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I'm a beginner piano player and theorist and played around on the piano and came across this progression from Am to Fm which has a very grim and black metalesque/dungeon synthy sound. I couldn't find any songs with this progression using hooktheory.

I can't fit it into a chord progression I know of and don't know how to continue this nice grim sound. Can anyone point in a direction where to look further for the underlying theory?

Continuing with Dm E sound ok, but not as convincing as Am to Fm.

  • You could finish the circle by moving to C#/Db minor. – Matt L. Nov 6 '18 at 21:07
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    Ah, the Lord of the Rings progression – MCMastery Nov 7 '18 at 3:51
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    @MCMastery And Vader's Theme! (But it begins on G minor.) – Richard Nov 7 '18 at 4:22
  • One reason why it works is that your Fm looks like E7(9b, 13b). Replace the C in the Fm with B, and you get something quite "classical" (if you voice it correctly). – Alexandre C. Nov 8 '18 at 19:00
  • I have a "quasi-example" (admittedly very ambiguous) in a Bach fugue. I just asked about it there : music.stackexchange.com/questions/76305/… – Alexandre C. Nov 8 '18 at 19:20
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Chromatic mediant is the technical name https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chromatic_mediant

This is where the chord roots are a third apart and there is one common tone.

So with Fm and Am you have:

F, A flat, C

A, C, E

So the "C" is the common tone, and F and A chord roots are a third apart.

I think part of what makes the great sound is that the two moving voices move by half steps. Half steps are important with many chord resolutions/tendency tones.

Also, notice in that wiki article the example from Mozart K. 475 where the chromatic mediant relationship and the common tone are used to make a common-tone modulation to a distant key. So on a very large scale you could think of the Fm and Am relationship in terms of a key change.


A little add on for Dm and E.

I assume you mean E (major.)

Let's look at those pitches:

    Dm = D, F, A
    E  = E, G#, B

If we put those in order: D, E, F, G#, A, B

One thing that should jump out is the F to G#. That happens to be an augmented second. To fast forward a bit... an augmented second comes up in the harmonic minor scale. In this case the G# is the leading tone of the A harmonic minor scale. The full scale being A, B, C, D, E, F, G#, A. Dm and E function as the iv and V in A minor.

If you are just going back an forth from Dm to E you are sort of hovering around the dominant V chord. Typically you would move from the domimant to the tonic i chord Am. You could try going to Am as part of that progression.

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  • It's not just that both move by half steps, but that they move in opposite direction. The A-flat goes up to A, while the F goes down to E. This is called contrary motion, and tends to create a stronger sense of moving towards resolution than similar motion, where the notes move in the same direction. Contrary motion by half steps is also how tritones resolve, which is important to how the donimant chords resolve. – trlkly Feb 16 '19 at 7:43
  • Indeed, the contrary motion is important. – Michael Curtis Feb 16 '19 at 21:48
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We call this a chromatic mediant relationship.

To put it simply, two chords are chromatic mediants of each other if their roots are a third apart and they share one common tone. In the case of A minor and F minor, the common tone is C. Furthermore, note that the two remaining voices move by half step into the second chord: the A in A minor moves to A♭ in the F-minor chord, and the E of A minor moves to the F in the F-minor chord. The smooth voice leading is what helps to keep this progression together.

But note that F minor is not the only chord that fits this definition. There are three other chromatic mediants to this A-minor chord: C♯ minor, C minor, and F♯ minor.

As it turns out, chromatic mediants are the same quality as the original chord. So if you want to quickly find the four chromatic mediants of a harmony, find the roots located up and down a major and minor third from the root, and remember that those triads will be the same quality (major or minor) as the original chord.

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A different way of looking at what you did - and more importantly, where else you can go, is the fact that you've used two chords from parallel keys. C major and C minor. The Am is from C maj. and the Fm from Cm.

'Borrowing' chords in this way works well, and now gives you quite a few choices as to what else may suit your needs. Any of the 7 from C major, and any of the 7 from C minor!

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That could be called a chromatic mediant of A minor. Notice how the note C, the 3rd of A minor, is carried over to the F minor chord. That's not why it's called a chromatic mediant, though; the term "chromatic mediant" comes from the fact that the roots are a third apart and the chords do not belong to the same key. Usually, the two chords are triads of the same quality (traditionally, major or minor).

This is an example of nonfunctional harmony, as Fm does not serve a traditional role in the key of A minor. This Fm chord doesn't point towards any other chord particularly well; it's not really a tonic, subdominant or dominant chord in that regard. However, the thing about chromatic mediant chords is that they have nice voice-leading: Two notes move in opposite directions by half step, producing a smooth yet unexpected sound.

Some chromatic mediants actually have no chord tones in common, like A minor and F♯ major, but those are very hard to find examples of and can only occur with chords of different qualities like C major and E♭ major). Additionally, some theorists do not recognise these as chromatic mediants, either because they share no notes or because the chord qualities are different. In my C and E♭m example, the key of E♭ minor is equivalent to the key of G♭ major, which is not a third away from C but a tritone instead. Some use this observation to exclude all chromatic mediants of differing qualities.

And of course Hooktheory didn't find many examples of that - Hooktheory focuses on popular music, and popular music has drawn mainly from the ideas of functional harmony. It is only when one looks outside of popular music that one begins to find these chromatic mediants in large quantities (An example given above was "Imperial March" by John Williams, brought to fame by the Star Wars films).

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