What key/scale is Creep from Radiohead in? (Mr. Big Noodles, get in here!)

Discussion in 'Music Theory, Lessons & Techniques' started by Hollowway, Jul 23, 2017.

  1. Hollowway

    Hollowway Extended Ranger

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    The chord progression is G, B, C, Cm. And there is use of F# in the vocal melody. So, is it just G, with some borrowed chords (and borrowed from where?), or is it in the E Hungarian minor scale, or something like that? I don't need to know to play the song, per se, but I'd love to know what is going on melodically, and from a strict theory standpoint.
     
    Last edited: Jul 23, 2017
  2. TheFightingCPA

    TheFightingCPA SS.org Regular

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    Haven't heard the song in a while, but from what info you provided:

    I-(III)-IV-(iv) progression in G

    The B major and C minor chords are borrowed from the parallel minor key (G minor).

    F# is the leading tone in G, so it would be in the key.

    The Hungarian Minor Scale would be E Hungarian minor which would contain the notes E, F#, G, A#, B, C (natural), and D#

    I'll take a look at the sheet music later and reply, thanks.
     
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  3. bostjan

    bostjan MicroMetal Contributor

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    Naw, it's just G major. The minor subdominant is one of the most common chord substitutions.

    https://jenslarsen.nl/iv-minor-chords-major-key/

    The G major scale: G A B C D E F# G takes a flatted sixth (Eb) in the chord structure from the straight-up natural Cm scale. C harmonic minor might work as well, but, either way, I'd keep stress off of the A/Ab over the chord. If you stick to keeping stress on the notes right out of the chord changes for soloing, it's really safe and easy, but if you try to do something fancy with Hungarian Minor scales, I think you will run into a lot of trouble with chord changes as common as I iii IV iv
     
  4. Mr. Big Noodles

    Mr. Big Noodles Theory God

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    Sorry for the long post. I have to do it in two parts.

    I made a PDF lead sheet of the song to refer to: Radiohead - Creep

    Yes, I think it's okay to look at this as a modally inflected G major kind of thing. I III IV iv is a possible chordal analysis, where iv is an element of mode mixture. (That is to say Cm is nabbed from the parallel minor, G minor.)

    III is a bit more ambiguous. Traditional analysis would say that III here is really V/vi, meaning that the expected resolution is B Em. Instead, we get B C, a deceptive resolution of the secondary dominant. (Compare to the diatonic deceptive resolution in in Weezer's Say It Ain't So: Cm G A E♭, i V ♭VI ♭III.) You could argue that the chromatic inflection has nothing to do with an applied harmony, but I think it's useful to be aware that such a thing exists. In the context of Creep, I feel that B is prolonging G, so I might be more inclined to say it's I III IV iv.

    Anyway, consider the similarity between the chord loop in Creep and the one in another well-known song (I III IV II):

    Otis Redding - (Sittin' On) The Dock of a Bay


    I think Radiohead's progression is just a bit more slick on account of the enharmonic relationship of D# in III and E♭ in iv. The melody in bar 12 has identical pitch classes to those of bar 16, but the pitch names are different.

    Not really. Western tonal music works along these lines: most pieces have a tonic and a mode that is pretty constant throughout the tune. In the common practice period (~1600-1900), there is a tendency toward monotonality—meaning pieces begin and end in the same key, though there may be several keys in between—and a strict duality between the major and minor mode. If you're listening to a piece titled "Symphony in G major" from the year 1793, then you can expect that it will start and end in the key of G, major mode.

    In the mid-19th century, the lines start getting blurred. Modal mixture—using chords from one mode in the context of another—becomes a common strategy to intensify the expressive content of harmony. Constant borrowing of chords with scale degree ♭6 creates a condition that, in German, is called "moll-dur" ("minor-major"). The name implies a major modality that is heavily inflected by minor mode harmonies, usually iv, ii°, ♭VI, vii°7 and V7♭9. A good example is the beginning of Brahms' Symphony No.3:



    Bartók took modal interchange to its logical conclusion in some of his pieces through a practice he called "polymodal chromaticism." These pitch structures are produced by juxtaposing two modes with the same tonic. If you do it with lydian (1 2 3 #4 5 6 7) and phrygian (1 ♭2 ♭3 4 5 ♭6 ♭7), you end up with a complete chromatic scale (1 ♭2 2 ♭3 3 4 #4 5 ♭6 6 ♭7 7). However, it's possible to do it with whatever you want. Major and (natural) minor nets you ten out of the twelve chromatic pitches: 1 2 ♭3 3 4 5 ♭6 6 ♭7 7.

