I'm not entirely sure if this question would be to broad. But say there is a chord progression in A minor. The key I have to play in would be A aeolian wich resolves to the following modes:

  • i A Aeolian (minor)
  • ii B Locrian (minor)
  • III C Ionian (major)
  • iv D Dorian (minor)
  • v E Phrygian (minor)
  • VI F Lydian (major)
  • VII G Mixolydian (major)

Now I know I can break the rules and play the relative major. Understandable because these are the same notes. From research I also saw I can play in the parallel key, which resolves to A major.

Am I limited to the notes in this scale or can I use more scales? I hear some people talking about taking notes from the Chromatic scale, but these contains all the notes from one note to another in the next octave. This doesn't make sense to me.

For an example I found a song by Pantera; Cowboys from Hell. This is tuned in Standard E. The notes, therefor chords of the intro riff are E, G, A, A#, B, D.

This fits in the D major key, as this site says when checking for the key.

However, when looking at this A# note. This is not in the D minor key. But is seen as the augmented 5th as the intervals. Can I still use this note in this key? How does this work? This note is however in the D minor key.

Also, when looking at the solo build up in the tablature below, there are a few notes that don't fit in the key or parralel key: A, D# and G#. Where do these notes come from?

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Can I use more scales belonging to D major? When can I use the harmonic minor scale as an example?

When checking for the scales in my guitar pro software. It says that the riff uses the Blues Minor Hexatonic scale. When can I use this? There are so much. Can't I just lookup scales which belong to this scale and play that?

  • 1
    Your software is silly and is over-complicating it: that’s just an E blues scale. Also ditch the software and learn how to build / identify scales yourself! It is a crutch! Last, you can do whatever you want; that said, you should impose limits on yourself for each piece in order to focus and foster creativity. Jul 29, 2018 at 10:56
  • I agree with jjmusicnotes. There is so much 'helpful' stuff out there that if we all relied on it, we'd expect it to wipe our noses too. Get into the real world, listen to what's happening, and react accordingly. DO NOT rely on Micky Mouse sites which are doing more harm than good: your question proves this! No-one's even been arrested for using a different set of notes for a tune than the 'theory' says. 'When can I use this?' Whenever you want. If people only went by the 'rules' we'd still be playing nursery rhymes on Penny whistles. And I know she does - I've heard her!
    – Tim
    Jul 29, 2018 at 11:18
  • Your first para. uses false premises. The key of A Aeolian does not resolve to any of the other modes/keys. The purpose of a key is having a home centre to which it gravitates. There cannot be any gravitation from A Aeolian to, say, D Dorian - their roots are different, even though they both use the exact same notes.
    – Tim
    Jul 29, 2018 at 11:23
  • You don't HAVE to gravitate from A Aeolian to D Dorian. You're there already!
    – Laurence
    Jul 29, 2018 at 15:58
  • @jjmusicnotes Well you're right, I should ditch it. But how would you identify that as that the blues scale? Isn't there any place I can start so I can start learning all of this? Or do I need to read lots and lots of music?
    – Bas
    Jul 29, 2018 at 16:19

2 Answers 2


That set of notes - E, G, A, Bb, B and D constitute what we call minor blues. Play them in ascending, descending order, and you play the Em blues scale. The A#/Bb is a tritone from the root of E, and gives that bitter-sweet sound. In blues, it's become known as flat five, thus Bb here, whereas in jazz the same interval/note is known as sharp four.

It's a set of notes with its own 'theory' - note, not rules, and must feature on many thousands of songs from the '50s on.

To an extent, it produces its own set of chords, using its own notes, obviously. However, although it's essentially minor, it has been found to work over the parallel major key chords, mainly I, IV and V.One really effective chord used occasionally is E7b9 - aka the Hendrix chord, although many others used it after, and before. The b9 sounds like the m3, so it appears to contain both major3 and 'minor3'.

You say you found the set of notes fit into D/Dm. But not the A#. That's cos Dm uses Bb instead of A#. Some of these 'helpful' sites aren't that helpful, and are short on actual facts - or worse - give misinformation. It ain't necessarily so, just cos it's on www!

