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  • What key?

    What key is Sweet Home Alabama in? Why?
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  • #2
    G Major. It uses the notes G, A, B, C, D, E, F#

    The next (closest) key would be D Major, but that has a C# in it, and Sweet Home uses a C natural. It also can't be C Major because of the F# in the D Major chord. So from the D Major chord (F#) and the C Natural alone it must be G Major. While it could be a relative mode of G Major (such as D Mixolydian), the progression of D, C(sus2), G is a V-IV-I in the key of G, so that is a very strong indicator that the root is G, not another note.

    If you are interested in learning more about key signatures, find a circle of 5ths chart online.
    Last edited by Special B; 04-10-2014, 04:03 PM.

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    • #3
      It centers on D so going by key signature label makes no sense.
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      • #4
        Try ending the song on G. Notice that it wants to resolve to D? The song is in the key of D. The C would be notated as an accidental. That's the way I hear it.
        BD

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        • #5
          Do we have to go through this all again? Check this out:
          http://www.thegearpage.net/board/sho...t+home+alabama

          (and that was the SECOND interminable thread on the topic)

          To sum up:

          1. "Key" is which note (or chord) you perceive to be the tonal centre. Not the major scale the notes and chords are harmonised from.

          2. The problem with this tune is that people perceive the tonal centre differently. Some hear it as D, some as G. And each camp will (it seems) argue heatedly, maybe to the death, that the way they hear it is "right", and the others are obviously wrong (and maybe deaf or stupid as well). In one discussion, the voting was around 70-30 in favour of D. In another, on another site, it was in favour of G. (However, a few of those voting G would be thinking major scale, not aural tonal centre.)
          In truth, there is no right or wrong. Key truly is a subjective perception, not a matter of fact. This tune is only unusual in that people's perception of it varies so much. In 99.9% of tunes, almost everyone will agree on what the keynote is.

          3. If you hear the key centre as D, then it's in D mixolydian (I-bVII-IV). If you hear it as G, then it's in G major (V-IV-I).
          The vocal mostly returns to D all the time, while the chords seem to resolve to G.

          4. Skynyrd themselves disagreed about what key it was in. (You can find amusing tales of studio arguments if you search,) However, in live performances - FWIW - they ended on G, suggesting they eventually came to some democratic decision on G. (Doesn't mean that's "correct", of course. It's still a matter of anyone's opinion.)

          5. An analysis of Ed King's solo suggests he (at least) was thinking of it as key of G. But of course the notes are all the same (G major or D mixolydian), so it makes little difference. You can't play "wrong notes" whichever way you think of it. (Well, "wrong notes" would still be possible either way, but relative to the chords, not the key.)
          ...

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          • #6
            For something that just cycles like that tune,
            D Major.
            bVII, Major b III.
            Done.
            Last edited by 1001gear; 04-17-2014, 04:54 PM.
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            • #7
              Sorry if I come off as combative, or nitpicky. No disrespect is meant.

              Originally posted by 1001gear View Post
              It centers on D so going by key signature label makes no sense.
              Using key signature and mode labels always makes sense. Those labels simply exist to make communication easier. They don't change what you hear. You can call it G Ionian or D Mixolydian, but you cannot call it D Ionian or Major (not saying you did). That would be simply false. If you told someone it was in the key of D, they would assume it has a C# in it instead of a C, so it would not be an effective way to communicate the key of the song. D Mixolydian or G Ionian would be.

              The song uses C natural, not C#, so it cannot be in the key of D (Ionian). If you hear D as the tonal center, then it is D mixolydian, not D (natural) major.
              Perception of the tonal center is subjective. Which notes are in a key signature is not. Key signatures (and which notes they include) are defined and not a matter of opinion or perception.

              I think V-IV-I in G is a stronger candidate than I-vii-V in D mixolydian because the IV and V are the strongest two chords in a major key (they imply the tonal center more than the vii does) aside from the tonic, which the progression ends on.

              Determining which mode a song is in can be tricky since relative modes use the same notes. But the order is what gives it away. V-IV-I being one of the options is a dead giveaway.