    The requisite of monotonality also began to loosen in the 19th century. Composers like Schumann, Wolf, and Mahler are known for employing what is known as "directional tonality" or "progressive tonality," which means that a piece of music ends in a different key than where it began. Music theorists in the early 20th century attempted to reconcile directional tonality with existing systems. Arnold Schoenberg and Heinrich Schenker were both staunch monotonalists. Schenker would probably argue that a piece ending off-tonic is somehow incomplete, or that such a piece has a structural auxiliary cadence at some point in the background (meaning that it eventually ends on tonic, but that it began somewhere else). Schoenberg thought that every piece had a Grundgestalt that ties motives to harmony. In his system, every key, every chord, and every note is somehow related to the tonic. These relationships are derived from motions from the "tonic region" by thirds and fifths. If you know anything about Riemannian harmonic theory, you'll notice that his chart of the regions is built around some inversional relationships: starting from T(onic) in the middle, there is a chord a fifth above (Dominant) as well as a fifth below (Subdominant). Any vertical column on the chart will have those relationships.

    [​IMG]

    Of course, Schoenberg was attempting to explain new music as an extension of the old, so you could argue that his concept of tonality is stylistically limited. Some recent theorists who deal with pop music have come up with other explanations for tonal behavior in pop. Guy Capuzzo analyzes Radiohead's Karma Police with sectional tonality, which is different from directional/progressive tonality. In his reading, keys are associated with speakers and events in the song's narrative. I feel that this is pretty intuitive for a rock listener, because who cares about monotonality. However, it was not until relatively recently that equal temperament came into being. It is a matter of historical interest that monotonality was once the norm, and the development of fully chromatic instruments coincides with music that does not conform to traditional monotonality.

    TL;DR: Chords, keys, and tonal relationships are yes. Scales are no.
     
    Last edited: Jul 25, 2017
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  5. Mr. Big Noodles

    Mr. Big Noodles Theory God

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    Right, back to Creep. It's a monotonal tune: the whole thing is in G. There's that bit of mode mixture going on, and we discussed III already. I think harmony is easy to latch onto and only tells part of the story. Let's talk about the melody some. The verse is built off a figure called a "turn." This is pretty simple: you start at X pitch, then go up a step, back down to the original pitch, down a step, then back up to the original pitch. Here's a representation of this figure, with a bit of analytical notation to help see what's going on:

    [​IMG]

    The stem indicates the note that is being prolonged, and the stuff under the slur is what is prolonging it. You can see that G is being decorated by upper and lower neighbor tones in this G-A-G-F#-G motive. You don't have to have the first note; it's common to start on the upper neighbor like this: A-G-F#-G. That figure appears several times in the verse, at bars 8, 12, 14, and 16. There is an incomplete version in bars 10 and 18. The bit leading into the chorus (bars 20-23) is one note off from that turn motive: G-A-G-B♭-G. The B♭ is scale degree ♭3, which in rock convention can be a pentatonic neighbor tone. The whole figure still prolongs G. In fact, the whole verse is just a prolongation of G.

    If you take a cursory look at the chorus, you'll see that the melody is more active. There is a tendency for the melody to sit on B, so I hope you'll trust me when I say that the chorus prolongs B. Going into Cm in bar 31, the melody comes back down to G, and we get that G-A-G-B♭-G motive again. Because of that we get a tiny bit of interaction between 3 and ♭3 in the chorus (what Temperley et. al call "mediant mixture").

    The climax of the song is easily the bridge, but I want to take a step back to bar 29. At the end of the chorus, the guitar plays an ascending line in an inner voice: D-E♭-F-G, or 5-♭6-♭7-1. Here's a reductive analysis that attempts to show what's going on from the chorus to the downbeat of the verse:

    [​IMG]

    (This is represented in the lead sheet by chord symbols; Cadd2 Cm Csus4 G is the progression we're looking at.)

    Vocal line is on the top, the relevant voice leading in the guitar is in the middle, and the bass line is on the bottom. David Neumeyer has written a lot about ascending lines, though this is pretty far off from his work. One thing to note about this ascending 5-line is a lot of it is unsupported: D (5) occurs as a passing tone between C (4) and E♭ (♭6), so it's not part of the harmony. Likewise, F (♭7) is an unsupported passing tone between E♭ and G. There are a lot of non-harmonic tones labeled as structural pitches in this analysis, which is unusual. However, I hear that D-E♭-F-G line as structural because of its contrapuntal strength. It's also an important motive. We'll come back to that.

    Some other things I want to point out: in bar 32, the F from Csus4 clashes with the F# in the vocal melody. I think you'll hear that F# as a neighbor tone rather than a structural pitch, so the cross-relation is fairly surface-level. Nevertheless, this is a moment when we get a taste of polymodal chromaticism via the simultaneous occurrence of 7 and ♭7. Another non-traditional thing: I've labeled IV as a predominant function and iv as a dominant function. This has to do with IV (or iv, especially after IV) being able to serve a cadential function, which you can read about here and here. My Urlinie is kind of screwed up because I didn't know quite what to do. I might rethink it.

