Help me sort these chord progressions

Hollowway

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I was just reading an article which said that No Scrubs from TLC is a i iv V7 i progression. So I looked up the actual chords on a couple of sites, and found:

Em Am7 C B7 (assuming this is i iv VI V)

And

Dm Am E Am. (Assuming this is iv i V i)

My brother in Christ, what is going on here? So two questions:
1) what are the actual (Roman numeral) progressions - are my assumptions correct?
2) is the Am and C close enough together that it could be taken as Em Am B7, which would be i iv V, and that’s close enough to i iv V i?
3) how can these two professions be so different, and neither be what the article said?
 

Dr. Caligari

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My take is

Dbm7 Abm Eb7 Abm

(Played on a guitar tuned a half step down, thus giving us the flats.)

But I only listened to the start of the song so I'm just assuming it keeps going like that.

I would analyze that as iv7 i V7 i. But I could understand saying iv i V7 i. Why? Because the 7 in iv7 is kind of just color whereas the 7 in V7 has more of a function: pulling us back to the i chord.
 

bostjan

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I was just reading an article which said that No Scrubs from TLC is a i iv V7 i progression. So I looked up the actual chords on a couple of sites, and found:

Em Am7 C B7 (assuming this is i iv VI V)

And

Dm Am E Am. (Assuming this is iv i V i)

My brother in Christ, what is going on here? So two questions:
1) what are the actual (Roman numeral) progressions - are my assumptions correct?
2) is the Am and C close enough together that it could be taken as Em Am B7, which would be i iv V, and that’s close enough to i iv V i?
3) how can these two professions be so different, and neither be what the article said?
Wow, that first one is so wrong. That's why I hate internet tabs so much. Maybe it's a different song entirely?

To my ears, C#m7 G#m D#7 G#m (with fill) - should be iv i V7 i

From the phrasing and the low D#, I'm guessing the "guitar" (doesn't sound like a real guitar to me) is tuned down a half step. So maybe, for simplicity's sake, think of it as Dm7 Am E7 Am. So, I'd say that whoever did the second one was close enough for a basement jam, but kind of missing all of the cool stuff going on.

A harmonic minor scale is A B C D E F G# A or 1 2 b3 4 5 b6 7.

So the common i iv V chords would be spelled A C E, D F A, and E G# B, respectively. Adding a seventh for colour, A C E (G#) [minor chord with a major seventh is kind of yucky, probably why they skip adding the note to this one], D F A C [D minor 7th], or E G# B D [E major with a minor ("dominant") seventh, sounds nice and drives home the musical point that this is harmonic minor instead of "regular" natural minor].

To address your two questions, I guess I don't know, but I'll take a crack at guessing:

1. Your assumptions are correct.
2. Not really, or I guess not at all. Not sure what is going on there, but someone is probably just being hasty or has a poorly developed ear or is listening to the wrong song or is just bad at music and should feel bad.
3. A lot of people will casually mention a iv i V7 i as a i iv V7, but it's technically wrong, although probably not wrong enough to piss anyone off unless it's part of a lesson specifically teaching the song or someone is OCD. I think it could just be hasty language. Not sure of the article's point, though, so, if it was mentioned as anything more than a quick off-the-cuff example or in some other unimportant context, maybe the people who wrote the article were mistaken.

But it's okay, we all make mistakes, like labeling a iv i V7 i as a i iv V7 i or asking three questions when you meant to ask two or mkaing a typographical error because your "a" key sometimes sticks a little bit longer. ;)
 

SpaceDock

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I have a much simpler read of these. Both progressions use a five of sixth trick as a secondary dominant. This is super popular in lots of songs.

First progression is vi, ii, IV, III. That three chord is traditionally a minor Phrygian but here we change it to a major. That makes it a secondary dominant, this is five of six giving leading tone back to vi chord. This example is simply in G major Ionian and Eminor aeolian. You could shred e minor on this all day long.

Second progression uses the exact same idea but starts at the ii chord. ii, vi, III. Once again the III is just a five of six, they just start at the ii again so it’s not so blatant of a “home” feeling. This is in C major, A minor so you could shred on A minor pent or aeolian all day long.