              Originally posted by Bob Dey View Post
              Try ending the song on G. Notice that it wants to resolve to D? The song is in the key of D. The C would be notated as an accidental. That's the way I hear it.
              I hear it clearly resolving to G, but that is subjective. The song cannot be in the key of D because it does not use the notes of the key of D. It could be in the mode of D mixolydian, but that is different than D natural major. The song uses a C natural instead of a C#. It wouldn't make sense to use the key signature of D and put a natural sign next to every C. It makes more sense to use the key signature of G. That doesn't mean the song cannot be in a mode of G, such as D mixolydian.

              The C is not used as an out note, it is the root of one of the three chords. It is part of the key signature.

              I totally understand people hearing D as the tonal center, even though I hear it very clearly as G. I agree that it is subjective and a matter of perception. I am just saying to call it what it is. D Mixolydian is not D Ionian and saying the song is in "the key of D" just because the tonal center is D is misleading. Sweet Home Alabama is not in the key of D, but with a C instead of a C# (b7 instead of a major 7). There is already a name for that. Mixolydian. If you want to call D the tonal center then you must say it is in the mode of D mixolydian. In the same way you wouldn't call a song in B Phrygian "in the key of B".

              Originally posted by 1001gear View Post
              For something that just cycles like that tune,
              D Major.
              bVII, Major III.
              Done.
              Can't be D Major. D Major does not have a b7 in it. D Mixolydian does. While mixolydian is a major mode, calling it D major is misleading because natural D major has a C#. Like I said above, it is about communication. You can call it whatever you want, but if you say "D major" is the key, you are implying there is a C# in the key when there is not. D mixolydian or even G Ionian would be a better way to communicate the key.

              Again, sorry to be nitpicky, but calling a song in D mixolydian "in the key of D major" is going to be misunderstood by musicians that have taken theory classes. Saying the song is in the key of D is shorthand for saying "the song uses the notes D E F# G A B C#". Saying the song is in D Mixolydian means it uses D E F# G A B C and is correct in this case (as would be G Ionian depending on perception, but calling it E minor would not be correct even though it uses the same notes). I know that out notes are always an option, believe me, I love using out notes. But Sweet Home only uses 7 tones and no out notes, so it isn't part of this discussion. Also, out notes are used in a different way than the notes in the scale. The C natural used in Sweet Home is not an out note and it is not used like one.
              Last edited by Special B; 04-16-2014, 01:25 AM.

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              • #8
                I suppose this is the intended retarded argument. Anyhow, it ain't Wagner. There are no contextual requirements for G Major nor is there any contextual support for G Major. The tune, catchy as it is, hammers the D repeatedly. ( simplest way to set tonality incidentally) . D Major is good enough. ANY Major can have a bVII as soon as you stick it in there. The occasional F# is of course a Major III. Also allowed.
                Granted you can force your ears into Gmajor but THAT would be the retarded theoretical argument.
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                • #9
                  The song resolves to a G major chord. It uses the notes of the key of G. It doesn't require "force" to hear G as the tonal center, nor to see that the song is technically in the key signature of G (which doesn't disqualify relative modes such as D Mixolydian). I just played the main riff several times ending on G and ending on D. It sounds good both ways, but the actual recording ends on a G major chord. Did the band forget to resolve the progression? Someone isn't "retarded" for having a different perception of tonal center than you, nor for providing actual music theory to back up their perception.

                  The song doesn't hammer on D any more than it hammers on G. You should take another look at the tablature, or better yet, the sheet music (and have a look at the key signature with its lone sharp).

                  The main riff arpeggiates the chords D, Csus2, G, with two main alternating fills, one ending on G and one using G as a pedal tone. The riff, note per note, goes like this:

                  D D D A D / C C D G D / G G G G / (fill#1) A B D E D C A G / (fill#2) G G A G G B G G C

                  The fills are in the key of G, evidence for this is found when the vocals kick in. The riff is simplified and the fills are removed and replaced by another measure of a G chord. So, with the vocals that is one measure of D, one measure of C, and *TWO* measures of G. Count it out. The riff uses a G chord twice as long as the D chord. 4 beats of D, 4 beats of C, and 8 beats of G.

                  So yeah, the song hammers on D. It also hammers on G (twice as much). And it resolves to G.... so....

                  You can save the insults for after you provide a shred of reason or support for your argument, as I have done at length for mine.

