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I tried to learn Wake me up when September Ends as arranged for Solo guitar by Ulli Bögershausen, and played by Sungha Jung. When I looked up the tabs, I found two different version for a distinctive chord movement at the end of the verse, namely where the lyrics go "[...] when september ends [...]". According to some sheet music, its played over an Cm, following a C major chord.

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As you can see the phrase "Wake me up" is sung over an C major, but then it switches to a Cm, hence has a d# note, but a d note is sung in the melody. This gives a very special sound, but why does this work out, when according to music theory and the circle of fifths C major and C minor are not close to each other, hence should sound dissonant and unpleasant (even more so with the d versus the d# note)?

In the original the guitar plays:

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Somehow surprisingly for the Solo guitar version, I found two version. The one I most often found is

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Here in the last measure a D# is played as lowest note, and a G# in the bass, and in the melody an a note sounds, so deviates from the original. Another transciption is

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Here no d# note, but a g# note is played. Maybe this seems to be the sole reason for the sharp sound.

This all works out, and it is difficult to hear the difference when you listen to one piece, I can only hear it when I play both and compare, but then it also sound quite similar. Despite it being very different. So why does it work out, in such different transcriptions? And why does this "musical move" works out in general? Is there anything behind it that could explain this...

The sources of the various tabs and sheets:

Transcription, 1st version

Transcription, 2nd version

Sheet music

Guitar tab of original song

Also, this guy seems to play the first version, whereas this guy seems to play the second version, but both sound right.

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    In the key of C minor, there is no D# - we call it Eb. Also, if the part with the "G#" is still in C minor, that would be an Ab instead. – Todd Wilcox May 22 '18 at 13:27
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    C minor will never have D#, it'll always be named Eb. – Tim May 22 '18 at 13:28
  • Okay, thanks for pointing out. But despite the wrong naming, the question still remains... – StefanH May 22 '18 at 13:38
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    I'm confused. Are the sections of the question that are highlighted quotes of someone else's writing or are they your words and do they contain your question(s)? Normally that formatting is used for block quotes to indicate that you are quoting someone else. – Todd Wilcox May 22 '18 at 13:53
  • @ToddWilcox Yes, maybe not the best choice, I just wanted to highlight my questions that way. I am going to remove the quotation marks. – StefanH May 22 '18 at 14:09
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As you can see the phrase "Wake me up" is sung over an C major, but then it switches to a Cm

As ggcg said, IV-iv-I is a very common cadence. It feels right because of the chromatic approach E-Eb-D (in G major key).

hence has a d# note, but a d note is sung in the melody.

This would sound dissonant, but by the time he sings D, only C and G are played in the guitar, witch disguises it a little bit. When he plays Eb in the guitar, he sings C then G, witch are consonant. But even if he didn't, a brief dissonance does not necessarily sound strange, as he resolves immediately to C after D.

This gives a very special sound, but why does this work out, when according to music theory and the circle of fifths C major and C minor are not close to each other,

The circle of fifths is primarily a relation between keys, not chords. He does not modulate from C major to C minor (witch would be valid too) because the whole song is in G major. The circle of fifths is just shows you a few modulations that sound good, but definitely they are not the only ones.

About the other versions, with G# (Ab), I never heard them before, but I imagine they would work and kind of feel the same because Ab would be as well a chromatic approach to G.

So why does it work out, in such different transcriptions?

So the final answer is: they work out because they use consistent cadences, and the melody does not conflict directly with the chords (or the conflict happens very briefly), so they feel natural, while not dissonant. IV-iv-I is a known cadence, that uses a borrowed chord (iv) and chromatic approach (E-Eb-D). The other versions use different cadences that also feature chromatic approach (Ab-G). The first would be more like VIbmaj7-IIb-I, with borrowed chord + Sub V, and the last one would perhaps be a IV-VIIb-I, where VIIb is a borrowed chord, and the Ab (witch I didn't think as part of the chords) could be just a bridge between melody notes, as in G-Ab-A-B.

You can Google all these terms I used to figure out what they are exactly and why they work.

  • Very good! I'm glad someone mentioned the chromatic approach. – The Chaz 2.0 May 22 '18 at 21:04
  • You mean in the chromatic approach E-Eb-D the D that comes in the melody? But where is the E from where this approach starts? – StefanH May 22 '18 at 22:30
  • The E is in the scale, and in the diatonic C major chord. – The Chaz 2.0 May 23 '18 at 12:49
  • Sorry if I was unclear. The approach in the first example occurs in the higher notes of the guitar. E is the third from C major chord, Eb is the third from C minor and D is the fifth from G major. – coconochao May 23 '18 at 13:03
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First off you are not in the key of C maj. Based on the sheet music you are in G maj (note the F#). C is the fourth of G and a common resolution is IV -> iv (IV minor) -> I. I am not familiar with the song but whenever I see (hear) this device I immediately gravitate to this type of resolution. This answer may not completely "resolve" you confusion as you are focusing on the key in a strict sense and we are usually taught to go IV->V7->I to resolve. I'd add that music theory is not like physics, the rules can be broken if they sound good. Another explanation could be that the composer just wanted an abrupt change. But the sound of the major third over the minor in the chord is typical of "blues" (not necessarily explained by western music theory), and coupled to the fact that this is the fourth of the key creates the longing for resolution.

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    Indeed, that's a common cadence. "Don't Look Back in Anger" by Oasis, "Creep" by Radiohead, and several by the Beatles use it. – The Chaz 2.0 May 22 '18 at 19:50
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The main melody starts with a 'dissonance'. In G, first note is A, producing a sort of sus sound, which resolves to the maj.3, B.

In the part you question, the same idea happens, where on a Cmaj. chord, there's a D note. Again a sort of sus. Next bar, the D appears again, but over Cm. Again a sort of sus. All the notes in that bar fit to either Cmaj. or Cmin.

The original version uses C>Cm each time, but for a change, it could stay on the C. Although I can't think why it would, or even would need to.

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