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jelikinto83

Questions regarding the Key of 'Tangerine' - Led Zeppelin

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I'm a bit confused around the key of Tangerine by Led Zeppelin. Is it really in G-Major, like most google searches suggest?

Extra info/my thought process:

So, I've been playing guitar for about 15 years, since I was a boy. I've never taken meaningful music theory lessons, but I've been trying to dip my hand into it more and more the last few years. Usually, I just care about Keys when I want to improv a solo, and I wanna make sure I know what notes "sound nice" so I don't need to spend time finding them on my own. Or of course when I try my hand at limited composing.

I learned the song on guitar yesterday, and tried to guess the key today. I guessed A-minor/(C-Major), after using one of my favorite apps "Guitar Scales" as a practice to try to identify the root note in the solo, which I didn't think was obvious like in some solos. I dismissed the song being in G-Major, until I saw almost all searches lead there. It fits with the chords, especially as A-minor uses the Dm chord instead of regular D like the song does.

Still, the only time G plays in the solo, is briefly as the rest from a bend to A. Unless of course, it's in E-minor, which makes sense for the root notes of the solo (first bend and last note of is E), but then that confuses me as none of the chords played during verse and chorus are E-minor.

Does the song perhaps switch between minor and major from verse to chorus? Does that mean that the solo is in minor as it follows the verse rather than chorus, and is therefore in E-minor, while the melody is in G-Major during the chorus?

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Is it in G major? Sort of.

is it in Am? Sort of.

You’ve discovered one of the interesting things about trying to describe ‘popular’ music in terms of ‘keys’.

Look at how the different sections of the song ‘feel’:

The verses have a minor, slightly mournful feel to them. The choruses are more major in their tonality, and the solo starts of minor and ends feeling major. 
There is a common thread though, and that’s the notes that are used in the melody.

Here’s the lyrics and the melody notes used underneath:

Measuring a summer’s day

C.   D.   C.   B B.    A.       A 

 

Only find it slips away to grey, the hours they bring me pain

C. D. C.   B B.      A. A.  G. G.     A.   A.        G.     G.      F#.. F#

 

There’s a whole scale there: ABCDEF#G.  The F# suggests G major. But it sounds like it’s a minor key?  The relative minor of G is Em. But there are no Em chords and no B chords (chords i and V in Em and you’re going to struggle not using those chords in that key).

So something else is going on

How is the melody harmonised?

It’s Am, G and D. Then Am, G, D, C;  C, G with a B bass, Am; Am, G, D.

Both sequences end on D and sound ‘finished’... so we could assume D is the root and our scale becomes:

D,E,F#,G,A,B,C  - almost D major but with a flattened 7th.  This is a mode - and it’s the Mixolydian mode.

D is chord I, G is chord IV, and Am is chord v.
 

(You could also choose the Am chord as I and harmonise this section in the Dorian mode instead... A,B,C,D,E,F#,G - flat 3rd and sharp 6th. But if you do that the Chorus makes less sense).

The chorus happens, and there’s a change of feel - very major. Not so modal any more, this is a G major chorus (I,V,IV,V,I in G).... ending on a D to take it back into D mixolydian.

Another verse and then the solo, where something else happens! Two new chords F, and E - both major chords, and neither fit in the chords you construct in D mixolydian or G major, because there’s an F natural and a G sharp:

A,B,C,D,E,F,G#... which is A minor.

 

So... if you were going to write Tangerine as a piece of notation you could write it in C major and add loads of F#’s, and the occasional G#; you could write it in G major (probably the easiest way to notate it) and add the odd F natural and G#; or you could be really awkward and write it in D major with lots of C naturals, and the odd F natural and G#....

So, it’s kind of in G major, and kind of in A minor (and sort of kind of in D major...) depending on how you want to look at it!

D mixolydian with an A minor section too....

 

Does you brain hurt yet?

 

Edited by woz70
edited due to stupidity

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I seriously doubt Page wrote it with all the theory crap in mind. Prolly played what sounded good. 

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On 11/6/2020 at 6:30 AM, Silverseas said:

I seriously doubt Page wrote it with all the theory crap in mind. Prolly played what sounded good. 

Absolutely this! 

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It's in G major. The verses sound like the Dorian mode and the chorus is straight up G. All the chords are diatonic to G.

Tangerine is the first song I learned to strum and sing at the same time. Jimmy wrote it years before during his time with the Yardbirds. It had a different title at first: "Knowing That I'm Losing You"

 

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On 11/6/2020 at 1:30 AM, Silverseas said:

I seriously doubt Page wrote it with all the theory crap in mind. Prolly played what sounded good. 

+1

Obsessing over "theory" is a thing nowadays. It sells instructional books and videos I guess. Jimmy learned a ton of songs when he started out on guitar. Then he became a session musician and learned the ins and outs of a million more songs, on a professional level. After some time, wax on, wax off...he knew how a song went. He knew the parts. He knew the chords that people used in songs and wrote Tangerine with simple chords. I believe it's just a four chord song: Am, C, D, G and the odd F on the ending, which you can always take liberties with, but basically just a four chord song in G, like so many others.

Best thing to do is empty your head of all that intellectualism and just learn tons of songs. Music isn't necessarily an intellectual endeavor and when it is, it's usually boring for the listener. Music is simple. If you can make the audience tap their feet, you're winning.

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