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I'm taking part in the Developing Your Musicianship online class through Coursera/Berkley and one of the topics is chord progression. I also have been checking out Brian Lucas' online courses which also cover chord progressions. Finally, I have a classical piano teacher, but she doesn't focus on chords (unless the context is cadences etc).

All that said, I understand I IV V I and I V IV V I are both pretty common CP in American music.

The song below has 4 distinct chords in the beginning of the piece (and throughout) and I'm trying to test what I've learned to see if I can figure out the chord progression.

The song is Almost Home by Mariah Carey and is in the key of Bflat MAJ (there should be an emoticon for the flat symbol btw). I cheated a bit and read the sheet music.

The chords are Gm Cm Bb Dm. I'm thinking this is vi ii I iii. Is that correct? It sounds like a very common chord progression, but if what I wrote is right, that doesn't seem common.

Am I right about the progression and if so is it true this is in fact not a common CP?

Thanks in advance!

Last edited by PianoGamer; 04/15/14 03:38 PM.
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I think the tune is is Gm, not BbM

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Ohhh yeah I thought that too from reading the sheet music, but for some reason on the site it said original published key: Bb Maj.

So knowing that the key is Gm it would be: i iv III v ?

That seems to make more sense.

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That seems right, although I only saw a small excerpt of the tune.

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Although the verse has a very minor feel due to all the minor chords, it is indeed in B flat major. It stays a little ambiguous (probably intentionally) because the 2 main chords that would clearly define the key are absent, the V7 chords. In Bb it would be F7. In G minor, it would be D7 (we call it harmonic minor because the harmony of the major five chord makes it clearly in the minor key). It doesn't feel solidly in key to me until we hit the chorus (again, I believe intentionally).

And no, I wouldn't say this is a typical chord progression, though all chords are native to the key.

By the way, if you were to chart this verse out in G minor, all the chords you mentioned are correct except the Bb. It would be bIII (flat 3). We describe the minor roots compared to the major scale.


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Originally Posted by Brian Lucas
It doesn't feel solidly in key to me until we hit the chorus

Could you also tell us how this determination is made ? Is it purely from the Chord changes ?

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Brian Lucas: Glad you caught that; I only looked at the first few bars of the sheet music. The chorus definitely sounds major.

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Gm is just the relative minor in the key of Bbmajor.

Regarding whether a chord is "common".... well, many different chord progressions are common. Not everything is I IV V otherwise every tune in the world would sound the same, roughly speaking.

The main thing to realize about chord progressions is that they revolve around a tonal center. So in the case of your tune, it revolves around Gm. You have many choices of doing this. The strongest and shortest ways to establish the sound is where the bass line (the root of chord) moves by fours and fives. But you can do it in other ways too.

Last edited by Michael Martinez; 04/16/14 01:27 PM.
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Originally Posted by Michael Martinez
Gm is just the relative minor in the key of Bbmajor.

Just to make it clear: the key of G minor is the relative minor key to the key of Bb major. In other words, both of these keys share the same key signature.

The Gm chord is the vi chord in the key of Bb major, and it is the i chord in the key of G minor.
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Regarding whether a chord is "common"....

Do you mean common chord progression? A "common chord" would be, for example, Gm, which is a common chord to the key of Bb major, G minor, Eb major (the iii chord) etc.
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So in the case of your tune, it revolves around Gm.

That would make the piece be in the key of G minor. But I agree with Brian Lucas that it is in Bb major. It sounds major; with have a full Bb major scale a couple of times, etc. There are some bits that sound G minor, but it doesn't seem to actually "be" in a minor key as a whole - not even as a modulation - to my ear. But also that there is a bit of ambiguity.
Originally Posted by Brian Lucas
Although the verse has a very minor feel due to all the minor chords, it is indeed in B flat major. It stays a little ambiguous (probably intentionally) because the 2 main chords that would clearly define the key are absent, the V7 chords. In Bb it would be F7. In G minor, it would be D7 (we call it harmonic minor because the harmony of the major five chord makes it clearly in the minor key). It doesn't feel solidly in key to me until we hit the chorus (again, I believe intentionally).

