I've read books like Theory of Harmony, Tonal Harmony, The Complete Musician, and just started reading structural functions of harmony. But I still find myself confused on those weird out-of-key chords you find in songs, like chords that aren't found in common practice. What could help me in analysing chords better?

  • 3
    If by songs you mean pop songs: pop music is not a direct descendant of 19th-century classical music. It is largely based on blues, jazz and various folk music traditions, sometimes with a thin veneer of classical orchestration. You'll have to turn to more recent and varied sources of information than Schoenberg to help you analyze it. – Your Uncle Bob Jul 14 '19 at 4:20
  • 1
    I'm wondering how much of common practice period harmony you know; chords like augmented sixth chords, the Neapolitan chord (bII), and common-tone diminished 7th chords are rare in pop but still within common practice period harmony (and are pronouncedly more popular in classical music). – Dekkadeci Jul 14 '19 at 6:47
  • Hi and welcome to the site. There's a lot to cover on the topic an we have many questions already dedicated to this topic and covering it all in one answer would be a lot. I suggest looking at real life progressions and the [harmony:tag] and [analysis:tag] tagged questions on the site and when you have a specific question, we'd be happy to help you understand it. – Dom Jul 14 '19 at 22:09

But I still find myself confused on those weird out-of-key chords...

I'm not sure how helpful it is to think of out-of-key chords as "weird".

A key doesn't tell you "You must use only the notes I say, and if you don't, you are weird".

A key says "If you build triads within this set of notes, that's a good starting point for creating some harmonious sounds". But it doesn't imply that anything bad is necessarily going to happen if you move outside the key. In fact in minor key harmony it's incredibly common to step outside of the notes that are diatonic to the key - hence the existence of different versions of the minor scale.

Of course if you are thinking in terms of keys, then perhaps you need to have some ways to think about motions that take you out of a single key. Some ways to think about these are:

  • as pivot chords, or secondary dominants, leading to modulations or new tonicisations
  • as borrowed chords
  • in terms of a harmonic 'palette' - i.e. the use of the same type of chord based on different degrees on the scale, and seeing chords as being used for their 'colour' rather than function
  • in terms of voice-leading and melodic consonance/dissonance

Ultimately, thinking in terms of keys is only one of the possible ways of thinking about harmony. They are a way that has proved to be quite a good match for quite a lot of Western music, but they're a cultural construct, not something fundamental to the order of the musical universe. If Western musical culture had evolved differently, it's quite possible that we wouldn't think in terms of keys in the same way.

It's also still possible to be weird while staying within a key too! The diminished vii chord in a major key is a very dissonant, clangorous, ugly duckling of a chord. If that sound is 'allowed', you shouldn't worry about having license to do anything else in music!

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