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I find when playing in a minor key I always end up playing the major version of the V chord. (So in Em I always end up playing a "B major" chord.)

However, the third of this chord should be played as a minor when looking at the key and it seems like using an accidental as frequently as I do is not really in the spirit of accidentals.

Am I making a mistake in my music theory? Am I playing the key I think I am? Is this just a mode? Do I need to start playing more B minors?

Please bear in mind I am relatively new to music theory and would appreciate it if you treat me like an idiot. Thanks.

2

Two points.

First: the scale of a key or mode is a framework. It doesn't instruct you NOT to use other notes. A piece of music that used ONLY diatonic (in the scale) notes and chords would be very basic and possibly very boring (although there's also beauty in simplicity).

Second: in traditional harmony the dominant chord of both a major or minor key is normally major. If we're writing the sort of music that deals in dominant > tonic relationships (and that's the bulk of Western music for the last few hundred years) the dominant chord NEEDS to tend toward the tonic chord. A large part of that tension comes from it including the 'leading note', the note a semitone below the tonic.

We don't HAVE to use major dominant chords. But we don't have to reject then either. You're doing nothing 'wrong' by sharpening that 7th into a leading note. Equally, you're doing nothing 'wrong' by investigating the sound of a minor dominant chord.

"Theory describes, it does not command".

  • Small point. Sharpen a leading note (penultimate para.) and you're up to the octave. I'm feeling pedantic today! – Tim Aug 13 '17 at 15:01
  • Modified accordingly! – Laurence Payne Aug 13 '17 at 15:18
  • "Theory describes, it does not command" - awesome. Who said that? You? If so, you are a indeed a musical sage. (And it's not only applicable to music - it's applicable to everything.) – Stinkfoot Aug 13 '17 at 23:17
  • I don't know if I can claim copyright! But it constantly needs saying. Here's the long version: "Show me a song, I'll find a theoretical justification for its chord sequence. It might be simply 'use the chords within the scale'. It might need 'secondary dominants' to explain some out-of-scale notes. If that fails, we might have to 'borrow' chords from a related key or mode. Or maybe we'll have to invoke 'planing' which can neatly allow any chord chromatically adjacent to a 'permitted' one. Whatever. But rest assured, whatever you show me, I'll find some 'theory' to explain it." – Laurence Payne Aug 14 '17 at 10:49
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Although the D in the scale of B will be natural in the key signature, it will often be sharpened when leading to the key note E. Think of the melodic minor scale for E. D will be sharpened on the way up but natural on the way down.

So, if your chord is to resolve to the tonic E, the sharpened D will work nicely. You might find that a B minor chord works well if it goes somewhere else next.

  • So I'm not using the key incorrectly? I was mainly confused about whether or not I was actually IN a minor key or something else entirely.Does melodic minor result in using accidental symbols on the way down? – Douglas Aug 13 '17 at 10:12
  • I don't think that you are using it incorrectly. Look at some minor key melodies and you will see the 6th and 7th notes are often sharpened. If you insisted on your V chord being minor, you would sometimes get a nasty clash with the melody. Accidental symbols on the way down will be less common unless they are just undoing a previous sharpening accidental earlier in the same bar. Note that when I say a "sharpening accidental", this is not necessarily a sharp sign, it could be a natural cancelling a flat in the key signature. – badjohn Aug 13 '17 at 10:23
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Say we play in Em (relative major is G, one sharp). The V chord of Em should be Bm (B D F#). Although playing B major adds a sharp to D it is not considered as an "error" since it can naturaly lead to Em. It's clearer if you play B7 (B D# F# A) as it's the dominant chord of Em.

Sometimes the II chord of the major scale (Am in G) can also be played as a II7 to lead to the V chord. Even the I of the minor scale can be «dominant»-ized.

Try to play those progressions:

  • G Bm Em Em Am D7 G G (nothing special)
  • G B7 Em Em Am D7 G G (B7 leads to Em in a strong way)
  • G B7 Em E7 Am D7 G G (same with E7 to Am)
  • G B7 Em E7 A7 D7 G G (same with A7 to D7)
1

Yes, you are making a mistake in the theory you know. Each major key sig. has a relative minor to go with it - C- Am: G- Em; Bb- Gm etc. Whilst the majors adhere exactly to the # or b in their key sig., minors cannot and do not.

That's because the notes that make up the minor scales vary in their 6th and 7th notes. It's the way they are. Take A minor. 6th note can be F or F#, 7th can be G or G#. In your scenario, E minor can have C or C#, and D or D#.

The D/D# anomaly makes the chord based on B either B minor or B major respectively. Both are quite acceptable, and both are used. The B major, as you find by using it and it sounds good to you, uses the leading note of D# to sound more decisive going into E minor, but there's nothing in the theory that says we must use that, or we must use B minor. Whatever fits better is what we should use. Please don't use theory as a set of rules. It's more a set of guidelines. Usual adage - if it sounds good, it usually is - whether the 'rules' get broken or not!

0

One way to look at things is that, for music in a minor key, the chord on scale step 5 is minor (Gm in the key of Cm). In a cadence, scale step is usually raised to be a half step below the tonic (scale step 8). In non-cadential passages, often the minor chord on the 5th step is used. For example, in a cycle of fifths, one might have (in the major): I,IV,vii0,iii,vi,ii,V,I etc. In a minor key, an ending cycle might look like: i,iv,VII,III,VI,ii0,V,i. However if the passage contains two cycles one often gets: i,iv,VII,III,VI,ii0,v,i,VII,III,VI,ii0,V,i. The "interior" part of the passage is just a string of chords, not a cadence. Of course, this treatment is optional and neither is incorrect; they are just different.

A similar example occurs in sequence decent by thirds (Pachelbel canon for one example). In a major key: I,V,vi,iii,IV,I6,ii6,V (where the descending bass turns around for the last two chords, not the only choice.) In minor keys the following is often found, i,v,VI,III,iv,i6,ii06,V in a cadential context; the last chord can be v if not meant cadentially.

As an aside: this sequence is very flexible. In a minor key, the chords on the scale step 5 can be either major or minor; the iii chord can be a I64 (not really cadential or arpeggiated); the ii0 chord can be iv; the ii chord can be IV; the ii or ii0 chords can be in root position; and lastly the final V (or v) chord can be a vii06 leading to a I (or i) chord which can give a bass line that descends an octave.

  • From the question, it's doubtful that the OP understands I64, and I don't understand viio6. – Tim Aug 13 '17 at 16:43
  • Just to explain as I don't know about this site's editor: I64 would be tonic chord with the fifth scale step in the base: in C-major this would be G-C-E or G-E-C reading upward. The symbol vii06 is a diminished 7th with base note on the second scale degree. (I've written a half-diminished seventh as I didn't know if special symbols would appear here). In C-major this would be D-F-A-B. Note that using this chord allows one to add chords to a descending scale that spans an octave. While one may not always have 8 or 9 noted bass lines; shorter ones can be lifted from such a construction. – ttw Aug 13 '17 at 19:08
  • There's a reference in the following link. dmitri.mycpanel.princeton.edu/files/pdfs/MUS106handouts.pdf – ttw Aug 13 '17 at 19:22

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