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I'm playing a song with the chord progression:

Am7-Am7 Gm7-C7 F-F

When the song starts I am in the key of A, but in wich key am I when the Gm7 or the F chord is playing? And how am I supposed to change key from A to G and then to F?

My questions are: I tried playing in A along the full chord progression, but it only sounded good in the 1°bar, in the 2° and 3° bar it didn't sound good. To wich key do I have to change, and how? I mean I can't just improvise in A and then when the F chord comes change to F. Are there some kind of tricks? I heard the circle of fifths could help me, but I don't get how.

Thanks in advance.

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    I think those chords are in F major. You could just solo in F major and it would work. – Todd Wilcox Sep 15 at 17:19
  • @ToddWilcox - you must have commented as I wrote an answer! +1. – Tim Sep 15 at 17:26
  • @ToddWilcox the song can be just as well in Am or C. The chord combination Gm7 - C7 is a nice jazzy replacement for plain C7, working as a natural stepping stone on the way to F. The tonic decides what key it is, and we don't know the tonic because we haven't heard the melody or anything. – piiperi Sep 15 at 18:51
  • @piiperi Agreed on all counts. The reason why I singled out F from the possible keys was the V7-I interpretation of the last two chords of the excerpt. – Todd Wilcox Sep 16 at 2:10
  • What else is in the song? That's important to get a bigger picture. – Tim Sep 16 at 7:03
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If I understand the question properly, you're asking which notes/scales can be used for improv. over this sequence.

It's in Am to start, not A, so some notes from A will sound out of tune.

All the chords come from key Fmajor, apart from any other. So, for simplicity, those notes will by and large fit all. Some would explain that modes are the way to go - so use A Phrygian over Am, G Dorian over Gm, C Mixolydian over C7 and F Ionian over F. Basically what those will do is utilise the notes from F major all through, but target good notes on the way.

  • thanks for the great answer, but I mean would it be possible somehow to start playing in Am and then when F comes, start improv. in F, maybe joining the to keys with a certain note? – Milo_666 Sep 15 at 17:50
  • @Milo_666 - that's pretty well what I meant. Same notes work for Am, Gm, C7 and F. Just change the order they are played in, and target (as is quite common) the root notes (or 3s and 5s) of each chord. – Tim Sep 15 at 17:54
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You absolutely CAN improvise in Am over the Am chord and then, when the F chord comes, improvise in F. There's no musical rule that all chords in a song, or even a section of a song, must fit into the same scale.

But, in this case, you might find it useful to think of the song being in F major.

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What key you are in, depends on where you feel the home note ("tonic") is, and that depends on how you play the melody. The chords Am7 - Gm7 - C7 - F could just as well be in a passage that's "in C", or one that's "in F", or many other things. Where's your home note, what note feels like being a natural ending?

Here are two examples of how to use the same chord progression with different melodies.

In the first part we're thinking "in C", and the Bb note (instead of B that's normally in C major) is only used in the "Gm7 - C7" part of the chord progression, so it's kind of like using the F major scale. But after we get to the F then we move back to C major scale and move the melody line towards a C major ending. (And then we actually play a C major as an ending chord)

In the second part we're thinking "in F", and we lead the melody towards an F major ending, and don't really flirt too much with any "what if this is in C major or A minor after all" ideas.

The scale is not the only component in play, how you play the melody line is important too. Do you play like a song that's in C? Or like a song that's in F? Or like a song that's in Am? It's not just the set of notes, it's what you do with it.

Edit: the first example doesn't feel to be very strongly in Am. I added more Am context to the beginning, trying to establish the key there.

In this context, in my opinion, the "Gm7 - C7" bar doesn't move the tonic to F at all, it feels like merely a fancy C7.

  • Both examples in the clip feel that F is the key centre. Just finishing on V (C) doesn't sound convincing enough to say it's in C. And there aren't thatmany other keys it could be in. – Tim Sep 16 at 7:01
  • @Tim I agree, the C/Am feeling needs a bit of imagination, and it should be established better to make my point. I'll have to make a better example with more stuff in C/Am before entering the OP's chord progression. Anyway, I think it's a good example about what setting the tonic means, and thinking that the key could be deduced from a narrow snippet of notes or chords is an obstacle to understanding out-of-scale notes, borrowed chords etc. – piiperi Sep 16 at 9:18
  • @Tim I fixed it now... It might make for a good example case to strip a similar v - I7 chord bar as audio from an existing song, and extend the IV chord bar as audio - unless the melody does something particularly strong, the audio snippet should feel exactly like a ii - V - I. – piiperi Sep 16 at 16:23
  • That works - mainly because the Bb doesn't come in very soon. So there's more of a C/Am feel initially, Bb only showing on Gm7. Still feels like an imperfect cadence to me...! – Tim Sep 16 at 16:28

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