Making sense of progressions in minor keys?

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NiallseroreillyNiallseroreilly Frets: 357
edited November 2017 in Theory
I understand that if a song is in the key of a major and its a 1-4-5 that its A-D-E.

But if a song is in A minor, how do you refer to the progression? Do you refer to the relative major of C?
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  • vizviz Frets: 4725
    edited November 2017
    No, the a minor is now the i chord so you don't get vi ii iii or whatever, you still get i iv v. Or in western harmony you can have i iv V. Or in Dorian it's i IV v. Or you can have Dorian with a proper dominant, i IV V.

    All use the am chord and a selection of dm or D, and em or E. 
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  • So the a minor is the i chord and the four is d major and the 5 is e major?
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  • vizviz Frets: 4725
    edited December 2017
    So the a minor is the i chord and the four is d major and the 5 is e major?
    Not quite. At least not always. You know how to harmonise the major scale? It's like this (sticking to the convention of capital letters for Major, small for minor):

    Tonic (1st degree): the I chord. Major
    Supertonic (2nd degree): the ii chord. minor
    Mediant (3rd degree): the iii chord. minor
    Subdominant (4th degree): the IV chord. Major
    Dominant (5th degree): the V chord. Major
    Submediant (6th degree): the vi chord. minor
    Leading-note (7th degree): the vii chord. dim
    (and Tonic again (8th degree): the I chord. Major)

    So in Major keys, the 1st, 4th and 5th are I, IV, V, as you know. 

    In minor keys, if you are sticking to diatonic modes (ie only using the notes from the major scale), you can choose to play in Aeolian, Dorian or Phrygian modes. So, taking your choice, and resetting your home note as the new tonic (the i chord), and counting up the scale to get the new subdominant and dominant chords, you have:


    Resetting the vi chord as the tonic and renaming it the i chord:
    (called Aeolian - eg Since I've been loving you)
    - Tonic (1st degree): the i chord. minor
    - Subdominant (4th degree): the iv chord. minor
    - Dominant (5th degree): the v chord. minor
    That's got i iv v

    Resetting the ii chord as the tonic and renaming it the i chord:
    (called Dorian - eg Get Lucky) 
    - Tonic (1st degree): the i chord. minor
    - Subdominant (4th degree): the IV chord Major
    - Dominant (5th degree): the v chord. minor
    That's got i IV v

    Resetting the iii chord as the tonic and renaming it the i chord:
    (called Phrygian - phrygian pieces such as White Rabbit don’t tend to have i iv v progressions, but ..)
    - Tonic (1st degree): the i chord. minor
    - Subdominant (4th degree): the iv chord. minor
    - Dominant (5th degree): the v(dim) chord. diminished
    That's got i iv v(dim)



    As you have seen above, for the 3 diatonic minor modes, there is only ever a minor (or worse, diminished) chord in dominant position. But for each of the above you can also choose to turn the minor v into a Major V, even though that doesn't fit the pattern. In western harmony the convention in minor music is always to have a proper Major V despite it not being "diatonically correct", because people thought a Major Dominant chord sounded better. So:

    Aeolian but with a V chord:
    (eg Parisian walkways)
    - Tonic (1st degree): the i chord. minor
    - Subdominant (4th degree): the iv chord. minor
    - Dominant (5th degree): the V chord. Major
    That's got i iv V (and is the most common way of playing minor pieces. It's the foundation of the harmonic minor scale.)

    Dorian but with a V chord:
    (eg Coconut Grove, Paint it Black) 
    - Tonic (1st degree): the i chord. minor
    - Subdominant (4th degree): the IV chord Major
    - Dominant (5th degree): the V chord. Major
    That's got i IV V. (It's very common and is also the foundation of the melodic minor scale.)

    Phrygian but with a V chord:
    (can't think of an example) 
    - Tonic (1st degree): the i chord. minor
    - Subdominant (4th degree): the iv chord. minor
    - Dominant (5th degree): the V chord. Major
    That's also got i iv V (In terms of the i iv and V, this is same as "Aeolian with a V" above. Other chords differ though, eg the ii.)


    So your example of "a minor, D Major, E Major" is called "Dorian but with a major V chord", and is spelled "i IV V".