    Remember how I mentioned that the ascending 5-line, D-E♭-F-G, is an important motive? Let's examine the bridge now. Some things to take note of, starting in bar 35: the vocal register is higher, the melody is more active, and the pickup to 41 begins a familiar ascent that goes D-E♭-F-G. This is pretty cool. In the chorus, that was in an inner voice, an accompaniment part. Here, it rises to the foreground. But it overshoots its mark! Tom Yorke sings an A on beat 3 of bar 42, which is tied over to bar 43. This is a neighbor tone, so it is a salient rather than a structural feature. That does not diminish its importance, as it is the climax of the song. You can relate the overreaching melody to the song's text, particularly to the subject's desperation and desire for acceptance.

    The A does come back down to G, but overshoots again and hits F#. Let me spell it out: A-G-F#. Where have we seen this before? It's the incomplete turn figure from bar 18. Yorkie Yorke gives it another go in bar 47, and completes the turn this time: A-G-F#-G.

    If we were just looking at the chord progression, all of these details would have passed us by. A four-chord loop is not that interesting. The use of motives and register is a much richer area of examination for this song. You could easily tie this analysis into the song's narrative progression. The verse starts neutral (prolonging scale degree 1), talking about the object of the narrator's desire. The chorus reveals the narrator's insecurities and feelings of helplessness to change his circumstances (prolongation of scale degree 3, lack of satisfactory descent to 1, dissonance-riddled ascending 5-line in an inner voice). The bridge reacts to an event in the narrative ("She's running out again.") by rising to a fever pitch (register transfer) and bringing out the narrator's anxieties (represented by motives from the verse and chorus) in a new and strange but not unexpected situation.
     
  6. Hollowway

    Hollowway Extended Ranger

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    Ok, cool, thanks. I’m not even going to pretend I understand all that, but let me go off on a tangent: in that link, he lists all of the subdominant chords in C minor. Where the heck is he getting all those chords? Wouldn’t the subdominant just be F minor? I mean, AbMaj7(b5) doesn’t even have F in the chord. How does he come up with all those options as subdominants for C minor?
     
  7. Hollowway

    Hollowway Extended Ranger

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    Ok, not sure I understand much of this, but I get the basic gist. So let me ask you this: if I were to want to figure out the basics of chord progressions and keys, where would I start? I always think I know the basics, and I understand a lot of chord progressions, basic theory, modes, etc, but I don’t know that I can see a song like this, and break it down as you guys have. Any pointers on were/what to look at?
     
  8. Mr. Big Noodles

    Mr. Big Noodles Theory God

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    He's looking at chords that contain ♭6 (iv, ii°, and ♭VI) that are not vii°7 or V7(♭9). The "subdominant" label is somewhat arbitrary.

    Jazz players tend to think of harmonic function in terms of categories: everything is either ii, V, I, or a substitute for one of those chords. IV is seen as a substitute for ii, as are iv and ii°. vi and ♭VI are usually seen as tonic substitutes, because those chords share two out of three notes with the triad built on scale degree 4. (This increases to 3 out of 4 notes if you go up to 7th chords.) Has some of the same notes, they sound similar enough, they can substitute. Where you draw the line between a vi chord that functions as a pre-dominant and one that functions as a tonic substitute is a little hazy, which is why I have moved away from function-as-category in recent years.

    Study classical theory and trust that it can shed light on many other styles. (I hope my posts have demonstrated as much.) You say you have a foundation, so I recommend going through the lessons at http://www.musictheory.net to make sure you are not missing anything at the very basic level. It's a good idea to have a harmony textbook from the 2000s around as a reference. Do a lot of chordal analysis. Download Bach's 371 chorales and some of Mozart's piano sonatas from IMSLP and analyze. Do tons of part writing. Do ear training, short melodic dictation, transcription. Read modern analytical literature. Brad Osborn has a book on the music of Radiohead, ya know. Everything in its Right Place: Analyzing Radiohead. I also like these essays, though they are a bit more technical. Gobble up whatever you can get. It took me a long time to get to the level of understanding I have now, and I'm still just a scrub. It's just like practicing an instrument: the more you do it and the more focused you are, the better you'll get.
     
    Last edited: Jul 26, 2017
  9. bostjan

    bostjan MicroMetal Contributor

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    The way I would start all of this sort of chord structure theory is to go through a lot of examples, like you seem to already be doing.

    I took one semester of university music theory, and dropped out, so I don't have as deep an understanding as a music major.

