How Many Chords Make a Key Change?

From: Dan

To: Ian

The core question here will be, as per title, how long do you have to spend in key [x], as measured in time or chords, before it feels like a key change, rather than a bunch of non-diatonic chords?

But the song I’m going to use as a prop has another property that I want to ask about first, which will be spoiled if I send you right to the candidate key change… so first listen *only* to the first 12 seconds (until the melody starts) (all the links and videos I’m including will start and stop at the right times). All the chords you’ll here are [B][E], or really [Bsus4][E/B].

Is this in B (I→IV, I→IV…), or is this in E (V→I, V→I…)? Is it self-evident with no melody, just by the way it’s played? Does the sus4 matter a little?

OK, now think about that for a bit… are you back?

Continue reading to find out whether it’s B or E, and to find out how many chords do make a key change… →

Ever Ever After

From: Dan

To: Ian

This song has an unusual structural property:

At least I can’t think of another song with this structural property.

If you hate the song so much you can’t bear to listen to it, I’ll just tell you, but if your wife is having a baby right now, that’s no excuse not to give your full attention to this thread.

Continue reading to find out (another) cool thing a Disney princess song does… →

Parenting Advice from the Doctor of Rock

…battling the harmonic wasteland of kids music.

From: Dan

To: Ian


Since you’re about to become a father, I think it’s time for us to have “the talk”. The one where we prepare you for empty chasm of harmonic complexity in which you’re going to live for the next 6-14 years. Right now, you’re probably under two incorrect impressions:

  1. “My child and I are not going to listen to silly kids music, he/she is going to be raised only on [The Beatles / Radiohead / Bach / insert your own dreams and aspirations here], and I will fully avoid exposure to songs about ladybugs who eat ice cream.”
  2. “I know kids music is simple and dull, but it can’t be that bad.”
Continue reading to have these impressions de-bunked, and to find cause for optimism…→

Melody/Harmony Ambiguity

From: Dan

To: Ian, Raja

Today’s challenge (for which I have no answer):

Think of a pop/rock song with two vocal parts where at least 30% of listeners would disagree with the other 70% about which part is the melody/lead. Call/response not allowed, needs to be simultaneous harmony vocals. Octaves not allowed either (though I can’t think of a clear case where that’s an issue).

Continue reading for our best shots at this (then tell us yours, because we’re very unsure about our answers…) →

Saving All My III For You

…how Whitney avoids the chords, and thus avoids not blowing my mind.

From: Ian

To: Dan

Today’s song with basically perfect chords:

I can’t remember if this amount of jazziness bothers you; for me it’s a reasonable amount. I hear the verse chords as I → vi → ii → V:

A [A]few stolen [F#m]moments is [Bm]all that we [E]share
[A]You've got your [F#m]family and [Bm]they need you [E]there. 

…with some 7s, 9s, 11s, whatever.

The pre-chorus throws in a couple nice vi → II changes:

Though I [F#m7]try to res[B7]ist being 
[F#m7]last on your [B7]list,
But [A]no other [F#m7]man's gonna [G#m7]do [C#7b5]

…where clearly the III7b5 at the end is the best chord in the song.

The chorus takes us back to a familiar IV → iii → ii → V → I:

So I'm [Dmaj7]saving [C#m7]all my [Bm7]love [E]for [Amaj7]you

The bridge is pretty great too:

[G#m7]You used to [C#]tell me, we'd [F#m7]run away together
[Bm7]Love gives you the [E]right to be [Amaj7]free.
You [D#7]said be [G#]patient, just [C#maj7]wait a little longer
But [Bm7]that's just an old fanta[E]sy

If you’re keeping track of non-diatonics, that’s two III’s, a #IV, and a a VII.

Summary of quality things that happen:

  1. I never object to a vi → II.
  2. That III7b5 going into the chorus. None of the transcriptions I can find online even mention the b5 in this chord, which makes me sad. I also don’t quite know whether to call it a b5 or a #11 or what the difference is.

Continue reading to debate whether Ian's favorite III7b5 is even the most awesome thing about this song... →

Major/Minor Ambiguity

…Hall & Oates leave us wondering where our third is.

From: Ian

To: Dan

Here’s a song with what I consider to be simple but high-quality non-diatonic chords:

Let’s start with the chorus, because it’s easier:

Because your [C]kiss, your kiss, is on my list
Because your [Eb]kiss, your kiss, is on my list
Because your [F]kiss is on my list, of the best things in [C]life

This is clearly in C, so it’s I bIII IV I. Something simple I can get behind.

Here’s the verse:

My [Cm]friends wonder why I call you all of the time
What can I [Fm]say
I [Ab]don't feel the need
To [Bb]give such secrets a[C]way

This verse seems to start in C minor and end in C major! I think a while ago I wrote something about songs that exist somewhere in between a major key and its relative minor (like the verses of One Headlight, or Just What I Needed), but the verse of Kiss on My List exists somewhere between a major and its parallel minor!

I guess you could say the verse is in Cm, and ends with a Picardy third. But then there would be a key change, and I’m reluctant to call the transition from verse to chorus a key change. Alternatively, you could say the verse is in C, but the C major chord is jarring enough that I’m reluctant to call it the tonic.

I guess harmony is something that defies strict classification.

One could also consider the bIII, bVI, and bVII chords (my favorite ones) as coming from the parallel minor of a major key, so maybe this isn’t as interesting as I first thought. But actually playing the minor i seems less common.

Unfortunately, the instrumental guitar part later in the song is terrible.

Continue reading to discuss the compositional genius behind the horrific computer-generated drums... →