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  • this is brilliant @viz thank you
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  • vizviz Frets: 4725
    this is brilliant @viz thank you
    Cool, cheers, Viz. 
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  • JAYJOJAYJO Frets: 754
    viz said:
    So the a minor is the i chord and the four is d major and the 5 is e major?
    Not quite. At least not always. You know how to harmonise the major scale? It's like this (sticking to the convention of capital letters for Major, small for minor):

    Tonic (1st degree): the I chord. Major
    Supertonic (2nd degree): the ii chord. minor
    Mediant (3rd degree): the iii chord. minor
    Subdominant (4th degree): the IV chord. Major
    Dominant (5th degree): the V chord. Major
    Submediant (6th degree): the vi chord. minor
    Leading-note (7th degree): the vii chord. dim
    (and Tonic again (8th degree): the I chord. Major)

    So in Major keys, the 1st, 4th and 5th are I, IV, V, as you know. 

    In minor keys, if you are sticking to diatonic modes (ie only using the notes from the major scale), you can choose to play in Aeolian, Dorian or Phrygian modes. So, taking your choice, and resetting your home note as the new tonic (the i chord), and counting up the scale to get the new subdominant and dominant chords, you have:


    Resetting the vi chord as the tonic and renaming it the i chord:
    (called Aeolian - eg Since I've been loving you)
    - Tonic (1st degree): the i chord. minor
    - Subdominant (4th degree): the iv chord. minor
    - Dominant (5th degree): the v chord. minor
    That's got i iv v

    Resetting the ii chord as the tonic and renaming it the i chord:
    (called Dorian - can't think of a true example; most Dorian pieces don't use a minor dominant chord or avoid dominant altogether) 
    - Tonic (1st degree): the i chord. minor
    - Subdominant (4th degree): the IV chord Major
    - Dominant (5th degree): the v chord. minor
    That's got i IV v

    Resetting the iii chord as the tonic and renaming it the i chord:
    (called Phrygian - can't think of an example and it's not common) 
    - Tonic (1st degree): the i chord. minor
    - Subdominant (4th degree): the iv chord. minor
    - Dominant (5th degree): the v(dim) chord. diminished
    That's got i iv v(dim)



    As you have seen above, for the 3 diatonic minor modes, there is only ever a minor (or worse, diminished) chord in dominant position. But for each of the above you can also choose to turn the minor v into a Major V, even though that doesn't fit the pattern. In western harmony the convention in minor music is always to have a proper Major V despite it not being "correct", because people thought a Major Dominant chord sounded better. So:

    Aeolian but with a V chord:
    (eg Parisian walkways)
    - Tonic (1st degree): the i chord. minor
    - Subdominant (4th degree): the iv chord. minor
    - Dominant (5th degree): the V chord. Major
    That's got i iv V (and is the most common way of playing minor pieces. It's the foundation of the harmonic minor scale.)

    Dorian but with a V chord:
    (eg Coconut Grove, Paint it Black) 
    - Tonic (1st degree): the i chord. minor
    - Subdominant (4th degree): the IV chord Major
    - Dominant (5th degree): the V chord. Major
    That's got i IV V. (It's very common and is also the foundation of the melodic minor scale.)

    Phrygian but with a V chord:
    (can't think of an example) 
    - Tonic (1st degree): the i chord. minor
    - Subdominant (4th degree): the iv chord. minor
    - Dominant (5th degree): the V chord. Major
    That's also got i iv V (In terms of the i iv and V, this is same as "Aeolian with a V" above. Other chords differ though, eg the ii.)


    So your example of "a minor, D Major, E Major" is called "Dorian but with a major V chord", and is spelled "i IV V".

    Im confused. I get it up to the last paragraph. shouldnt it be Am Dm Emajor ? This minor scale progression info has alsways been a problem for me . Thanks for this mate much appreciated.
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  • vizviz Frets: 4725
    edited December 2017
    JAYJO said:
    viz said:



    So your example of "a minor, D Major, E Major" is called "Dorian but with a major V chord", and is spelled "i IV V".

    Im confused. I get it up to the last paragraph. shouldnt it be Am Dm Emajor ? This minor scale progression info has alsways been a problem for me . Thanks for this mate much appreciated.
    No, because the distinguishing feature of Dorian is that it is like Aeolian but has a MAJOR 6th. So its IV chord has a major 3rd, and is thus a major IV chord. Further up in my blurb I mention coconut grove and Paint it Black, both of which have a i-IV progression. What makes them NOT fully dorian however is that they both also have a major V chord. True Dorian, like Get Lucky, has a minor v chord. 

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  • JAYJOJAYJO Frets: 754
    viz said:
    JAYJO said:
    viz said:



    So your example of "a minor, D Major, E Major" is called "Dorian but with a major V chord", and is spelled "i IV V".