    First place to start (you can scroll down past the boring stuff you've already seen) would be to define terms. I don't have this nailed down in a universal way, but, the way I personally see a piece of music is by root note and tonality. The root note, or "tonic," is the one note that everything else resolves toward. This is generally the last note, note the first note. The tonality describes the general tone of the piece. Major tonality is the most common. Minor tonality is the next most common. Everything else is distant to that, so let's stick with that for this post.

    Once you have identified the root note and tonality of a piece of music (like a pop song, a movement of a larger piece, or whatever is appropraitely described by those two bits of information), then you can start mapping out chords.

    Take a simple song like "Down on the Corner" by CCR. The chords are something like (IIRC): C G C C G C F C G C F C G C
    Identify the root note as C and the tonality as major.
    Using the roman numeral notation the way I learned it C = I, G = V, F = IV, so the chord changes are I - V - I, repeat, then IV - I - V - I, repeat.
    I - V - I is probably the most simple chord change (as in, "Mary Had a Little Lamb"), and it works well in many instances. IV - V - I is another very common one, but IV- I - V - I is a little different from that idea, whay I would consider, in this case, to be a variation of the general idea of IV- V - I.

    Once you have the basic understanding of I -V - I progressions and IV - V - I progressions, what they sound like, and where and when you see them used, I would move on to 12-bar blues progressions. This is probably the easiest sonic foundation to understand whilst still having plenty of room to play with variations, and have tons of examples available of every variation.

    The basic 12-bar blues progression is C C C C F F C C G G C C. So I - IV - I - V - I. Think of Bill Haley's "Rock Around the Clock." IIRC, there are no variations nor substitutions (aside from the intro and outro), just thwacking through the standard 12-bar progression of four bars of C, two bars of F, two bars of C, two bars of G, and then two bars of C, and repeat the whole thing.

    From there, you can check out the most common variations (IMO, more common than the non-variant):

    1. Dominant chord substitutions. Try a G7 instead of a G. Sounds pretty good, so it's I - IV - I - V7 - I. Next you can substitute all of the chords with dominant chords - C7 F7 and G7 ("San Jose").
    2. Shuffle changes. Instead of two bars of G, play one bar of G followed by one bar of F. It releases the tension of the V more gradually, and sounds pretty good. C C C C F F C C G F C C, or I - IV - I -V - IV - I. Think "Hound Dog."
    3. Quick change. Instead of starting with four straight bars of C, try one bar of C, one of F, then two bars of C. C F C C F F C C G G C C. I - IV - I - IV - I - V - I. Now we've got some variation going on.

    Then combine the above variations, and you can come up with dozens of different songs.

    That's all well and good, but has nothing to do with chord substitutions like "Creep," right? Well, no, but actually yes. The dominant chord substitution is a very simple substitution, but it is a substitution where you pick notes out of something-other-than-the-scale-you-are-playing-in to make up the notes in the chords. You can do all sorts of crazy substitutions, and throw in Ab7b9 in your key of C major, but you might want to work your way up to stuff like that, at least as far as understanding what exactly motivates such a change. Obviously, if you do it and it sounds good, you don't need to know why, but if you want to know why, you kind of have to use several stepping stones to get there.

    Speaking of stepping stones, take a look at "Stepping Stone" by Paul Revere and the Raiders. The chords are E G A C. All major chords. But, in the key of E major, WTF is G major doing in there? What about C major?! - Well, this is what I call "major/minor substitution." The song is in the key of E major, but it's acting like it's in the key of E minor. The bIII chord is like the i7 chord. How?

    Well, E major is E G# B. G major is G B D. Think of a minor seventh substitution for the I chord, so, instead of Emaj (EG#B), you start with Em7 (EGBD). Then delete the low E, and you have GBD left over, which is the Gmaj chord. Lots of songs in the 1960's ("For Your Love") commonly substituted a minor chord in a progression for the same major chord to give a little pizzaz. This is really just taking that a step further.

    Same with the IV - bIV change. A major is the IV chord. A major is A C# E. Substitute Am7 (ACEG) and then delete the lowest note (CEG) to get a Cmaj chord.

    Voila! Chord substitution 101.
     
  10. Hollowway

    Hollowway Extended Ranger

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    THIS is the stuff I was talking about. That’s a huge help. I knew most of the stuff you wrote before this, but this substitution thing is kind of throwing me. But this example, the way you broke it down is super helpful. It makes way more sense to see it explained that way, rather than just the surface level stuff I tend to see when I read online about this stuff.
     
  11. Hollowway

    Hollowway Extended Ranger

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    Ok, awesome. Thanks for those links! I’m completely self taught with respect to theory, and compared to a lot of guitarists I know a decent amount of theory. But that’s not saying much. :lol: But I think I learned the basics, and then get in over my head. There are clearly some gaps in my knowledge, so I need to go back a bit and relearn this stuff that derails me. I have zero idea how you cram all this in your normal sized head, but it’s definitely impressive.
     

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