I have this chord progression I need to analyze. The songs is definitely in the key of D throughout the verses and choruses, but this bridge is very crazy:

Em Eb D E G Em D

  • Why do you have to analyze this progression? Who told you that you have to do this? – Albrecht Hügli Jan 27 at 20:05
  • It's really for my own curiosity. I'm thinking about starting a blog that analyzes chord progressions. This would be a good one to attempt. – Jason Kirby Jan 27 at 20:27
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    The analysis of a progression is somewhat subjective. If it is your blog, you get to decide what the analysis is and convince people why you are right. – Heather S. Jan 27 at 20:43
  • How do we know you haven't mislabeled one or more of the chords? Sometimes there's an inversion and one doesn't realize the chord isn't quite what it seems to be. Did you label the chords by ear (by listening to a recording)? Did you analyze a score? It would be helpful to share the source. It is only fair to the volunteers who write answers. Also, with a properly posed question, you will get better answers. – aparente001 Jan 28 at 6:08
  • where are the barlines, repeats, etc? does it really just start on Em and then end on D? – Michael Curtis Jan 28 at 21:57

I wouldn't be looking for a functional 'cycle of 5ths' structure here.

We're meandering around the diatonic chords of D major. The E chord, II rather than the diatonic ii, is frequently used as V of V (though that isn't what it's doing here, it's just adding colour). Is the E♭ chord worrying you? Just a passing chord between Em and D.

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  • Yeah. The Eb chord is the one that mainly throwing me. I wasn't sure how it functioned. I appreciate the response! – Jason Kirby Jan 28 at 0:09

I like to ask, ”what can I do with these chords” instead of ”what are the chords”. What do the chords lend themselves to? The answer to that question is formed when you play something over the chords, or play the chords over something. Giving one ”correct” unambiguous analysis is too simple. Let’s see if I can sum up the different approaches.


What happens if you add a pedal tone?

Em/D - Eb/D - D - E/D - G/D - Em/D - D

Now, what does the Eb become? It creates a D phrygian feel, doesn’t it? To enforce a D phrygian feel you would play a Dm e.g. as a solo line over the Eb, instead of D major.

Similarly for the E, it creates a D lydian feel, doesn’t it?

As a soloist you could do this in your mind instead of actually explicating the pedal tone D. Imagine it and treat the chords as if the pedal tone was there.

D phrygian is not the only possible feel that can be created over the Eb chord. What you can credibly make it to feel like depends on how long the Eb chord is held, and on your skills and imagination. :)


Instead of morphing between ”modal snapshots” you might be able to treat it like functional harmony. The Eb could work as a tritone substitute of A7 i.e. dominant V of D. Test it: take a few existing melody lines that you’re used to hearing over D - A7. Do they make sense over D - Eb? This is what Albrecht suggests.


A third way is to treat the Eb as a passing chord without trying to overlay any functional or modal feels over it. I guess this is what Laurence suggests. (Feel free to give a better title than ”chromatic”)

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  • What's a 'Phrygian feel'? Eb itself won't be tts - it needs to be Eb7. – Tim Jan 28 at 9:39
  • @Tim if you press pause on the chord progression there and keep playing, the longer you play, the deeper you'll be in phrygian mood, if your home note is D. It's what the mode tastes like. Re: tritone substitution - the point was, what can you make the chords to be. Or do you take the question as meaning, the notes of the Eb major triad are the only sounding notes? Of course it is assumed that some kind of a melody or solo is played. Soloist plays a Db note - there's the Eb7. – piiperi Reinstate Monica Jan 28 at 9:44
  • When I transcribe, I try to be as accurate as possible with chords - if it's only maj or min, then that's what gets written. So if it's Eb7, that's not Eb. True, soloist could play Db/C#, and that would qualify. If not there's no tts as such. Both chords need to be 7ths (in my world!) – Tim Jan 28 at 9:53
  • @Tim my point with this answer was to try and debunk the "analysis" myth. A chord progression like that is practically never the entire harmony. There are and can be lots of other notes, and an Eb triad leaves lots of possibilities. Many melody lines going to D major tonic will have a C# note. I think it's a semi-plausible way to see the Eb chord. If the chord progression came from e.g. a song book or "money chords" catalog, that's one way to treat it. – piiperi Reinstate Monica Jan 28 at 10:39

Em Eb D E G Em D

could you imagine a progression ii-V-I-II-IV—ii-I?

Eb could be tritone substitution of A, E a borrowed chord V: A => (dominant of the secondary dominant).

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  • Yes, those chords COULD have those functions. But 'V of V' is only a valid analysis when the chord IS taking that function. – Laurence Payne Jan 28 at 11:35
  • @Laurence so ”feels like a probable V of V ... but then surprise: a IV instead of V” is not a valid analysis? In that case it makes me doubt the usefulness of ”analysis” even more. – piiperi Reinstate Monica Jan 29 at 17:17
  • It's valid in the context of a functional bit of harmony. But a functional analysis of a pop song that just meanders around and barely knows where its tonic is - as so many do (and that's OK) - is pointless. – Laurence Payne Jan 30 at 4:13

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