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I'm trying to make sense of keys and modes, and I'm studying simple songs note by note to reach this goal. One of them is "You are the Government" from Bad Religion.

It starts with a riff that goes : Fm A♭ B♭ D♭ E♭... followed by a verse that goes D♭ A♭ E♭ Fm D♭ A♭ E♭ B♭.

The voice melody is made of notes that could come either from keys Fm or D♭ because neither G♭ nor G♮ is sung, though if I try to modify the melody, inserting some G sounds better to me than inserting some G♭.

As D♭ sounds to me like the home chord of the verse, does it make it a D♭ lydian melody ? Or am I just in Fm ? How do I know ?

To complexify things, the second syllable of "along" is a D, which is not of any of these scales. Is there a key change happening ? My understanding is that the B♭ might imply a key change as it should be a B♭m to respect the triads of the Fm key. Is that the right way of thinking?

I think it's a fairly simple song, but it's enough to confuse me. Could you help me clarify it by critiquing my reasoning and telling me what keys and modes are used and whether there are key changes happening ?

The song:

  • It's C# major: 1) tab, 2) scale finding tool – Pyromonk Mar 15 at 0:07
  • thanks, the issue with C# major is that F# notes don't sound good if inserted in the melody line. Also I'm pretty sure the song starts on Fm and not F, I think the tab author didn't pay attention because these are power chords (I corrected some details in my question). – Moody_Mudskipper Mar 15 at 0:34
  • Well, F# is a note within C# major. If you think G sounds better, it might be A♭/G# major/melodic minor (given the Fm chord). When I listened to it initially, it sounded like A♭/G# to me, so maybe it's the right answer after all. – Pyromonk Mar 15 at 0:53
  • You're overthinking it. The entire piece is in Bb minor, both verse and chorus. – John Wu Mar 15 at 7:46
  • @Pyromonk - Just because it's been tabbed for the internet doesn't mean it's true, right or accurate. There are many 'mistakes' to be found on sites such as Ultimate Guitar. – Tim Mar 15 at 9:22
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F minor

As you said, the notes fit in both F minor and Db major (thus in Ab major and Bb minor too), so all you have to do is to determine the tonal center of the whole thing.

In the intro, it's pretty clear to me. When it loops back to Fm, it feels like home. Also Db Eb Fm is a well known cadence in minor keys. Sometimes they do Db C Fm instead, another well known cadence.

In the verse, you said Db is the home chord. In my opinion, that Fm in the middle is still stronger. And in the end of the verse they do Db Eb Fm again, which makes it sound more like the tonal center.

The Bb in the verse is a deceptive IV. You would expect the Eb to resolve to Fm like in the first part, but instead it resolves to the IV degree of the scale (Bb) in a deceptive cadence. The fact that it is major and not minor does not necessarily imply a key change. It's just one note, D, borrowed from the major mode, and right after, everything returns to F minor again. The key has not changed, they just added some color.


Now about your reasoning: You correctly identified the possible scales; your intuition about G and Gb was correct; if Db was the tonal center, it would indeed be lydian (and it's still a plausible option, I just disagree...); and you picked up the note outside the scale correctly. Great job!

  • top notch answer and exactly what I needed, thanks a lot! – Moody_Mudskipper Mar 15 at 22:31
  • I think I had the wrong approach about feeling home chords, I thought this D♭ felt right as a home chord as I felt no tension but if we'd end the song on D♭ it would feel very tense. I think the home chord might often be the first of a song but it's probably even more often the last, unless we want to leave the listener with an uneasy feeling, which I think should be rare in rock and even more in this type of punk rock. Fm makes perfect sense to me now. – Moody_Mudskipper Mar 15 at 22:49

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