I came up with a chord progression the other day:

Fm7 Ebmaj7 Abmaj7 G7

It's clearly in C minor. But instead of resolving to Cm, I was looping through it. What catched my attention was that it sounded in C minor, despite not containing any C chords, and it didn't sound modal to me. And I couldn't remember any songs (at least popular ones) that sound in a key but don't contain the tonic. All examples I could think of were actually modal.

So, is there a name for this? Is it common?

  • 1
    This happens in the Fleetwood Mac song "Dreams" - it sounds to be in C, but only really contains the chords F and G. "Get Lucky" by Daft Punk et al. does this too - it is arguably in A major without containing an A chord (though it could also be argued to be in F#m, which it does contain). I don't know if it has a name though. There's an interesting discussion about it on r/musictheory, here. Commented Jul 26, 2018 at 15:15
  • "Jane Says" has a similar 4, 5 progression. Commented Jul 26, 2018 at 15:40
  • 1
    It's quite possible that this chord progression actually sounds like it's in F minor or E flat major to me (especially depending on which chord you emphasize). Don't expect universal agreement that this chord progression is in C minor.
    – Dekkadeci
    Commented Jul 27, 2018 at 0:25
  • So does the popular 16th-century English song "The woods so wilde" - used as a theme for variations by several composers of the period. Most of the harmony is F, G, F, G, etc! Move along here - nothing new to see... ;)
    – user19146
    Commented Jul 27, 2018 at 0:49
  • G7 don't fit c minor. Commented Jul 27, 2018 at 6:48

2 Answers 2


I assume you're looping this chord progression?

If so, note that Fm7 always follows your G7. In other words, your progression always moves V7–iv7.

This is actually a pretty common occurrence in popular music, especially rock. The music theorist David Temperley published an article called "The Cadential IV in Rock" wherein, among other things, he discusses the deceptive IV. (Note: some people on here will hate that I just gave a term for this, but you did ask...)

Basically, the "deceptive IV" is the appearance of a IV chord at a cadence where one would typically expect to hear tonic. In your progression, every time you play a V7 (which we expect to go to tonic), you resolve it deceptively to iv7.

One of the reasons this progression works is because the tonic pitch is included in the IV. And in your cause, two members of the tonic chord—C and E♭—are included in the Fm7.

Usually the progression will eventually find its way to tonic at some point, but yours doesn't yet, and that's fine. As you say, it still clearly creates a sense of C minor. Whether the progression ever actually reaches C minor is up to what you're trying to do with the piece you're writing.

  • Take a journey to the end of your song. If it needs to fade out, it can just do that, and no-one will be any the wiser. If you had to put a finish on it, that listeners would be left in no question as to 'that is the end', what chord would you use..?
    – Tim
    Commented Jul 26, 2018 at 16:01
  • @Tim C maj/7 so it ain't obviously c minor. Sure 3 chords are from c minor but the strongest chord is the dominant, that dominant arguably gives the most resolve to its diatonic key's root which in this case is c major. Commented Jul 27, 2018 at 10:36
  • @marshalcraft - I don't want to spar with you, but, honestly, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. A lot of what you state is inaccurate, and doesn't stand up to scrutiny. G7 is part of C minor, so it does not have to resolve to C maj. or Cmaj7. Many works in Cm have the perfect cadence of G(7) > Cm. It mightend on C maj., , if there's a tierce de Picardie.
    – Tim
    Commented Jul 27, 2018 at 10:45
  • I just answered your question which chord would give most clear ending. If it is wrong what is the answer then so I can hear it myself? If you don't mind. Commented Jul 27, 2018 at 10:59
  • Also it not a little knowledge, it worked out over years that nobody tells me. There are literally a million videos on YouTube about modes etc. None on the "wrong" stuff I say. No music teacher no YouTube videos. That is how I make sense of it cause stuff that is commonly taught don't make sense. I just look at it and say look you already have a lot of notes common to c major and c minor. Now with the c major V chord G7, that is really strong c major. But also I think C major is such strong key thanks maybe to piano, can never forget it. So what way to end then on c maj. Commented Jul 27, 2018 at 11:06

One way to establish a key is to state its tonic chord (for long enough that it doesn't seem to be just a passing chord). But, as you've shown, that isn't necessary. So how does your loop of four chords manage to suggest C minor?

  • every pitch in every one of your chords is in the scale of C minor (both B flat and B natural count here)
  • every one of the 7 pitches in that scale that accord with the 3-flat key signature is in at least one of your chords; what's more, crucially, so is the leading note B natural, in the dominant 7th chord

So you establish C minor not by a particular chord but by unambiguously indicating the C minor scale.

Here's a piece which shows the same phenomenon on a larger scale. It's the Prelude op 11 no 9 by Scriabin/Skryabin. It's in E, but we don't really get a chord of E until the very end. Note that there is a hint of a chord of E in the 3rd beat, but it's only in first inversion on a weak beat, and anyway, the C# that comes next suggests that the chord was c# min7 anyway, not E. For me, what clinches that the piece is in E are the ii7-V7 (f#min7-B7) imperfect cadences in b.4 and b.8. Given what pitches have been played so far, what else could the key be but E major? and we have dominant sevenths, even though they don't resolve onto the tonic.

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