I find this approach much easier to use than swapping to things like a minor tone as the “i” because transcription or fining relevant scales is so much easier. This works for 90% of radio music.
 

bostjan

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I have a much simpler read of these. Both progressions use a five of sixth trick as a secondary dominant. This is super popular in lots of songs.

First progression is vi, ii, IV, III. That three chord is traditionally a minor Phrygian but here we change it to a major. That makes it a secondary dominant, this is five of six giving leading tone back to vi chord. This example is simply in G major Ionian and Eminor aeolian. You could shred e minor on this all day long.

Second progression uses the exact same idea but starts at the ii chord. ii, vi, III. Once again the III is just a five of six, they just start at the ii again so it’s not so blatant of a “home” feeling. This is in C major, A minor so you could shred on A minor pent or aeolian all day long.

I find this approach much easier to use than swapping to things like a minor tone as the “i” because transcription or fining relevant scales is so much easier. This works for 90% of radio music.

That's a valid way of looking at it from a different sort of school of thought. To me, though, when you have a song in a harmonic minor key, it's much much easier to conceptualize it as a harmonic minor key than as a major key with a weird augmented fifth and it always resolves to the submediant. I think the whole school of thought that everything is actually in a major key and minor keys are just an illusion pretty much died out in the baroque period, but I know I've had another ss.o member argue with me about that in a different thread ages ago. :shrug:
 

SpaceDock

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That's a valid way of looking at it from a different sort of school of thought. To me, though, when you have a song in a harmonic minor key, it's much much easier to conceptualize it as a harmonic minor key than as a major key with a weird augmented fifth and it always resolves to the submediant. I think the whole school of thought that everything is actually in a major key and minor keys are just an illusion pretty much died out in the baroque period, but I know I've had another ss.o member argue with me about that in a different thread ages ago. :shrug:
Totally bro, I tried for a long time to use your approach but it didn’t gel in my mind as easily. I like to think of music theory as art in the way that there isn’t a wrong way to do. I got mad respect for many of your posts. :hbang:
 

Dr. Caligari

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I often think of things like vi etc. even when the key is actually minor. But in cases like this with a V7 chord my brain likes V7 i much more. Same with classical stuff which also has lots of V7 i and uses more functional harmony rather than chord loops. I think for communicating with others it's good to be comfortable with both ways.
 

tedtan

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I’m not arguing, but to my ear and mind, a V7-i cadence strongly indicates harmonic minor from a harmonic perspective and, for a pop song, probably melodic minor, or a combination of natural and melodic minors, for the melody except over the V7 chord, where harmonic minor would best fit.
 

Hollowway

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Ok, I understand that. But @SpaceDock i always thought that the progression needs to end (or start, or at least involve) a tonic chord. Or is that not the case?

And based on the notes involved, a iv i V is always going to be harmonic minor. I hadn’t thought I’d see a harmonic minor key hiding in plain sight like that, but it’s probably all over the place, and I just never realized it. Everyone always plays up the different feel of the harmonic minor scale, but I wouldn’t have thought it would sound so normal in a regular progression like that. But @bostjan what do you mean by: “E G# B D [E major with a minor ("dominant") seventh, sounds nice and drives home the musical point that this is harmonic minor instead of "regular" natural minor].”? It would seem that the 7th of the V isn’t going to add a harmonic minor feel, because the 7th of the V (the D of the E chord) s the 4th note of the A minor scale. I know the 7th will pull the progression to the I, based on that 7th, but I figured the G# of the E would tell you it’s harmonic minor (and therefore allow either a vì i V7 or a vì i V7). But let me know, because I’m self taught theory stuff, and never made it that far!
 
