I was playing 'If I were a rich man'. I noticed how it makes use of alot of notes outside its scale even though it's in C major. and I was wondering what the term is for what is it doing. Is it borrowing, modulating, using some kind of mode, or doing something else. In the main verse, I think it's getting the notes from its parallel minor scale as it sounds minor sometimes, and then at 0:40 I think it modulates to its parallel minor. But maybe I'm missing something..

  • 5
    It's not clear what kind of answer are you looking for - a full notated analysis? All your suggestions happen at times. The outer section does take notes from the parallel minor with a German sixth colour thrown in for good measure. Its melody has a couple of chromatic appoggiaturas. The central section modulates through several very distant keys. – user48353 Mar 9 '19 at 4:00
  • 1
    @replete just looking for a paragraph of what someone thinks it's doing theory wise. doesn't have to be notated, can use lyrics if needs to indicate a certain place. kind of what you did in the comment but maybe more detailed. – foreyez Mar 9 '19 at 4:01
  • to answer this question for yourself I suggest you try and transcribe the harmony of the song, the chords that are implied will tell you something about how the chromatic notes are used at any given moment. Some are just passing notes, others are implying harmony, some are there for colour or deliberate dissonance. You can only really answer this question by analysing the song in detail since the notes are used for different purposes at different times – Some_Guy Jun 6 '19 at 2:19

It's 'In C major' the same way Beethoven's 5th Symphony is 'In C Minor' or Wagner's Ring cycle is 'In Eb'. C major is home, but it goes plenty of other places too!

Yes, there's a consistent harmonic feature of contrasting C major and C minor, and in the 'middle 8' doing the same with F minor and F major. Quite a few touches of the bII note, characteristic of Jewish music too, though it never quite goes full-blown Klezmer!

(Incidentally, the show score and original cast recording are in Db, though in the movie, a somewhat older Topol takes it down to C. Quite a shock when you've been used to the 'songbook' version and someone throws you the vocal score to play!)

  • Psst: I don't think you mean E-flat for Wagner's Ring! – Richard Mar 9 '19 at 17:53
  • Or "Giant Steps" is in E♭, on the extreme end... – user45266 Mar 9 '19 at 18:36
  • 1
    @Richard why not Eb? The Rhinemaidens faff around on an Eb chord for 20 pages or so at the beginning. OK, it ends in Db. I guess Wagner decided against a 'truck driver modulation'. – Laurence Payne Mar 9 '19 at 20:12
  • 1
    @LaurencePayne I was thinking more D-flat, since that is where Rheingold and Götterdämmerung end. I'm just messing with you, that's all :-) – Richard Mar 9 '19 at 20:14
  • 1
    It was originally Eb. They had to take it down after the fifth tenor died. – Laurence Payne Mar 9 '19 at 20:18

It switches back and forth between the major key it starts in and the parallel minor. I think that’s what gives it that sort of klezmer feel.

  • But would you use the word "modulation"? "Borrowing" perhaps? I think the OP is looking for a music theory term that can be found in a theory book or something. – piiperi Reinstate Monica Mar 9 '19 at 20:54
  • @piiperi I only took three semesters of music theory and in that time the only thing we covered that would seem to apply here is what one professor called “crash and go modulation”. It’s not borrowing in my mind because both the chords and melody change to the parallel key and back. Normally a borrowed chord doesn’t change the overall tonality. Something similar happens in the Beatles song “Norwegian Wood” which has verses based around an F major chord and melody and choruses based on F minor, and no real transitions between. – Todd Wilcox Mar 9 '19 at 21:46
  • Yeah. If you can't move between C major to C minor without a passport, where CAN you move? – Laurence Payne Mar 10 '19 at 0:04
  • So, probably safest just to say 'It's in C'..? – Tim Mar 10 '19 at 7:39

No word is besserwisser safe, but I would say that it modulates between C major and C minor. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modulation_(music)

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.