Jump to content

Can someone who understands theory explain this concept for me?


Recommended Posts

I've heard this done at the end of many songs (particularly in progressive rock) and it involves a key change at the end (not referring to the cliche final verse key changes common in 80's songs).

Instead it usually takes place at the very end of the song where the lead or vocals has hit it's final note and a chord in a different key is played to give the resolution effect. After which a rave of sorts is performed and the song ends.

To provide an example I'll post Dream Theater's Trial of Tears.

The song itself is 13 minutes so to skip over to the part I'm referring to....


When LaBrie sings "Rainin deep in heaven" for the last time, the "ven" part at 12:04 is what I'm referring to.

I tried to pick it up by ear and it seems like it's going from Abm to F# to C# and when they change they go from Abm to F# to E which would be in a different key.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Correct me if I'm wrong anyone, I haven't done theory in a while.

It sounds to me like a deceptive cadence. A deceptive cadence is when you expect some kind of closure by moving from the dominant (V) to the root chord (I) of the key, but instead you get a related chord (usually IV or VI because they share 2 notes with I).

Structurally, this serves to extend the phrase before coming to a close. You can really hear that in this song. From 11:24, if you listen to the bass, every 4-bar phrase goes to the dominant (V) chord. It sounds like the song is about to end. This is because the bass wants to jump from that chord to the root, the point of rest. But instead, they veer off into a chord farther from the tonal center so they can jam a bit longer and settle onto the root chord (which gives the feeling of ending) instead of landing on it abruptly.

If you listen to the singers at 12:04, you can actually hear that their melody goes to the tonic (root note of the key), but the bass doesn't land on the tonic, so it creates this jarring tension of "Whoa, I thought the song was about to end." This is a great thing because the song (especially such a long one) has built up a lot of energy, and releasing it all at once would actually be a huge let-down. So instead, they ease their way back to tonic, giving a more gentle path toward the song's end.

Also, if you jump back and forth between the beginning and end of the song a few times while paying attention to the bass, you'll hear that the song eventually does go back to the root chord of the key (and the entire song), giving the sense of closure/resolution we expect from a song.

Hope that helps! Let me know if you need me to clarify anything. Writing music theory in words always ends up really cluttered compared to scores and diagrams.

Edit: Just wanted to point out that the part in question from 12:04 is not actually a key change because the music doesn't settle in that new key. Because the song almost immediately goes back to the original key within the same musical phrase, it's more of a "key stretch," where chords from a different key are being borrowed for the sake of tone-color.

Edited by sphexic
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I could be wrong, but it sounds like its going Abmin-Gbmaj-Dbmaj.

The modulation you hear at the end is just a parallel modulation. It resolves to a Dbmin chord instead of a major. Fairly common. I guess we could call it a deceptive cadence but that usually requires the Dominant leading to something out of place, which we don't have here. This ain't classical music so the progression here is a little different. We could look at it as v-IV-I

or as i-VII-IV in the key of Ab minor. None of of these have a V-I, so we can't call it deceptive. It's modern music. If it sounds pleasing, thats all you need.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

From my time playing Dream Theater lots of years ago, the chords are these:

CHORUS: G#m / F# / C# (2 bars) [Repeat this many times until 12:04]

E / F# / E / D#sus (chord notes are D# F A#, not sure if that one is called sus or something different).

Theory wise, the whole chord progression, bar the E chord, is moving in the D# minor key, which is the final chord. Chorus is based on a mode of that key.

Now, for the E chord, I believe this is called a Neapolitan Chord ( http://www.musictheory.net/lessons/121 ). Essentially, you move the second note of your key one semitone back and play a major chord. It usually works well as a resolution to the root!

Many bands use that progression, particularly in progressive music. Some examples from British band Frost*:

. In Pocket Sun, chords are G#min, E, C#m, A (some 7ths thrown in there too!). In Falling Down, the base key is G minor and you may notice both the initial verse and the piano verse end with G#.

I'm not an expert in theory, so feel free to correct me!

As a final note, if you look at the piano voicing (right hand), the progression looks more natural.

G#min is G# B D#.

F# is F# B# C#.

C# is F G# C#.

E is E G# B.

You may notice how natural it feels to move from C# to E! This isn't musical theory of course, but I've noticed many bands (Genesis for example) do a lot of strange chord progressions that make a lot of sense when looking at the movement in the keys!

Edited by jnWake
Link to comment
Share on other sites

dude its dream theater, expect this kinda stuff from them.

they love to just play music.

they like to mess around with how music is made.

weird drum patterns, weird chords, long ass songs that go on for up to 40 minutes long, ending one album with the same note the next album opens on.

tell me what in there makes sense to you?

its why i love em, they're bloody crazy.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks for the correction, Wiesty. As you were able to tell, my theory knowledge is mostly classical, so it's good to learn some theory from another genre.

The overall point I was trying to make is that the melody line from 11:56 to 12:04 makes it feel like the song could end when they hit the "-ven" in "heaven," but the bass note underneath them at that point prevents a resolution and elongates the phrase. That sense of full closure is delayed until the very last bass note around 12:35. Everything in between feels like a way of "floating down" harmonically to the expected ending chord instead of going out with a huge bang. Of course, this is just how I'm hearing the song, and that doesn't make other interpretations invalid.

