Chords, Keys, Scales, Modes and Paramore, Pg2

Here's page 2, of my e-mail conversation with Dave. For the first part, go here. Again, Dave's text is in yellow and my text is in white.

DAVE: Thanks for your response but here are a few additional thoughts for what they are worth:

  1. I had not heard the song The Only Exception but have now listened to the original by Paramore. My ear tells me the key center is B which leads me to my first question: why choose E as the key signature? It seems to me it is much more naturally chosen as B.
  2. After listening to the song I can't help but hear every E chord as a IV naturally resolving to the I which seems to my ear to always be the B.
  3. The second chord you work with is F#m11,#13 (no 3) but how can it be a minor w/ no 3rd present? When I listen to the song my ear hears as a minimum F#, A and C# (try 9th fret 5th string, 7th fret 4th string,6th fret 3rd string w/ open 2nd and 1st strummed in very occasionally). I hear this chord as a Vm, a fairly traditional progression in the pop idiom (i.e. I---Vm etc.) BTW, this chord slides down nicely to the Emaj7 (the third chord in the opening progression---try 7th fret 5th string, 6th fret 4th string, 4th fret 3rd string, 6th, 2nd and 1st open
  4. Based on 3 above and my suggestion that the proper key signature is B it seems to me the chord should be called F#m6 (again, I----Vm6 etc).
  5. I'm not sure of the relevance of your comment re: F#m being the parallel minor of A. You have already designated E as the key signature (which you know from #1 I question). Why switch the thinking to A when you could just as easily look at the chord based on F# as a iim in your chosen key? In other words, I don't disagree that F#m is the parallel minor of A but of what relevance is that fact in this particular song w/ it's specific melody and harmonic context?

Just some thoughts for your consideration.

ME: Excellent points and questions again.

So let's gather a few facts I think we agree on

  1. We both agree that if we had to select one single pitch as "home," it would be B.
  2. The key of A is A, B, C#, D, E, F#, G# which create the chords A Bm C#m D E F#m G#dim.
  3. The Key of E is E, F#, G#, A, B, C#, D# which create the chords E, F#m, G#m A, B, C#m, D#dim.
  4. The Key of B has the notes B, C#, D#, E, F#, G#, A# which create the chords B, C#m, D#, E, F#, G#m, A#dim.
  5. We also seem to agree we are hearing an E major chord and a B major chord. Since the song uses a B major and not B minor, we can rule out the key of A (I'll answer you're question in your point #5 after we determine the key/scale of this song).

But we disagree on if the song is in the key of E or B. Since the chords E and B are only both found together in the two keys we've chosen: E major and B major, we can rule out all other major keys. All the notes are the same between the two keys with the exception of the "A." In E, we find an A natural and in B we find an A#. Both keys also share the chords B, E, C#m and G#m. But the chords A, F#m and D#dim only will be found in E and the chords A#dim, F# major, and D#m will be only found in the key of B. So, if we see an A or A# in the melody or any of the 6 chords unique to the keys just listed above, we will know with certainty which key we are in. .

So what about the melody? Usually the melody will be a dead give away... but not in this song. I didn't hear either an A or A# used in the verse or chorus (I didn't include the bridge because bridges very frequently have key changes or at least a change in mode). So, the melody itself has been carefully constructed so as to avoid this one note...

What about the rhythm guitar (which is the guitar part I used in the Guitar Pro video we started the discussion with)? In the verse we have an unambiguous B and E, but the chord built of the F# has the notes, F#, C#, F#, B, D#. This is an ambiguous chord. The root, plus the movement in the bass guitar, plus the power chord shape of the lowest notes implies that we should think of this as an F# of some type (though an argument could be made that this is a B2/F# chord, but I think it's better explained otherwise). But no A or A sharp is present in the chord the rhythm guitar is playing, so the chord is either an F#11 no 3rd, or F#m11 no 3rd- but we don't yet have enough information to know which it is...

When we move to the chorus, the B and E are still clear, but the rhythm guitar plays the F#-ish chord in a different position. When he plays this chord in the chorus, we get the notes F#, E, A, B, D#. Finally! We have an A natural and this note lets us know that we are indeed playing an F#m and not an F# major chord. Now, in this chord we are missing the 5 of F#m (the C#), but in music the 5th of a chord is often omitted, especially in the case of the guitar- where we often do not have enough strings or fingers to play all the notes of a colorful chord...

