I'm writing a song in C Aeolian/Dorian (the verses are in Aeolian and the chorus is in Dorian). And I came up with a weird chord progression for the end of my chorus:

Cm Eb F Bb7 C D

My question is why does the D sound right at the end? Usually, songs end with a tonic (I, vi, etc.), but the D here, as far as I can tell is a dominant of a dominant (V/V). It's the dominant of G which is the dominant of C. Just looking at this progression, it wouldn't seem like the ending would sound resolved, but when I play it, it sounds great. Can anyone explain the theory behind this?

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    I'm curious just how resolved this sounds for you. Does it sound like complete resolution, ie, no other chord in place of or following it would sound more resolved? Apr 11 '18 at 13:52
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    Also, what instrument are you playing this on? If guitar, are you just playing barre chords, or are you using traditional voice leading? Apr 11 '18 at 13:53
  • I'm playing it on the keyboard (I use inversions to make it move around less, and I don't play the 7 on the B, that's in the melody). As for how complete the resolution sounds, it sounds good for the end of a song, though it has a bit of mystery to it, like your waiting for something, but don't know what (not as in you know where it wants to go). Sorry, I don't really know how to describe it. I'm sure there are other chords that would make it sound more resolved.
    – C. Stucky
    Apr 11 '18 at 14:21
  • @DavidBowling: The F instead of Fm is because this is Dorian (not Aeolian). However, the C major is neither a Dorian nor an Aeolian chord which is probably why this question arose in the first place (I was writing in two modes and then used a chord that belonged in neither). This could very well be a modulation.
    – C. Stucky
    Apr 12 '18 at 14:35

Out of context, the progression seems to establish Bb major as a tonic, then plane up to D. It could continue further - try my first suggestion! Or we could return to functional harmony and resolve the D to Gm.

A lot of music is functional, all about dominants and tonics. A lot isn't. And a whole other lot is a mix. You can go mad trying to find a functional justification for an ending like Bb, C, D - but it's very popular! Just let it be 'planing' - the same chord shape shifting up or down in pitch. Semitone planes work as well, Bb, B, C is another popular ending (in the key of C). Don't sweat over justifing the Bb as a functional harmony - just accept it as 'two under C' so a good starting point for a plane ride up to C.

Take in the message of the first part of this answer, and the first musical example. Yes, it's possible to end satisfyingly on D. But it's JUST as satisfying to carry on up to E! In functional harmony, you KNOW when you're home. In this freer style, free from the tyrrany of the leading-note, there's a wider choice of resting points.

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  • In other words, the C chord is acting as a passing chord between the Bb and the D: dropbox.com/s/vgdcixdlymuvomb/Ending.PNG?dl=0 Did I understand that right? So it's more about what works than about theory, I guess.
    – C. Stucky
    Apr 11 '18 at 14:38
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    @C.Stucky I'd say that theory is there to guide you, and provide "warnings" about transitions that will sound good, strange, or just plain horrible :-) Apr 11 '18 at 16:02
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    I don't really see how this answer provides any sort of thought process as to why ending on the D sounds resolved. The philosophy of not needing to worry about naming every little thing in music theory terms is very valuable but it's not much of an answer to a theory question. Apr 11 '18 at 20:04
  • @C.Stucky Theory is essentially trying to describe what is happening and explain why it sounds good. The distinction I would make is not so much that the theory doesn't matter because it works but that some theory can't be used to describe everything. In this case, thinking of things in terms of Functional harmony, ie, dominants resolving to tonics, would not really provide the theory answer you're looking for. Apr 11 '18 at 20:12
  • So what would you do, @Basstickler? Tear the progression apart until you found some convoluted way to describe each chord as a dominant of the next? It could be done. I've seen people obsessed with functional harmony do it... Apr 12 '18 at 0:19

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