                  I never said out notes are not allowed. Of course any note can be added to any key. But Sweet Home Alabama doesn't use an occasional C natural, every single C in the song is a C natural. The second chord in the three chord riff is a C natural major chord. It isn't an out note, it is part of the key signature. C natural is not in the key of D. If you hear D as the tonal center then the song is in D Mixolydian. That is an important distinction. Clarity and correctness are not "retarded".


                  The notes in a G major triad are G B D, and the notes in a D major triad are D F# A. Which do you see more of in this riff (above)? Considering that D is the V chord in G (which is called "dominant" for a reason), it is normal for a song in G to feature many Ds (chords and notes). It is the most important note and chord after the tonic. Many songs can sound kinda like they are in the key of their dominant chord, but if you play that key straight, you will have one bad note (the fact that it is only one note off is why the two keys can be easily confused). In this case it is C# that is the offending note. That is why it can't be D natural major.

                  Given that the song uses C natural and never C#, the seventh chord for D would be a Ddom7 (which has a C), not a Dmaj7 (which has a C#). Try playing the riff and resolving to Ddom7. If the song were truly in D Mixolydian (because D Ionian has a C# and is not an option) instead of G Ionian, the Ddom7 chord should work as the last chord and final resolution. Try it. It does not. The Ddom7 chord STRONGLY wants to resolve to G, as the riff and song both do in the actual song. Now try ending on a Gmaj7 (F# is used in the song and F natural is not, so it is a safe bet that the 7th chord for G would be a maj7). It works much better than the Ddom7 does. When a song is truly in the Mixolydian mode rather than the relative natural major key, the dom7 chord works as the final resolution. That is not the case here. This alone does not mean D cannot be the tonal center, but it does help my case. If someone were to say that they hear D as the tonal center, that they like how it sounds ending the song on a D chord, and that therefore the song is in D Mixolydian, I would not call them wrong. But to say the song is in D natural major, when by the definition of "D natural major" it cannot be, you are simply wrong. You don't get to decide which notes are in which key signature. The key of a song is determined by the actual notes used in the actual song. The song uses C, not C#, and that means it could be certain keys and not others. If the song used C# and C, and the C was just "stuck in there", then it would be an out note and the song could very well be in the key of D major, but that is not the case here.

                  I can see (and hear) how the final G chord in the song can sound like it is the IV chord of D Mixolydian. And ending it on D does sound good, as it should, being the V chord in G. But It doesn't sound good ending on Ddom7, which suggests the root of the chord is not the tonic, as it should be in D Mixolydian. The need for the Ddom7 chord to resolve to G suggests the Ddom7 is the V chord, not he tonic. A D major triad sounds so good as the final chord because the song and melody mainly stick to the pentatonic scale. That means the notes that clearly suggest one tonic over another are usually left out. But it is definitely not D major. C is in the chord progression, and C is not in D major. Modes exist. Use the names.

                  I have provided reasons that the song is in G major not the relative D Mixolydian (song ends on G, riff uses G for twice as many beats, the Ddom7 chord wants to resolve to G when tried as final chord) and provided evidence that the song, by the definition of "D natural major" (which is DEF#GABC#) cannot be in D natural major (D natural major does not use C instead of C#). When you replace every major 7th with a minor 7th in an otherwise normal major scale, we have a name for that. Mixolydian. Call it what it is.

                  If you can make an actual argument for the song being in D major rather than G major or even D Mixolydian other than "because I say so and you are retarded for saying any different" please present it. I not only have the music theory on my side, but the song itself (it ends on a G and rides the G twice as long). I'll go even deeper than that...

                  A V-IV-I in G Ionian is enharmonically the same as a I-vii-IV in D Mixolydian, but the IV suggests the tonic better than the vii does (The IV is called Sub-Dominant for a reason; it is the third most resolute chord behind the V/Dominant, and it leads to and from the V as well as to and from the Tonic). If you substitute an A minor for the C major, it would definitely suggest D Mixolydian. Play D-Am-G-G, keeping the extra measure of G (as in Sweet Home), and then the resolution to D is obvious and G is awkward despite the extra beats it gets. But that would be a I-V-IV in D Mixolydian versus V-vii-I in G Ionian. Try playing the progressions as I suggest below to hear the difference. Dominant-SubDominant-Tonic is one of the strongest and most common resolutions in diatonic music, and SubDominant-Dominant-Tonic is even stronger and more resolute. I am not saying music theory should change what you hear or what you play, but rather, music theory is a way to codify and define what you hear for ease of communication.