Also, there is another guitar playing in this song. There's an electric guitar that is playing a high shimmery-type chord once per measure. During the verse this guitar is playing playing an A, which also reinforces that this chord is some sort of F#m and not an F# major. Just to test this, try playing an actual F# major chord at any of the points I wrote some variation of an F#m chord. You'll easily hear that this chord clashes with the song. So, since we know the song uses an F#m, and not F# major we know we are in the key of E, and not B...

So, why then, do we hear B and not E as the fundamental pitch - the home base? The song starts off and ends on a B chord, the melody is constantly focused around a B, even the Bass Guitar is moving B, F#, E - which as you pointed out is a movement we have heard thousands of times as a I, V, IV movement. But this song is really using what is called a mode. A mode is where you take the notes of a key (in this song, E) but you make any of the other 6 pitches sound like the home instead of the usual one. So instead of making E sound like home, we make B sound like home. But the harmony of the chords lets us know we are not actually in B major, but a mode of E. We have made the 5 chord sound like the tonic- and that mode is known as Mixolydian. So technically, we are in B Mixolydian and not E. Modes do, however, share the same key signature as the major scale they share the same notes as. Which is why the music has a key signature showing the key of E, but the tonal center is actually not E...

This song is an example of how modes are used and why. If you think about the words of the song- they are wistful and hopeful, but not syrupy-sweet -completely happy. So playing in major, the most syrupy-sweet sugary scale we have, wouldn't quite fit. Mixolydian is still a fairly bright mode, closely related to the major, but it has a slightly dark flavor too it, which helps cut some of the overly-sweet sound which would be inappropriate for conveying the mood of the words of this song. It's not a completely dark, moody, brooding song either- so minor isn't the best choice either. Mixolydian can give that wistful feeling like past memories that were pleasant but are missed or longed for. When I first started working with modes, I thought, "If the notes are all the same why is there any difference between a mode and the major scale?" This song demonstrates why. Most songs only use a handful of chords, and omit the rest. When you only use three or four chords in a section or song, you really hear the flavor of the mode much more clearly...

Finally, why did I talk about the key of A at all? Because of the chord F#m. There are three major keys (as well as their 3 relative minors) in which we find an F#m: as the 6 chord in A major, the 2 chord in E major, or the 3 chord in D major. So, since these three keys have slightly different notes how do we know which ones we should expect when we start adding alterations to the basic F#m chord? For example should the 9 be a Gb, G, or G#, or the 13 a Db, D, or D#? The notes we expect to find in a chord come from the key with the same name. So, a G major chord will be named according to the notes in G major scale. Even though we may find a G chord in the key of C and the key of D, we spell the chord and the add-on notes according to the key of G. That means we should spell an F#m chord using the key of F# minor (which is the relative minor of A major). To illustrate, I will put the notes of the three different keys we find F#m in (D,A,E) and rearrange them in the order of chord construction:

using the key of A:

F# A C# E G# B D
1 3 5 7 9 11 13
using the key of E:
F# A C# E G# B D#
1 3 5 7 9 11 13
using the key of D:
F# A C# E G B D
1 3 5 7 9 11 13

First, notice that the 1,3,5,7, and 11 are the same regardless of the key. Those notes will only be altered if found in a different kind of scale other than major or natural minor (like blues or bee bop etc). So, the proper 9 of an F#m should be a G# since we find G# in the key of A (or the natural F#m scale). So if we played an F#m with a 9 in it in the key of D, we'd have a G natural. So, the chord we expect to find in the key of D with a 9th is F#m7b9. Similarly, the 13 should be a D natural, since D natural is the note we would find in the key of A. So, the F#m chord we find in the key of E would be an F#m11#13. So, in short, we may find an F#m in a key other than F#m, but when we do, we name the altered notes according to what we expect in the key of F#m- not the actual key of the song we are playing..

Lastly, the chord the rhythm guitar is playing is written as a "no3rd" because the chord that guitarist is playing is missing the 3rd, even though it is being provided by the other guitarist. That means the chord we hear when the bass, two guitars and vocals are sounding together may be a chord with the 3rd, even if the chord one specific musician is playing doesn't include the third.

Hope that clarifies things a bit.

Read the last part here. Or, read the first part here.