PLEASE don't try to compartmentalise everything. It just doesn't work in music. The oft quoted 'if it sounds good, it probably is' is a far safer way of regarding something in music. So many questions here revolve round so-called 'rules', which then trip the followers up. A quick analogy - did you have to learn about and understand how the gearbox works, before you could successfully drive the car? Same principle in music. I hope you answered 'not really'...

EDIT: that site stating it's in D or Bm is stating rubbish! Listening to the song puts E very clearly as 'home'. I can to a degree understand why it states D, as the notes from D are included. That's not even half of the picture though. An interesting exercise I use with students is to get them to use, say, D major scale notes, over me playing in E. Because D uses G instead of G# from key E, and D instead of D# in key E, the overall effect is playing a sort of blues. Try it.

  • I'm feeling like I'm going to need some music lessons or a good way to start my theory lessons. I'm so overwhelmed by all this. You can't just feel something when it sounds bad when going outside the scale. Where do I start? Because I assume I need to start with some rules before I can do all of this? Do you mean you can just play in D major and play notes from E major over the D major scale?
    – Bas
    Jul 29, 2018 at 15:43
  • I always hear that there is a 'corresponding chord' to every note in a scale. What would be that chord then if you would take the first note of that solo build up? In this case that's the D#
    – Bas
    Jul 29, 2018 at 16:08
  • No,I mean using D scale notes while a rhythm is being played in E, as in using E, A , B as the accompanying chords.There may be a 'corresponding chord' to each scale note, but that's certainly not how we find the chords to a song.Take the note E, in key/scale E.Chords that will fit under that E are E, A, F#m7, C#m - as they all contain the note E.Obviously the E chord is the most convincing, but you can't say that because there's an E note in a tune, that the best fit chord will be E.The D# in the solo is a passing note, used chromatically, not of much consequence, key-wise, but sounds good.
    – Tim
    Jul 29, 2018 at 16:28

Keys and modes are frameworks, not restrictions. You may use diatonic notes and chords (ones that use the notes of the basic scale of the key), or you may use chromatic notes and chords (everything else). You may freely move into other keys, and much music doesn't really analyse as being in any particular key at all!

Also, don't worry about all those different modes and scales. They're all the same scale, just starting on different notes. No need to waste time learning them all seperately.

There you are - your entire concept of 'theory' thrown away in a couple of paragraphs! Read and play lots of music. Use theory to make sense of what music DOES do, not to tell you what it MAY do. There are no rules, but there are lots of descriptions of things that work. Theory Describes, It Does Not Command.

Looking at your music example, we have a sequence of minor 3rd intervals - E-G, A-C, D-F, G-Bb (rather confusingly spelled as A#) with a semitone below leading in to each of them. I suggest you consider only the second and third notes of each group as harmonic, the first as a chromatic decoration. One scale that contains all the harmonic notes would be F major. There are other possibilities. If you want a chord sequence it could be Em, Am, Dm, Gm. Or C, F, Bb, Eb. Or Am7, Dm7, Gm7, Cm7. Or something less symmetrical.

  • But I came here to make sense out of that piece of music. There must be any logic behind that right? What if created a similar riff on another place on the fretboard and wanted to see which key it was in?
    – Bas
    Jul 29, 2018 at 1:36
  • It sounds abit to filosofic to me..
    – Bas
    Jul 29, 2018 at 1:44
  • I've expanded my answer above. You're right - don't get too philosophical about it! How does labelling it with a key help you play this music?
    – Laurence
    Jul 29, 2018 at 1:49
  • I got confused even more. Can songs be in more then one key? When labelling a key to a song it helps me choose chords so I can play along or find my places for riffing! I also updated my answer.
    – Bas
    Jul 29, 2018 at 1:52
  • 1
    Oh, and forget about all the mode names and other fancy words. You can come back to them in say 10 or 20 years time, but never forget that music is meant for the ears, not for the eyes to read complicated descriptions of it.
    – user19146
    Jul 29, 2018 at 9:33

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