Most sites list Bob Marley's "Three Little Birds" as being in the scale (EDIT: key!) of A Major.

  • The only chords in the song that I hear are: A Maj, D Maj & E Maj.
  • Both the chorus and verse centre around the A Maj chord, plus it feels to me like that is the root (i.e. any tension seems resolved when returning to the A note).

But I noticed that the vocal melody contains a G natural when Bob sings the word "be": (i.e. "every little thing gonna be alright"). Yet, the A Maj scale contains a G#, not a G natural doesn't it?

At the time this note is played, the chord underneath is a D Maj - which has a G natural in it - I believe I'm right in saying the only difference between the G Maj scale and D Maj scale is the G, so I'm wondering:

a) Is the song actually in the scale of D Maj, not A Maj?

b) Is the song in A Maj but with a vocal melody in D Maj? (if so, is this kind of thing common?)

c) Is this a modal thing (I vaguely remember reading about songs that temporarily borrow notes from another mode and I think this is the correct terminology)?

Thanks in advance.

EDIT: I incorrectly referred to the G Natural as a flattened G in the original post - hence the confusion in the replies.

  • 1
    The version I listened to is definitely in A, but look at the chart listed by b3ko. – Tim Jun 11 '18 at 16:04
  • 1
    A flat 7 in a major key is very common in popular music. being in a key =/= only using notes from 1 scale. The idea of "modal borrowing" is sometimes a useful one but it's important to emphasize that if you consider all music that steps outside the "scale" of a key as "exceptions", then 95% of all music falls in the category of "exceptions". It's for this reason you don't say a song is "in a scale" but "in a key", because a music rarely rigidly sticks to only notes from 1 scale. – Some_Guy Jun 15 '18 at 2:46
  • Thank you - I was using the terms interchangeably without even realising! – nwebb Jun 16 '18 at 11:03

Do you mean a natural G, and not a G Flat? I think you do. I think there is either a passing tone there, or even a brief passing chord of G major which would be borrowed chord, the flat VII.

EDIT: I found this on line...not sure how accurate it is but this was the basis of my answer:

enter image description here

  • I am interested. Well done, I missed that bit ! I think it could have been marked as Dsus4 as an alternative, but if Bob wrote that, then that's sacrosanct. Still not sure if the OP meant Gb or Gnat...most likely the latter! And, the bass on the track's not what's written! – Tim Jun 11 '18 at 15:29
  • @tim since i posted my answer i went and listened to the recording from Legend and i'm not sure I hear that, but not sure the OP did either as (s)he says "Most sites list " and "and I can see that" (this one could be figurative) and i'm wondering what they actually hear here. OP does mention hearing the tonic as being A. this was the first thing i found on the web in the key of A, so...that's what i went with. – b3ko Jun 11 '18 at 15:44
  • Thank you both very much, and apologies for the confusion. Yes, I was clumsily trying to relay that the scale of A Maj contains a G#, but when Bob sings "gonna be alright", the word "be" is sung as a G natural -- or " 'flattened' to a G natural" - obviously that's really confusing terminology! So thanks for bearing with me on that one :) P.S. I don't hear the G Maj chord either but have seen tablature suggesting there is one, too. – nwebb Jun 11 '18 at 18:00

Not 'In the SCALE' but 'In the KEY'. If you try to equate 'being in a key' with 'only using the diatonic notes of that key' you're going to get very confused.

At that point in the song the basic harmony, as laid down by the bass, is D major. (Look at the whole bar, not just the bass note than happens to come under the G.) There's a definite G major triad in the upper notes though. If you're in 'harmony class' mode, you could explain it as a double unprepared suspension into the D chord. But, in context, it's just a common blues/gospel lick.

You're dealing with blues-based music here. A b7 note or chord shouldn't be surprising you! How do you cope with a classic blues in A - using A7, D7 and E7? There's a structural G natural there from the outset (not to mention the likelihood of decorative 'blue' C naturals). But it doesn't stop it being 'in A'.

  • good points but like... chill out dude – Some_Guy Jun 15 '18 at 2:38
  • Thank you - I was using the two terms interchangeably without realising, and the clarifications from you and @Some_Guy have been really helpful. – nwebb Jun 16 '18 at 11:06

In key A major, there is F#. Bob sings that note frequently, usually over the D chord part of the song. Don't know where you found the idea the note was Gb, but its enharmonic of F# fits fine, so there is no problem here. Can only hear the 3 chords A, D and E.

  • i edited my answer with some more info to show why i answered with the passing chord, if you are interested. – b3ko Jun 11 '18 at 15:16
  • I edited my question to clear up the confusing terminology. Yes, sorry I did mean G nat. – nwebb Jun 11 '18 at 18:04

OP is right: The tonic is definitely A. Attempting to fit every single note played into a key isn't going to work here, as you have both the G♮ note on "Be" and the G♯ in the E major chords. The tonic is clearly heard as the note A, so I'd say this is just borrowing the note G from A mixolydian. Point is, Key is A major; G♮ is borrowed and has no effect on what key the song is in.

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