                  If you strum D-C-G-G and try ending on a G and a D (both work), then play D-Am-G-G and try ending on a G and a D (G stops working and sounds unfinished), you will see how the D-C-G-G progression ends much nicer on the G than the D-Am-G-G progression ends on the G. Ending on a G with D-Am-G-G sounds MUCH more unfinished than it does with D-C-G-G. While ending on a D does sound good with D-C-G-G, it sounds more resolute when ending on a D after playing D-Am-G-G. It sounds kinda like the G does at the end of D-C-G-G

                  The difference between how D-C-G-G sounds resolving to G (resolute: suggests G is tonic, but modulating to D sounds good too) and D-Am-G-G sounds ending on G (tense: but resolves nicely to D suggesting D is the tonic and the mode is mixolydian due to the A chord being minor instead of Major: The V triad is major in the major scale, but minor in mixolydian) is what music theory gives you the terminology to describe. Terms like Sub-Dominant and Leading Tone, or Mixolydian and Ionian aren't "retarded", nor are they rules you must follow, they simply allow musicians to communicate musical ideas with words. It is a useful thing, if you use the terms correctly.
                  Last edited by Special B; 04-16-2014, 06:15 AM.

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                  • #10
                    Blah blah, write a treatise if you like.

                    Here's a holotab of what I believe to be the the original release. Very accurate and goes on and fades in traditional pop fashion. The band itself doing renditions ending on the IV chord is just more rhetoric.

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                    • #11
                      I hear the song as key of G. For me, it resolves to G, only has 3 chords---which, in the key of G are the I IV V that are the basis of the blues-rock style of the song. And 99% of the sheet music I've ever seen for the song notates the song with one sharp (key of G major) because otherwise you're using accidentals endlessly. No need to make songs like this more complex than they need to be.

                      But if people hear it as key of D, so be it. That's all cool. Just as long as everyone on stage plays D-C-G all at the same time, the rest is semantics.
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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by guido61 View Post
                        I hear the song as key of G.
                        So do I, FWIW. Doesn't mean either of us can tell those who hear it as D are wrong, and more than they can tell us we are.
                        Originally posted by guido61 View Post
                        For me, it resolves to G, only has 3 chords---which, in the key of G are the I IV V that are the basis of the blues-rock style of the song. And 99% of the sheet music I've ever seen for the song notates the song with one sharp (key of G major) because otherwise you're using accidentals endlessly. No need to make songs like this more complex than they need to be.
                        A 1-sharp key is fine, because key sigs only specify scales, not keys. A 1-sharp key sig could be one of two different keys: G major and E minor. Or it could be any other mode of those 7 notes. In particular, D mixolydian and A dorian are popular modes with 1-sharp key sigs.
                        Originally posted by guido61 View Post
                        But if people hear it as key of D, so be it. That's all cool. Just as long as everyone on stage plays D-C-G all at the same time, the rest is semantics.
                        Exactly. The argument is pointless (academic semantics, and often invoking some misunderstood theory concepts). Half the band could think it was in D, the other half in G. As long as everyone played the same notes and chords it would still sound fine.

                        ...

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                        • #13
                          It's in G. Everyone be cool.

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by JonR View Post
                            So do I, FWIW. Doesn't mean either of us can tell those who hear it as D are wrong, and more than they can tell us we are.
                            A 1-sharp key is fine, because key sigs only specify scales, not keys. A 1-sharp key sig could be one of two different keys: G major and E minor. Or it could be any other mode of those 7 notes. In particular, D mixolydian and A dorian are popular modes with 1-sharp key sigs.
                            Exactly. The argument is pointless (academic semantics, and often invoking some misunderstood theory concepts). Half the band could think it was in D, the other half in G. As long as everyone played the same notes and chords it would still sound fine.
                            All of that. Only thing I'd add is pointless semantic arguments are fine sometimes. Not only can they be interesting for those who like the subject, but someone might actually learn a thing or two about music theory they didn't know before in the process, and there's nothing wrong with that!

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by jclements View Post
                              It's in G. Everyone be cool.
                              Nice try. It's going to get those who say it's in D even more heated... )
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