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I had this song stuck in my head all day and tried to play by ear the section that starts around 1:40 on the guitar.

If I'm not wrong, the chord progression here is the following :

|Am / / / |C / / / |G / / / |Am / G / |

And the 'home' tone seems to be Am so in roman numerals it would be

i-III-VII-i/VII

And it seems strange to me because I haven't seen this pattern before (even though I'm pretty new to music theory) but it seems very natural to my ears. I have the feeling that I heard this progression before in other rock songs.

So why is this progression working? Am I missing something?

Thanks!

  • No, but Am/G is the Am7 3rd inversion you could write i - III - VII - i7 with subscript notation for the correct inversion too. In the relative major, C, it's just vi - I - V - vi7 – ggcg Feb 17 at 21:02
  • @ggcg I think I picked the wrong notation for Am / G haha, it's not Am over G but like the two chords in the same measure, Am lasting in the first half and G in the second! Also I thought about the relative major but C doesn't feel like the 'home' tone to me here. – Malemort Feb 17 at 21:06
  • I see, then your notation is fine. And I agree this feels like an Am song. – ggcg Feb 17 at 21:21
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    @Malemort: your chords and analysis are o.k. Why should it not work? that’s the question ... – Albrecht Hügli Feb 17 at 22:03
  • Use the Edit function and fix the ”Am / G” to Am and G in the same bar. But I don’t really understand what the problem is. If the chords were | C | G | Em | Am G | for the same melody, would you then understand why it works? – piiperi Reinstate Monica Feb 18 at 7:01
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I think "Why does this chord progression work" is a bit misguided question to begin with. I guess you're really asking for ways to see the chords so that you can relate their functions here to other chord progressions and songs you're familiar with.

Albrecht already basically said it - why does anything "work", the chords are triads built on scale degrees and they often just work. It's more like, it's harder to come up with a combination of those blocks that does not work at all and cannot be used in any sensible melody. But I'll try a different approach.

The "I II III" etc. Roman numerals system is one way to analyze chord progressions, but sometimes if the song lingers ambivalently somewhere between related minor and major keys, it might not be the most intuitive choice. Another way is to look at the chords built on scale degrees as interleaved minor and major keys. The keys are so closely related, they're like siamese twins, "major side" and "minor side". Take C major and A minor for example.

  • C : major side tonic
  • Dm : minor side subdominant
  • Em (or E7) : minor side dominant
  • F : major side subdominant
  • G (or G7) : major side dominant
  • Am : minor side tonic
  • Bdim : dual-function chord, can work as both the major side G7 or minor side Dm

Ok. The chord progression in your original question is:

| Am | C | G | Am G | (repeat)

Let's transform it to this:

| C | G | Em | Am G | (repeat)

In this modified version we can see that it's divided between major side C - G and minor side Em - Am. And then the glue chord G at the end which steps from the minor side back to the major side.

In the original, the major and minor sides are just intertwined more tightly.

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  • Thank you for your answer! It's an interesting approach, I didn't think of it at first. I was thinking more about chord function and the way they usually resolve, for instance a dominant chord resolving to the root and I tried to analyze this progression with this in mind. – Malemort Feb 18 at 8:16
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    @Malemort The same thing happens here, but it's more ambivalent, and the functions aren't that clear. Is Am even the tonic? The G chord at the end feels like it could have then gone to C and that would have felt like a better home. There is no single function of any chord. Every chord lends itself to many different purposes. G can work as a makeshift Em or even E7 and vice versa Am and C can often be exchanged and they do at least part of the original function. F and Dm can be swapped. Both work as a subdominant or pre-dominant for either C or Am key, in songs like this. – piiperi Reinstate Monica Feb 18 at 8:38
  • So I would agree that regarding the ambivalence of this nearly pentatonic melody in C - major and a - minor both solution will be possible. We could name other similar examples in aeolian and ionian or dorian mode as they have the same chords but on different degrees. The critical features will be the root tone (defined by the finalis) and the repercussions tone. – Albrecht Hügli Feb 18 at 9:18
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If you analyse the chords as if the song were C major (the relative major), it would read as:

|Am / / / |C / / / |G / / / |Am / G / |
|vi / / / |I / / / |V / / / |vi / V / |

(as opposed to being in Am):

|Am / / / |C / / / |G / / / |Am / G / |
|i / / / |III / / / |VII / / / |i / VII / |

Looking at this, it is obvious why the progression works - it uses some of the strongest chords in the relative major scale, I, V and vi. The fact that the tonal centre is Am rather than C doesn't change how strong the chords are in relation to the relative major.

In pop/rock music, the most important-sounding chords in a minor song are often [i, III, VI, VII], because these are the equivalent of [vi, I, IV, V] in the relative major. Obviously "important-sounding" is subjective but this is at least the trend in modern pop/rock.

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Lasomiso,latidore,misoso... a,g,e,g, a,b,c,d, e,g,g ... The tune is in the aeolian mode and your analysis is correct (chords and R.N.) why it works? For the same reason that any other progression works. Why shouldn’t C,dm,em not work? Why works I IV V I or I vi ii V? These are all degrees and triads of a same key and mode. They work.

Edit:

Of course G (VII of am) is the dominant chord (V) of C and we can say the refrain is an extension from am to the relative key C ... but the following guitar solo is again in am (aeolian) so if you find a RN analysis in C that works, also the analysis in Am will work. The point why it works has been worked out by piiperi.

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