I have been building chords in maj7 and stringing them together in what sounds good to me. I like the sound of this progression and am curious as to how to determine what key it is, if any. I am very new to all this. Thanks, MikeB

  • 1
    When you stop on each one in turn, which sounds more like that's the end of the sequence? That's always a good criterion. Probably the C. – Tim Jan 3 at 9:40
  • I hear a-minor. The sequence is almost the Lament Bass. en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lament_bass – Richard Barber Jan 3 at 20:23

Probably in key of C Major.

If you change chord from AMaj7 to Amin7 and from GMaj7 to GMaj, then all the notes of this progression will be from key of C Major, however you can proceed without changing the chords and still keep the melody in key of C and borrow other scale notes as needed for the song.

This is how I determine the key of the song when provided the chord progression.

  1. Normally most songs will end in tonic chord, in this case C Maj
  2. Most notes will fit into a single diatonic scale, in this case C Maj has all notes from this progression except AMaj7(two notes) and GMaj7(one note)

You can learn basics of Major and Minor scales and circle of fifth to get some ideas on finding key for a given progression.


Normally you try to match the collection of tones from the chords to the tones of a key signature.

If you are picky about "being in a key," then you want to look at how the leading tone of the scale is being treated. If there isn't a leading tone, then it may be more appropriate to talk about which mode the music is in.

There may be chromatic chords in a progression complicating the matter of matching chords to a key signature.

Also, some music simply isn't in a single key or mode. In those cases you need to decide whether the best description is modulation, ambiguous tonality, polytonal, or atonality.

Amaj7- Gmaj7- Fmaj7- Cmaj7

With a short list of (diatonic seventh) chords like this you can first consider each chord as a possible tonal center. So, A, G, F, or C major could be possible keys. Then see if any of the other 3 chords fit into one of the potential keys.

  • no other chords fit into A major
  • Cmaj7 fits into G major
  • no other chords fit into F major
  • Fmaj7 fits into C major

That gives us G or C major possibly. But there isn't a dominant chord for either of those two possible keys. In fact with all maj7 chords we don't have a dominant - it sort of negates dominant harmony - and if you are picky about your tonality you must say a key cannot be defined with these chords. Or you might say the sense of key is vague.

The order of chords matters. The Fmaj7 Cmaj7 is the only two chord change that fits a key. All the others are chromatic. That makes a good case for a C tonal center.

The chord roots C, F, and G fit nicely into C major, but the F# of the Gmaj7 is outside the key.

I think you could call this a sort of ambiguous C major tonality. It's mostly non-functional meaning it doesn't work with dominant to tonic harmony.

Two devices...

  • The Amaj7- Gmaj7- Fmaj7 sequence is an example of parallelism or planning.
  • Assuming the progression repeats Cmaj7 | Amaj7 is a relationship called a chromatic mediant.

...are common for this kind of non-functional harmony.

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