What is this key change?
January 8, 2013 6:39 AM   Subscribe

In More Than a Feeling, the chorus, a simple I IV iv V (G C e D), finished off with an Eb chord - totally not in the key - and then transitioning to em7. What is this transition to Eb, which is not at all part of the key of G, called?
posted by plinth to Media & Arts (11 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Perhaps interrupted cadence?
posted by TrinsicWS at 7:08 AM on January 8, 2013

This technique is known as a deceptive cadence. You think an authentic cadence is coming, and the melody acts as if an authentic cadence were happening, but the "resolution" is to an unexpected chord.

Usually, in classical music, the deceptive cadence is realized with the chord sequence V-vi. Here it's a little more chromatic than that (V-♭VI).

Wikipedia calls it "interrupted (or deceptive)", but in my experience, including undergraduate education and a lot of theory books, "deceptive" is the standard term (and "deceptive cadence" gets 10 times as many google hits as "interrupted cadence", FWIW).
posted by dfan at 7:27 AM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I thought it was a deceptive cadence, but I was used to a deceptive cadence being I IV V (or V7) iv. It seems odd since ♭VI doesn't really part of the key, but it voice leads really nicely to the vi7 after. (disclaimer: I haven't had a theory class in 25 years).
posted by plinth at 7:50 AM on January 8, 2013

It is a borrowed chord (Eb is VI in the key of g minor; borrowed chords come the parallel minor/major mode).

This is not an interrupted or "deceptive" cadence because this ♭VI chord is proceeded by a IV chord, not a V chord. So not as strong and not truly deceptive. A real deceptive cadence needs to go from a V chord to another chord besides I, thus the entire point of the "deception".


Now, based on the other stuff you have included in your question, there is no transition (more accurately: "modulation") to em7...that is still the chorus. It is a long phrase extension going through a chord progression, but still returning to G, the tonic, albeit on the sus V chord. No real modulation.
posted by TinWhistle at 7:51 AM on January 8, 2013 [4 favorites]

Oops, TinWhistle, you're right, I knew I should have listened to the song again before commenting. The chord sequence is indeed I-IV-♭VI. I agree with your interpretation.
posted by dfan at 8:00 AM on January 8, 2013

Theory is about motion, and you have to look ahead to see where you're going. You're headed for the G on "away" in the first chorus, and the that's G after the Bmin* on "away" in the second. There's no real new key established, but there's a a few chords that aren't diatonic.

Eb is a borrowed chord that leads from C to Emin7. The emin7 (E-G-B-D) is heading to the Asus (A-D-E) going to the A (A-C#-E), which is a going back to G. What's neat about this is that starting with the Eminor7 and ending on the G you have this cool little Harmonic aside. Each chord has two notes in common from the previous chord (this btw is what the sus is Asus stands for, suspended 4th, the D is held over from the emin7). So not only are you getting all this delay in going from the D to the G, but you're doing it in such a way that each chord delays full the resolution of the chord before it, AND you're doing it in a way that flows. The tension is coming mainly from the deviations from your expectation, not from any huge dissonances.

It's a pretty cool structure built up to support the non-standard phrase length of the chorus. Rather than just repeat the harmony of the line before it, as the lyrics do, the harmony keeps moving, and sustains the tension clear to the tonic at the end.

*which is another little delaying trick.
posted by Gygesringtone at 8:27 AM on January 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

You can look at this on a few levels. On the most granular, least context-dependent level, the transition from C major to Eb major is called a chromatic mediant relationship, so named because they are separated by a third (a mediant relationship) that doesn't belong to the key (thus chromatic). On a slightly more global scale, taking the key into account, I think TinWhistle is correct in deeming it a borrowed chord. Absent any surrounding context, the notion of where ♭VI is borrowed from can be ambiguous -- depending on the context, you could consider it as being borrowed from the parallel minor (i.e., from G minor) or from the subdominant minor (i.e., C minor), but in light of the fact that there are no other characteristic subdominant minor chords here (like ♭iv or ♭II) I would indeed agree that this chord comes from the parallel minor.