    Im confused. I get it up to the last paragraph. shouldnt it be Am Dm Emajor ? This minor scale progression info has alsways been a problem for me . Thanks for this mate much appreciated.
    No, because the distinguishing feature of Dorian is that it is like Aeolian but has a MAJOR 6th. So its IV chord has a major 3rd, and is thus a major IV chord. Further up in my blurb I mention coconut grove and Paint it Black, both of which have a i-IV progression. What makes them NOT fully dorian however is that they both also have a major V chord. True Dorian has a minor v chord. 

    Thanks mate, just when i thought i was getting somewhere. I will step away and have another read later. much appreciate your help.
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  • vizviz Frets: 4725
    Yes just take it really really slowly and carefully and it’ll fall into place. 
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  • JAYJOJAYJO Frets: 754
    So in D dorian is it G major (IV) Am (v )
    ie 
    Dm Em F  G  Am  Bdim   C.
    i       ii   III  IV  v      vi       VII   ?
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  • JAYJOJAYJO Frets: 754
    viz said:
    Yep
    cheers mate! 
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  • JalapenoJalapeno Frets: 3280
    JAYJO said:
    So in D dorian is it G major (IV) Am (v )
    ie 
    Dm Em F  G  Am  Bdim   C.
    i       ii   III  IV  v      vi       VII   ?

    Dm may also be Aeolian (of F Major). This is where Modes leave me a bit high and dry.

    You need to always relate them to the Ionian, as well as what you hear.  A lot of jazz tunes take a min7 chord and make it a Dom7 chord - so you can either address the Dom7 directly, or not and treat it as min7.
    Imagine something sharp and witty here ......

    Feedback
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  • nickpnickp Frets: 145
    edited December 2017
    for me. being newish to proper harmony.  this is my slow approach.  learn the major scale in all positions.  and learn the harmonised chords based on the major scale (as above) - the lick library fretboard navigator dvd is good for this.


    then think.

    knowing the major scale in all positions you also know the modes.  and because the sequence of major, minor minor, major etc is always the same you can get to the harmonised modes as well - and that's how you can appreciate the minor scale which is just a "mode" of the major scale.

    the fretboard and harmony was a bleedin mystery until I learned this and it's all starting to unfold

    so pretty much what viz said

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  • You can also always go for the naive, simplistic, but still surprisingly useful "miss a note, play a note until you have a triad" method of harmonising scales. 

    Take A aeolian: A B C D E F G A 

    The root chord starts on A. Then "play a note, miss a note..." till you have 3 notes: A C E. This is an Am chord, so the root is Am.

    The fourth chord starts on the fourth degree which is D. "Play a note, miss a note" gives D F A. This is Dm. So the fourth is Dm.

    The fifth chord starts on the fifth degree which gives us E G B. This is Em. So the fifth is Em. 

    Now switch to A Dorian: A B C D E F# G A

    The play one/miss one gives the root chord as A-C-E (Am), the fourth as D-F#-A (Dmajor) and the fifth is E-G-B (Em). 

    In my experience this naive approach works great for major keys. The complication with minor keys is that quite often things get substituted: particularly the fifth chord as explained well by @viz. However as a big fan of keeping things simple I tend to find that using this method combined with remembering that, in minor keys, people often make the five chord a major chord just because it sounds better gets you most of the way there. 
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  • JAYJOJAYJO Frets: 754
    How i find the chords. 
    I take  A Dorian and i know it is the second Mode in the list of Modes. Ionian  (Dorian) Phrygian  Lydian  Mixolydian  Aeolian Locrian.
    The first being Ionian. (The Major scale)
    I go back one and this gives me G ionian. 
    I now know all my diatonic chords are from the Gmajor scale.
    All my Modes are played using the Gmajor scale but seen as individual scales. 
    I know my 3 minor scales and my 3 major scales. I ignore Locrian the same way i ignored most of my maths exams.
    Learning all 5 positions of the pentatonic scale was a massive help.
    Using the caged system combined with the pentatonic scale and adding the 2 notes to complete the major scale linking across the fretboard helps to see seven major scales giving 7 modes. can all be played in the same area of the neck,but when spread out across the neck the shapes are always in the same order like the caged system given one Mode across the neck. Major is minor and minor is major etc.
    Ive rambled this out because its helping it to go in. Anything incorrect  here i would appreciate any input . many thanks.
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