Thank you for the clear and detailed explanation.

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Originally Posted by keystring
Do you mean common chord progression?


yeah

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But I agree with Brian Lucas that it is in Bb major.


could be. I didn't listen to it. I'm just going off what the OP wrote.


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Originally Posted by Brian Lucas
In G minor, it would be D7 (we call it harmonic minor because the harmony of the major five chord makes it clearly in the minor key).

Brian, I had to read that sentence over a couple of times to understand what you were saying. I think you are speaking shorthand for this:

In a G minor key using only the notes of the key signature, we would have G A Bb C D Eb F G. Using those notes, we would get a v7 (Vm7) chord that is DFAC. But we prefer to have DF#AC which is V7. In written music we would see F# as an accidental.

"Harmonic minor" is the name of the resulting scale, which a lot of us know from practising the "three minor scales" in music lessons. I.e.
natural minor scale: G A Bb C D Eb F G
harmonic minor scale: G A Bb C D Eb F# G

There's that F# which we need to create the D7 chord. smile

There is one more:

melodic minor scale: G A Bb C D E[nat] F# G

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Originally Posted by EM Deeka
Originally Posted by Brian Lucas
It doesn't feel solidly in key to me until we hit the chorus

Could you also tell us how this determination is made ? Is it purely from the Chord changes ?

Sure. It has to do with what we call cadences, mainly 2 chords working together, though it can be more. It's all about setting up expectation. For example, if I play 4 then 5 or 2m then 5, the listener expects to hear 1. So Dm to G to C establishes the key of C in your head. 5 to 1 is the strongest cadence. Also, since the 5 chord in the relative minor would be D MAJOR and it is natively minor in the key of Bb, that would be a clear sign that we are in G minor. Since that didn't happen, the mystery continues.

There's a second cadence, called a plagal cadence, which is 4 to 1. This song does have those. In fact, in the little break going into the chorus, it goes 4, 2m then 1. Since 2m is only 1 note different from the 4 chord, we still hear this as a version of a plagal cadence. And also, since the first chord of the chorus is in a strong position, it's a great place to establish a key. The repetition of the B flat chord and its position solidifies the key in your head. Then, going into the second verse, you hear the chords a little differently because you now have a solid key in your head.

Hope that wasn't too technical. The general idea is that you study things like this until they become part of your subconscious mind. Writing music is like writing a speech. If you know all the words you just have to learn how to assemble them for maximum impact.


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Also, not to be too confusing but some songs have 2 different keys for the verse and chorus. It's fairly common to have a verse in the relative minor and the chorus in the major. Where the shift happens in the brain is a matter of chord progressions and cadences.


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Originally Posted by Brian Lucas
Although the verse has a very minor feel due to all the minor chords, it is indeed in B flat major. It stays a little ambiguous (probably intentionally) because the 2 main chords that would clearly define the key are absent, the V7 chords. In Bb it would be F7. In G minor, it would be D7 (we call it harmonic minor because the harmony of the major five chord makes it clearly in the minor key). It doesn't feel solidly in key to me until we hit the chorus (again, I believe intentionally).

And no, I wouldn't say this is a typical chord progression, though all chords are native to the key.

It's pretty typical of things that are not I V or I V7 driven. When it moves to minor, it sticks to the notes that are natural minor (modal).

When you have this sort of thing going on:

Bb Cm Dm Eb F Gm Adim Bb for the major.

AND

Gm Adim Bb Cm Dm Eb F Bb for the "relative minor",

You are simply in a simple scale the whole way, and assigning RNs can be really confusing for people who are taught two systems.
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By the way, if you were to chart this verse out in G minor, all the chords you mentioned are correct except the Bb. It would be bIII (flat 3). We describe the minor roots compared to the major scale.


You call Bb a bIII in G minor. Others use a different symbol, III, and the two systems can conflict.

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There must be a number of systems around. Thank you for pointing this out, Gary, because I wondered about that myself. Brian, is there a particular system you use?