I agree that if a song sounds pleasing, that's what matters. But I feel that theory should try to explain why it sounds pleasing. I understand that a lot of people dislike theory because it's taught very rigidly and as a "rule-book for writing music." I personally love theory because I see it as a way of describing musical phenomena rather than prescribing rules.

I admit I shouldn't have used any kinds of chord symbols without transcribing the music because my ear isn't very precise. Chlysm's phrase "usually takes place at the very end of the song where the lead or vocals has hit it's final note and a chord in a different key is played" is very close to the definition of a deceptive cadence, though, and describes the phenomenon he's referring to really well. Classical music uses different chords, certainly, but the concept of a deceptive cadence is the same: one of flouting an expected ending to a phrase. I was mistaken in saying this Dream Theater song uses a dominant chord, as you've shown. But there seems to be an expectation of resolution that is interrupted by the stuff that happens between 12:04 and 12:35, whether that's just caused by the harmonic implication of the melody or by a combination of factors. That's all I'm trying to get across.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm gonna pull my music degree card. some right things above, some wrong. there is no modulation.

so the ending riff is, as has been pointed out: Ab min, Gb maj, Db maj

which is: i, VII, IV -- typical pop stuff

(pedantics: I chose Ab min over G# minor cause that's easier in my head for some reason. different spellings for the same sound)

At 12:04, you're expecting Ab min, but you get an Fb maj (or just a plain old E major, but as long as we're talking theory we've got to use the correct spelling for the key). So instead of an i chord we get a VI chord. sphexic, even though as Weisty pointed out, it's not a deceptive cadence--you're making a good connection ear-wise. Like with a deceptive cadence, you got 2 out of the 3 notes you were expecting to hear.

Ok---now they're just riffing around the VI chord (Fb major, aka E major). The underlying harmony of what they do next is go from Fb, to Gb, back to Fb (VI, VII, VI), but as jnWake points out (and as our ears can obviously hear from the weirdness) it's not just major chords. If you want to play this part on your guitar, just play an E major chord, then slide your 3 fretting fingers up two frets and play that chord, leaving strings 1, 2, and 6 open. So what do you call that weird Gb chord?

1st string: open

2nd string: open

3rd string: 3rd fret

4th string: 4th fret

5th string: 5th fret

6th string: open

Whatever you want. The underlying sound is VI to VII and back to VI, with the added benefit of holding on to some notes from the VI chord. Prog rock loves holding on to notes and smearing chords together. Theory-wise, you could use words like parallelism, pedal tone, a couple sustained notes, maybe some quartal harmony---but in any case they're all embellishments--embellishments you can thank the impressionistic composers for, in large part.

ok, so far we've got

i, VI, IV (repeating), then

VI, VII (embellished), VI

then next, at 12:17, it's not a modulation, it's just a V chord (Eb major).

VI often prepares the V in minor keys, though in common practice classical harmony they use modified VI chords to avoid parallel intervals. In any case, the VI to V sound is one that has been pounded in our heads. jnWake, it's not a Neapolitan chord in this case--though I do see the connection you're trying to make.

at 12:25, after dwelling on the V for a long time, we get an Ab major chord. so we just went from V to I. This is called a Picardy third, when we're in a minor key and we just make it major on the last chord.

You guys are right to be hearing some modulation-esque behavior (or "temporary tonicizations" as they might be called) but they're not really there. or at least, that sound doesn't arise from the chords so much as the slowness of the harmonic tempo here and the amount of time they spend away from the tonic. By the time we get back to Ab, it doesn't really feel like home anymore.

so, in total, it's just

i, VI, IV (repeat)


V, I

with a little mixolydian riffing on that last I chord

in Ab minor, that's:

Ab minor, Fb major, Db major (repeat)

Fb major, Gb major*, Fb major

Eb major, Ab major

in G# minor, that's:

G# minor, E major, C# major (repeat)

E major, F# major*, E major

D# major, G# major

also got to plug one of my favorite remixes:

Edited by Patrick Burns
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Isn't the chord in question Gb7/Fb? (Gb7 with an Fb in the bass?)

This sounds like it's the first half of the common pop progression that would go:

Fb Gb7/Fb Ebm7 Abm

Because that's a lot of flats, transposed to A minor it would go:

F G7/F Em7 Am

The two chords in the DT song at 12:04 sounds like the first two chords of this progression.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

There are no modulations. The presence of notes outside the key does not indicate a modulation. Come on, guys.

Patrick and Sil hit it. It's just minor key chords, nothing special.

VI -> VII -> i


VI -> VII -> V

V is a borrowed chord from the parallel major. It's there because the Aeolian mode (minor scale) has no leading tone (Gb to Ab is a whole step, but it needs to be a G to Ab, a half step, to be a leading tone). Thus, the v chord in minor (Eb minor) raises the minor third (Gb) to a major third (G) so it is now an Eb major chord with the leading tone G that will lead to the Ab chord (it doesn't sound like they do Ab minor after the Eb major chord, but that is the purpose of this chord, whether they resolve it or not).

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.


×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


  • Create New...