A7) is the ii7 in a ii7-V7 of D (an unresolved ii-V is quite common) then C (V of F); Then that horn lick transition follows F, Eb, C, Bb, Ab, F Commented May 28, 2012 at 20:43
  • 1
    And of course... F is the actual V of Bb and you're back in Bb. While we never play the D chord, diatonically it would be dmin, the relative minor of Fmaj (once again... the V of Bb), consider the C chord as a "back cycled V7/V" (or a "secondary dominant") going to V7 (F7) back to I (Bb7) and we're back home. Commented May 28, 2012 at 20:52
  • I think @DavidAxtellMooreII is correct. The chord progression is I-IV-I-IV and the key change is to D (although this new tonic is never played). Commented May 28, 2012 at 23:00
  • Whoops! This was a typo on my part; I'm hearing it as I - IV - I - IV with the chord names I listed. (Kind of a shame it got so many upvotes with that mistake--edited.) I disagree, however, that the key change is to D. The saxophonist is clearly playing an E minor blues scale. Keep in mind that 'common practice' harmony fell out of fashion a hundred years ago--you can use traditional functional analysis to inform your analysis of pop music, but you do have to think outside the box to what is idiomatic in the genre.
    – NReilingh
    Commented May 29, 2012 at 0:50
  • I agree... the band is still playing emin7 => A7 regardless of what the sax player is doing though, E minor pentatonic is contained inside E dorian as well, the blue note (Bb) doesn't really need to be thought of as a functional b9 over the A... it's also perfectly acceptable to play E min. pent. over D min just as a superimposition (although... to go traditionally theoretical on you... the Bb would also be the diatonic b5 of a iimin7b5 in the key of Dminor... i.e. Emin7b5) but I agree with you... I wouldn't analyze it that way either. However, I really paid no attention to what the sax did... Commented May 29, 2012 at 2:24

The Emin7 is a ii (secondary function)... as Emin7 => A7 (the complete bridge changes are Emin7, A7, Emin7, F7) it infers Dmaj but never resolves (Dmaj could be a Chromatic Mediant, it has a common tone, is a Maj3rd away, and has chromatic resolutions, as Bb and D relate as keys).

Modulation through Chromatic Pivot Chords: 2.1 Diatonic/Chromatic; 2.2 Chromatic/Diatonic; 2.3 Chromatic/Chromatic. •These let you modulate to any key, no matter how distant. •Practice making up chord progressions that use each of these modulation types.

So, I'm changing my answer to it's some form of a Chromatic pivot chord, (the G natural is common from Eb to Emin7 everything else moves up a half step chromatically). For all intents and purposes I should point out that this is essentially what NReilingh is saying above... but there is a name for it.

The last chord of the bridge is F7, coming from the Emin7 it's 3 chromatic half steps and one whole step shift, but clearly the F7 is the V of Bb. (The horn lick is F minor pentatonic scale descending an octave from F to F; and F is of course the V of Bb.)

Thanks to NReilingh for getting me to take a second (longer look at that)... I think we all missed the correct chord changes in the verse the first time around.

(well... let's see how quick I'll need to edit this again :)

Oh... I'll add the Verse changes here as well for completeness... ||:F7=>Eb7:|| then ||:Bb=>Eb:|| then the bridge (take me to the bridge! huh!), but there is two different "chord vamps?" (V7=>IV7 and I7=>V7).

  • Just a comment about down voting: My opinion, and my interpretation of the faq, is that, when you find something is wrong or misleading, it's better to leave a comment (which you did :-) and thus give the author a chance to react and adjust before casting a down vote. It is very frustrating to get a down vote and receive no explanation of why, nor a chance to correct it. Everyone is (hopefully) doing the best they can to help but sometimes it ends up wrong - let's help each other solve those cases. Commented May 28, 2012 at 22:32
  • @ulf... Thanks for the clarification... I'm not going around looking for a chance to downvote or anything like that... I just felt that was significant enough a mistake that it really needed to be pointed out... Thanks again. Commented May 28, 2012 at 22:41
  • @DavidAxtellMooreII - I don't hear any 7th chords until I7. Where do you find the F7 and Eb7 ?
    – Tim
    Commented Sep 22, 2014 at 12:13

The 'original' version appears to be in Cmaj. Chords for verse being G and F. Thus V-IV, going to I. This puts the solo into F#m with B maj.,ending back on the G, straight into the next verse.The solo is using the blues scale of F#m, which could translate as F# Dorian or key of E.

There's no V chord that's found usually in a modulation, either into or out of the solo, so 'key change' rather than 'modulation'. Could easily have been recorded at a separate time, and just dropped in. C to F# (or Gb) is a tritone - both ways, so it's exactly half way round the octave, out and back. There doesn't need to be a musical theory reason for it: it's just as is. It works, although the first time it's heard would sound funny. However, best part of 50 yrs later, we've got used to it. Haven't heard the idea used much since, though.


Just my opinion.

Em is the same key as G. Changing from Bb to G (modulation down by 1.5 notes, or up from G to Bb) seems to be common in gospel music.

  • Also Gm is the relative minor of Bb - perhaps that has something to do with it? Do you know of any other examples of this kind of key change other songs? Commented Mar 13, 2012 at 23:13

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