However! I would further add that the relationship of the ♭VI to the diatonic vi7 that follows complicates things a little bit. The guitar is just playing open fifths, so the voices it carries move upwards a half step in parallel. That sound of a whole chord sliding up a half step to the actual chord of the measure is idiomatic in rock and probably derives from its usage in blues. In that context, I would argue that the presence of ♭VI as a distinct harmonic entity should probably be de-emphasized in favor of it being interpreted as merely an appoggiatura to the vi7. But again, this is complicated by the fact that the third of the chord doesn't participate in this process -- the G in the voice is held over the ♭VI, into the vi7. So to some extent, its presence there as a legitimate harmonic entity is pretty ambiguous, and I think that ambiguity actually heightens the tension of that moment and the satisfaction of its "resolution" into the vi7. It's a nice little musical gem that way.

Anyway, that was fun, thanks for pointing that little bit out! It's been a while since I've heard this song. I hope my answer helped.
posted by invitapriore at 8:27 AM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Sorry, was called away by a sick baby. I should also mention:

That whole thing contrasts with the fact that in the first three lines of the chorus the harmony and part of the lyrics (the response of the call and response) are both static. And the break from those patterns doesn't actually happen until the musical aside starts. Which makes it even more effective at playing on the expectations of the listener. Not only is it playing on the expectations we've built up outside the song, but those inside the song as well.
posted by Gygesringtone at 8:36 AM on January 8, 2013

OK, just to clarify - since the ♭VI in MTaF is not a substitute for the I, this is a borrowed chord.

Whereas in Re: Your Brains from the transition from chorus to bridge, it goes IV V ♭VI, which is a deceptive cadence since it is a direct substitute for I.
posted by plinth at 8:59 AM on January 8, 2013

I think what makes this work is that bVI is actually pretty common in major-key rock songs, and in particular bVI-bVII-I is a big ol' classic rock cliché.

If the Eb chord at the end of the chorus resolved up via F to G, this would sound totally normal and unsurprising. (I mean, okay, to Bach or Beethoven, it would have been a bit weird. But to anyone who's listened to the radio since 1965 or so, it's a completely normal harmonic move. Listen to the end of the chorus of Crazy Little Thing Called Love for one really familiar and predictable-sounding example. Or if you like Phish, think of the end of Slave To The Traffic Light.)

So they could have done that. Instead, they're playing around with your expectations a bit. You hear Eb, you expect them to go straight up to F and then G — and instead, surprise surprise, they give you this detour through Emin and Asus4 (and finally back to G, the long way around, several bars later than you were expecting to hear it).

If you wanted to, you could think of this as a "classic rock deceptive cadence" or something like that. A normal deceptive cadence toys with your expectations about IV-V7-I progressions: you get IV and V7, you expect I, and then whoops!, we sure fooled you, we're gonna slide off into the relative minor. This thing toys in a similar way with your expectations about bVI-bVII-I progressions. You get bVI, you expect bVII and I, and then ha!, made you look, we're gonna slide off into the relative minor again.
posted by and so but then, we at 9:05 PM on January 8, 2013

Listening to this some more, it also reminds me a bit of the fucking-around with bVI in "This will be our year."

I mean, if they'd gone A-A-A-A-F-G-A, they'd have sounded like a million garage bands. If they'd gone A-C#min-A-D-F-G-A they'd have sounded a bit fancier but still basically predictable. Instead you get this weird surprise sideways move after the F that comes totally out of left field: A-C#min-A-D-F-E7-D-A.

So again, it works because it builds you up to expect a bVI-bVII-I cadence (F-G-A in this key), and then subverts that expectation in an interesting way.
posted by and so but then, we at 9:16 PM on January 8, 2013

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