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How would you analyze the following chord progression found in the first verse of the song "Fazenda" by Milton Nascimento?

Bm7 Gm7 Bm7 Gm7 Bm7 Gm7 F#m7

It is interesting to hear it, there's a ternary bar hanging at the end. Here's a youtube link:

The following section might give more clues. It's basically in A major:

A7+ D/A A7+ D/A A7+ D/A

C#m7 F#m7 C#m7 F#m7

Bm7 D7+ Bm7 C#m7

Bm7 Gm7 F#m7

If Bm is heard as the tonic, then the first verse would be: i bvi v. If the tonic is F#m then the sequence would be heard as iv bii i (There isn't a "bii" neither a "bvi" in any mode). I also believe the Gm7 could be labeled as a chromatic mediant chord. I can hear all of these possibilities. The undulation departing from Bm7 makes it look like the tonic at the beginning, however there's the emphasis on the key of A during great part of the song (it's even the isolated first chord) which brings attention to the F#m and not the Bm. Any ideas here?

  • Just looking at the chord symbols you wrote, have you considered D major as the tonic? The Gm7 would make a bit of sense (not a lot, but more than others...). – user45266 Apr 2 at 3:00
  • Well, it's the relative of Bm, but I don't feel my ear pulled towards D. – Allan Felipe Apr 2 at 3:51
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    Ah, darn. Well, good luck with your question. – user45266 Apr 2 at 3:54
  • Analyze how? Roman numeral analysis? – Michael Curtis Apr 2 at 13:20
  • Well, yes, it's the first step, but also if someone doesn't think functional harmony would be suitable here, there could be another explanations. – Allan Felipe Apr 2 at 20:07
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After a second listen, and taking into account the song's melody and not just the chords, I think what the song is doing in the first part is this:

  • on Bm : the song wants you to think the Bm is iv of F# minor
  • on Gm : the song wants you to reconsider and think that maybe the Bm was actually a i chord, and now it switched from D major / B minor to D minor, and Gm is iv of D minor.
  • on F#m : the song says "gotcha", F# was the actual tonic after all

In my opinion, each of these momentary interpretations is equally correct at that specific point in the song. The perceived tonality is changed all the time, and it's in some way the whole point to make you re-think the harmony all the time. It's like the effect of a modulation in a pop song, but you get that sensation all the time. Like polyrhythms do for the feeling of meter and pulse - there are multiple equally "correct" interpretations going on. Although for harmony modulations, it's more like a wave, moving from place to place. (I know there is something called polytonal music, but I just wanted to make some kind of an analogy between different musical dimensions.) It's like, "now you see it, now you don't". (A great Michael Brecker record by that name btw)

Try it out yourself! :) Make a new version that goes to Dm instead of F#m. Can you make it sound believable? "Gotcha, Dm was the real tonic"? After a Dm tonic, can you make it go back so that the next Bm sounds like iv of F# minor? (Try e.g. B/C# - C#/F - F#m, or Bm6 - C#7 - F#m as a total reset.) It's all just fun trickery, playing with the listener's perception.

If we disregard the melody and how everything is done on the recording, the first part "Bm7 Gm7 Bm7 Gm7 Bm7 Gm7 F#m7" could also be alternating between D majorish and D minorish. It's common thing used in jazzy music. When there's Bm or F#m, it's on the D majorish side, and when there's a Gm chord it's on the D minorish side. But like I said, this is not the best interpretation for the functions of the chords.

You can try out the validity of the interpretations by playing solos on the chords. Then try keeping the original melody, but substitute each chord with some other chords from the supposed key.

I assume the purpose of analysis questions like this one is to achieve a practical, applicable feeling of the chords and the song, to be able to e.g. play the song more creatively and improvise on it.

  • Your analysis alternating between D and Dm tries to find the "common multiple" of both, is this the motivation? Because you could also say something like "on Bm, the song wants to stay in Bm, it's the world of B dorian/aeolian; on Gm we have the world of G dorian/aeolian; the F#m gives the victory to Bm". – Allan Felipe Apr 3 at 23:52
  • @AllanFelipe the simpler "alternating between D an Dm" explanation was only based on a quick listen to the first 10 seconds of the first part from small laptop speakers in a noisy environment (kids making noise) and looking at the chords. I tried to find a single simple explanation over the given chord progression. But then I listened to it again, with headphones, and realized that when taking the melody and other instruments into account, as a whole the song is actually doing something slightly more complex. If you only look at the chord symbols, they allow many scales and interpretations. – piiperi Apr 4 at 6:56
  • I'm leaning towards hearing Bm as the tonic in the whole initial passage. In this case, the F#m would be the iv and not the reverse, because I hear a pull back to Bm, what do you think? As you say, the Gm breaks a little bit the tonality, but here because it's not found in Bm. This bvi (chromatic mediant) could be interpreted just as a prolongation of Bm. The last F#m is also a modulation pivot chord because it's present in A, the tonic of the next section. – Allan Felipe Apr 8 at 23:09
  • @AllanFelipe Spend a few hours playing solos over it, using each of the potential interpretations, and you'll be a lot wiser. :) I'm inclined to think that all these fancy terms make things feel more difficult than they need to be. It takes more time to say "chromatic mediant" than to actually do one. :) – piiperi Apr 9 at 8:15

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