I'm new to music theory and am self teaching so I apologise if this has already been asked but I'd be extremely grateful if you could point me in the right direction.

I'm trying to learn the best way to memorise songs so I don't need to rely on reading chords while playing.

I've read that, instead of memorising the chords of the song, it's best to know the key and pitch sequence. Source: https://www.musical-u.com/learn/how-do-guitarists-memorize-songs-to-play-is-this-part-of-ear-training/.

I had written down the chords to The Beatles' song Anna which is in key of D. So I now have this pitch sequence:

I) D, ii) Em, iii) F#m, IV) G, V) A, vi) Bm, vii°) C#dim

Instead of writing "D Bm D Bm" for the first 4 bars of the intro, I'm referring to the sequence and am now writing "I vi I vi".

I was doing this for rest of the song until I hit a problem in the chorus. In bars 11 and 12 of the chorus, there is a transition from G to Gm. G is the IV pitch but Gm is not in the key of D so I'm now confused hence my question.

I've written Gm because a highly rated transcribed tab suggests that is the correct chord. Source: https://tabs.ultimate-guitar.com/tab/the_beatles/anna_chords_1089331.

Is the tab wrong even though it's highly rated? Is it not Gm but instead one of the pitches in the key of D? Can a song contain pitches outside of its intended key? If so, aren't those pitches out of key so they will always sound bad in relation to the pitches inside the key?

Many thanks in advance for any help you can provide.

  • There is 100% is a duplicate to this question on this site. We really need start cleaning up and properly linking questions so we don't answer the same questions over and over.
    – Dom
    Jan 1, 2018 at 21:21

2 Answers 2


Current western music theory and, particularly, standard notation is based around an initial presumption that all pieces of music ae based on the diatonic (7-note) scale, with an openness to the idea that they can go outside that and use any note of the chromatic (12-note) scale.

When you're learning music theory, this can be a little unhelpful - you learn things one way, then you have to learn that there are a whole bunch of exceptions. But that's the way it (currently) is, for better or worse!

If you want to continue thinking in traditional theory terms*, the thing is to find a way to understand why the piece has gone outside the key. Some ways of thinking about this are:

  • that the piece has temporarily modulated to another key
  • that a chord is being borrowed from another key
  • To consider the pitch just a passing 'in-between' melodic note, or a note that's from 'another form' of the scale (e.g. from the 'melodic' minor).

Here are some other questions that touch on the same area:

How to interpret notes outside of the key signature?

Is it considered borrowing chords when you're using chord notes that are not in the song's parallel key or mode?

How come songs in a certain key play notes not in that key

Can a song in one key contain major chords that are not in the key? Or does that change the key?

*Just to give you another perspective, I don't personally worry too much about what key a piece is in, nor do I pay too much attention to the '7-note scale' system or the habit of naming notes from A to G - I just don't find any of that helpful; I much prefer to think of Western music as being based around the chromatic scale in the first place. I'm not recommending that you become a 'deviant' like me, but just saying this to highlilght that the current conventional way of thinking about what notes and chords are called is only one possible way. Note that there are other areas of music theory that also do this conventionally - e.g. when thinking of notes as belonging to pitch classes.

  • 1
    Currently doing a lot of playing with musos I don't work with often, the basic key of a piece we're all going to play is probably the most important bit of information we all need before we even start. That and the time sig./feel/tempo. So worrying about the key is rather opposite to your standpoint. If I don't have that info., it's up to me to establish it pretty quickly, otherwise I might as well give up playing in that piece. I hear others who haven't this crucial info - they're all over the place, to the detriment of all !
    – Tim
    Jan 2, 2018 at 7:29
  • @Tim yes, using common terminology is important for communication! The only two musical activities i do these days are making noises on my own , and playing in a band where we basically always play covers in the recorded key... So no need in either case to actually talk about the key. Jan 2, 2018 at 9:11
  • @Tim, If you intend to improvise freely, you need a very firm framework of restrictions! 'Composed' music can have a lot more freedom. This may seem like a paradox...
    – Laurence
    Jan 2, 2018 at 18:15
  • @LaurencePayne - Improvise freely has many connotations. I've tried to listen to some free improvs - and they might as well have been done by beginners. Unless, of course, I'm just not intelligent , gifted, musical enough to understand...
    – Tim
    Jan 2, 2018 at 18:33
  • @topomorto I've marked this answer as most helpful (Tim's answer was also helpful). I like your sympathy towards music theory newbies. It's difficult for a newbie to understand "anything goes" because the direct response to that is "OK, so where do I start?". I prefer a bit of structure and choosing a single key is a good starting point when writing or transcribing a song. You've helped me understand that I can expect most (or all) chords in a song to share the same key but other chords can be borrowed from the chromatic scale. I'd upvote both answers but don't have enough rep. Thanks! Jan 6, 2018 at 19:45

This crops up too often. Diatonic chords - those formed from notes specifically within a key - are those used most, and there's a sort of theory going round that says other chords are taboo. Not so. The next theory says that chords from the parallel key are also useable! So, instead of thinking purely D, think Dm.

That gives another set of chords - and bingo - there is Gm, ready to use.

However, the main, main point is that the chart in question is fine, and more to the point is that those chords work and sound fine - the track sold, didn't it? So, the basic point is, if it sounds good, it probably is, and we're left searching for a reason to justify that. Why bother? Far too many musos and other similar persons seem to need to wrap themselves in 'is this safe to do?' syndrome. If one does something good, that's recognised as good, isn't that enough? If this sounds like a mini rant, then it's not far off !!

  • Thanks for your answer and especially for introducing me to the potential use of parallel keys. Just to clarify, I didn't intend to endorse a false theory; more so, I was questioning it. Thanks again. Jan 1, 2018 at 21:55
  • And the NEXT theory says that ALL other chords are also useable. When they have a close connection (like having several notes in common with the home scale, or being in the parallal key) they fit in very smoothly. When they are less 'connected' they are more colourful - and that's good too!
    – Laurence
    Jan 2, 2018 at 14:34
  • 1
    @LaurencePayne - so basically the 'theory' is anything goes. Reckon that's a good title for a song... I think what we're trying to do is establish 'patterns of use' more than anything.
    – Tim
    Jan 2, 2018 at 15:28
  • There are many ways to make music 'hang together'. One of them is to use smoothly-connected chords. Just one of them...
    – Laurence
    Jan 2, 2018 at 15:50

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