I was trying to puzzle this out. If a piece toggles between Bb major and G minor and it's modal, well then I'd see The Gm chords as vi of Bb major - but if in G minor, I'd see Bb major as III and not bIII of G minor, because in the key of G minor, Bb is diatonic.

On the other hand, if I'm thinking in the key of G major, then Bb is like the IIIb of G major, since in G major your chord is B D F# - the B is brought down a half step to Bb (flatted a half step) and that's why you have that bIII in there.

My problem with this second thing is that this is not how I hear or feel the music. I don't hear a toggle between G major and G minor. I hear a toggle from Bb major and G natural minor. So I don't hear a B that is getting lowered to Bb. I hear a constant Bb which would be diatonic to G minor (or Aeolian scale).

Do we even want to think in Roman Numerals for a modal piece of music?

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The reason for being specific about bIII that it gives greater flexibility for more sophisticated music with lots of modulation or something at least not staying within something that is diatonic.

If I am in the key of C major but want to use an Eb chord, what Roman Number name should I use? Traditional systems want to use only iii (Em), so that even if I want to use an E chord, I am stuck with something complicated, like V of vi.

So I want Eb to be bIII, D to be II, Dm to be IIm, and so on.

That's going to drive people NUTS who are used to another system where III, upper case, means minor (Em).

But if I stick to the major chord as default, I can go anywhere with b or #, and I can add on dim, aug, m and so on. That's probably a bit more.

In something as simple as this piece I would not bother with Roman Numerals, but if I DID, I would do what Brian did.

The main problem, as always, is that with letters chords there is only one dominant system. Not so with Roman numerals.

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Originally Posted by keystring
I was trying to puzzle this out. If a piece toggles between Bb major and G minor and it's modal, well then I'd see The Gm chords as vi of Bb major ...


You're overcomplicating it. Think of it all in Bb major. You can pick any single chord in this key as a "tonic" for the song, or as a "temporary tonic." You construct a chord progression around this chord, but it's all still related to Bb.

How familiar are you with the distinction between tonic, subdominant and dominant chords? Subdominants and dominants are just as effective in reinforcing the tonality of the VIm chord as they are in reinforcing the tonality of Imaj.

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Originally Posted by Michael Martinez
Originally Posted by keystring
I was trying to puzzle this out. ...


You're overcomplicating it. Think of it all in Bb major. You can pick any single chord in this key as a "tonic" for the song, or as a "temporary tonic." You construct a chord progression around this chord, but it's all still related to Bb.

What I was puzzling out, Michael, were people's different systems - not how to understand basic chord progressions. If you read the posts directly above mine, you'll see that the same thing is being called bIII or III. We also have a piece which is in fact modal. Have you listened to it yet?

The question was on whether to call that Bb major chord III or bIII. What would you call it, and why?

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I see the reasons. The thing is that if somebody is using a system, it's better to have that system defined or there is a risk of confusion. I think that for most people, the 3rd degree chord of a G minor key will be considered Bb and that will be considered III. So if there is another system where you consider G minor from the vantage point of G major, and then consider that Bb is actually a lowered iii from G major (key), then people have to know that this is being done.

I like this system for a lot of things, but I don't like it that much for this particular piece of music. That's a personal preference for ease.

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Originally Posted by Michael Martinez
Originally Posted by keystring
I was trying to puzzle this out. If a piece toggles between Bb major and G minor and it's modal, well then I'd see The Gm chords as vi of Bb major ...


You're overcomplicating it. Think of it all in Bb major. You can pick any single chord in this key as a "tonic" for the song, or as a "temporary tonic." You construct a chord progression around this chord, but it's all still related to Bb.

You are oversimplifying. We are comparing SYSTEMS. So long as you stick to letter chords only, it's simple. Use the same ones for both Bb major and G minor, since they are related keys and both use the same notes when using G natural minor. That's why you can call Dm either a iii chord in Bb or a vi chord in G minor.

The problem is the LABELING.

You are using VIm when other people us vi. You use Imaj when others use I.

It's a Roman numeral labeling problem because different people use different systems.

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