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Hollowway

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Ok, another progression! I was reading about one of the other progressions, and they mentioned Unchained, so I looked that up. Its D, Bb, C. There’s some debate on what key that is, as if it were in the key of D, Bb wouldn’t exist. So is it a I, bVI, bVII progression, like the common I, bVI, bVII, but with a major tonic?
 

bostjan

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@bostjan what do you mean by: “E G# B D [E major with a minor ("dominant") seventh, sounds nice and drives home the musical point that this is harmonic minor instead of "regular" natural minor].”? It would seem that the 7th of the V isn’t going to add a harmonic minor feel, because the 7th of the V (the D of the E chord) s the 4th note of the A minor scale. I know the 7th will pull the progression to the I, based on that 7th, but I figured the G# of the E would tell you it’s harmonic minor (and therefore allow either a vì i V7 or a vì i V7). But let me know, because I’m self taught theory stuff, and never made it that far!
The G# does tell you it's harmonic minor, but you are correct, that that fact that it is dominant seventh, and, furthermore the only dominant seventh voicing in the progression, strongly implies that it's a V and not just a random chord, as opposed to what the other school of thought says about it being a III7 chord or something like that, which would suggest that it's in the key of C major with some sort of substitution accounting for the weird augmented fifth.

Ok, another progression! I was reading about one of the other progressions, and they mentioned Unchained, so I looked that up. Its D, Bb, C. There’s some debate on what key that is, as if it were in the key of D, Bb wouldn’t exist. So is it a I, bVI, bVII progression, like the common I, bVI, bVII, but with a major tonic?
I'm assuming Unchained is the Van Halen song. The rest of the song strongly implies a tonal center at Db (or we can call it "D" if you like, just keeping in mind that we are tuned down a half step again).

This is a great example and I'm sure there are lots of different schools of thought and notation here, so people are bound to disagree. Remember that music theory is not a branch of mathematics, it's a descriptive science over an art form, so there is not really a set right/wrong. A song like this is a great example of how there are different levels of nuance.

I'm sort of intermediate in my school of thought, so, yeah, in that case, I would agree that the D Bb C D F C D progression is I bVI bVII I bIII bVII I.

So what is going on there? Is the song in D major or D minor? Well, it's sticky. This is sort of a modal interchange, maybe based off of the blues scale. In fact, the little mini solo/breakdown implies D major, and the bigger outro solo implies D minor, so it's kind of both. But I would say the song is in D major with some modal variation. It's what makes rock music so cool. I highly doubt Eddie wrote the riffs thinking "I'm going to make a progression that is in a major key but follows the chord roots out of the minor scale just to fuck with people," but rather, he probably came across a progression that sounded kickass while noodling around and it just happened to be that way.

So, to sum up, D major (actually Db, since we are a half step downtuned) I bVI bVII I bIII bVII progression. Play solos in Dmajor but play through the chords, or play a solo in D minor but be careful around the major third over the tonic. Or make up your own variation and see how it sounds.
 

tedtan

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One thing to keep in mind about Van Halen’s playing is that he was very shape oriented. He would pick a fingering “shape” that sounded good and then run it across the strings or up the neck keeping the shape rather than varying it to accommodate the chords, scale(s), or keys(s) the song would use (and be analyzed/interpreted through).
 

SpaceDock

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@Hollowway in regards to the “required tonic” idea, as others point out this is just an approach. For me, the second Scrubs progression for example starting on the ii is a simple way for me to orient the song around known scales and chords so I don’t have to remember a ton of different scales or progressions. Instead when I can identify the ii, IV, III, I then know exactly where all my major and minor scales are and how I could also move away from that Dorian tonic to a different mode if I was writing this song.

With the Van Halen example I see it as Major VI, IV, V. So the D he is swapping between major and minor in a modal shift. A number of songs do this major/minor shift and tonally imo it is really easy to change a minor chord to a major just like in the above examples where the iii was swapped to a III.

I am not a crazy brainiac theory person so using this foundation of diatonic with parallel chords or secondary dominants is so much easier for me to work with.
 

Hollowway

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Yeah, my goal for understanding this stuff is not that I feel I need to write within a certain set of rules, but it's a great place to begin to compose a solo, etc. over a backing track. And also because if I knew the most common progressions, it would be far easier to transcribe a song, because once I identified one of two of the chords, I could plug in the usual suspects, and figure out the song without approaching each chord by listening to it with no context.

That song was the VH tune, and it's another one of those weird ones that I couldn't figure out because I didn't know what modal shifting is.
 


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