I was taking a look at the soundtrack for the Inception movie:"Time" by Hans Zimmer. Does anyone understand what kind of a weird progression he uses?

I tried everything from cadential to sequential but I can't seem to find an explanation.

The Track is in Gmajor/Eminor and the progression goes as follows: Amin-Emin-G-D

Check this for the score:https://analysemusic.files.wordpress.com/2015/03/musical-analysis-time-hans-zimmer-page-0012.jpg

Hans Zimmer started out in pop music so he just repeats this progression, the production is the best part though, take a listen if you haven't yet.

1 Answer 1


You list G major and E minor as possible tonics, but I'm going to go a different direction: I hear this in A! As such, with one sharp in the key signature, it's really more of an A Dorian. Thus the progression is i v VII IV.

(Perhaps the very ambiguity of tonic was intentional, considering what takes place in the movie and the title of the piece.)

The i moving to v is clear enough, I think; it's just tonic moving to dominant. The only odd part is that the v is minor, but this is standard in the Dorian mode.

The VII is really a dominant substitute in Dorian, so that chord makes sense as well. At that point, Zimmer just moves around the circle of fourths to get back to tonic: VII moves down a fourth (=up a fifth) to IV, which then moves down a fourth (up a fifth) to i.

Note that that's different from the typical circle of fifths which goes down a fifth (=up a fourth). This may be Zimmer's popular music influence, since the circle of descending fourths is very common in that repertoire.

Another, perhaps simpler, explanation is as two related perfect fifths: i moves to v, and that ascending fifth is moved down a second to create VII moving to IV.

We can extend this further theoretically, if we want to, by saying that the upper fifth is just an extension of the original chord. In other words, the v is just an extension of i, and IV is just an extension of VII, so we can reduce this progression to just i VII, which is a very common move.

  • Thanks, definetly the best explanation I've heard yet :)
    – user45165
    Feb 8, 2018 at 21:31
  • But it isn't an explanation, just a description.
    – Laurence
    Feb 8, 2018 at 21:42
  • 1
    Hate to be nit-picky here but the circle of 5ths goes “up” while the circle of 4ths goes “down”. Shapes of tetrachords and all that. Feb 9, 2018 at 11:40
  • is 'extension' another word for prolongation? Apr 2, 2018 at 3:19
  • and how do you 'hear' something in dorian? Apr 2, 2018 at 3:24

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