Songwriting collaborator sends me songs with notes/chords out of key - it's a dilemma

So I am collaborating with a vocalist/songwriter – she writes on ukulele and then transcribes to piano by going note for note and putting into the Logic piano roll

However, it seems whenever she sends me Logic projects, the notes and chords are never in a particular key (for example, she sent me one earlier where the closest key (6 of the 8 notes she played) being Bb Hungarian minor)

While it doesn’t sound bad , am I wrong in thinking that it would sound better if transposed up to A melodic minor?

I sent her the project after converting it to A melodic minor (which really only changed 2 notes IIRC) and she said it did not sound “right”

Is this once again a situation where, if it sounds good, it is good?

Am I being too rigid?


Hi Douglas. Let’s take a crack at this. If you’re doing a Hungarian minor type of sound, that’s a modal sound; it’s a particular type of scale and not really a specific key. The thing with modes, if you want that sound, you tend to have to stay away from the actual root of the key that the mode is derived from otherwise you lose the modal sound. So, there really isn’t a lot of harmonic movement to be had in most cases–not a lot of chords to use. If you change your scale from a Bb Hungarian to A melodic minor, even with just a two note difference, it will completely change the feel, as you are in reality moving to a different mode in a different key.

In the specific case of the Hungarian/Gypsy scale, this is getting to be a bit more esoteric harmony-wise; it doesn’t lend itself to any normal harmonic cadence and is used for mostly melodic purposes. One thing that can work, is that the Hungarian minor scale is pretty much the same as the Harmonic minor with the exception that the Hungarian scale has a #4. So, you could write a chord progression using the Harmonic minor and color it with a melody using the Hungarian scale.

I’m no theory expert, but this is my take on how I understand it. I’ll inbox you a couple of things with a more visual/audio description.

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Matt - thank you so much for that analysis

The chords in the song are as follows (alphabetically lol)


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OK. I can see where you use the A melodic minor scale for the first 4 chords, but the CMaj7 and the Eb contain notes from outside that pitch collection. The CMaj7 is OK as you’re using G natural instead of G#, so it takes on an A natural minor feel, but the Eb is chromatic. If you were doing a cadence there, it feels like a jazzy modal cadence in major thirds; Eb–Gb–A--Db (kinda like Super Mario Bros!)

Anyway, to smooth out the harmony, you could simply take that F# from the melodic minor and flat it to F natural and that gives you the A harmonic minor (harmonic minor for harmony, melodic minor for melody–that’s classical theory)

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My head hurts trying to imagine this.


I exploded my head tying to sort it all out. I get classical theory, but getting into esoteric modes is not my forte. I lost all my mental focus to work on my music after this. It’s close to the harmonies I needed to figure when doing my love theme.

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Classical theory is beyond my understanding. I’m jazz based, and even exotic stuff runs either through a jazz theory filter, or is just idiosyncratic “stuff that somehow works,” in my mind.


My head hurt trying to wrap my brain around it
I got the Bb Hungarian minor scale after running the MIDI through Scaler 2

I suppose the key could actually be in C, right? (with a few passing notes thrown in for good measure)

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I guess we all have our own strength and weaknesses, or rather, maybe why different composers have different styles to begin with, is that each one of use understands music in different ways and apply what we know to what we’re doing and what we’re unsure of, we just go by ear and through the lens of what we know.

I myself haven’t gotten around to jazz theory. Most of what I learned comes through 18th-19th century classical theory and books by Tchaikovsky, Berlioz and Rimsky-Korsakov and studying scores by Beethoven, Saint-Saëns, John Williams and some current Japanese TV and game composers like Yuki Kajiura and Junichi Nakatsuru.

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Well, actually, yes. Your A minor scale (A Aeolian) is the 6th mode of C major; it’s the same notes (C D E F G A B) and (A B C D E F G) However, your A melodic minor, if you played it from C, would have a C Lydian Augmented modal sound.

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Hi Douglas.
I really feel confused by your dilemma. Please do not be angry, I just try to be frank for a useful external point of view. :pray:

You say it doesn’t sound bad. So your part should be working from that, and not trying to change it according to your needs, shouldn’t that be? The challenge shouldn’t be make it join a structure.
In fact, if you simply change someone’s creation without prior discussion, it could turn out to be somewhat disrespectful. You say you can do better or you don’t trust her abilities.

An important point in creation is getting out of the way, so if she wants these notes there, something that someone studied centuries ago has nothing to do with it.

Form my point of view, scales and modes can be good tools, bringing us feelings and emotions from a cultural, or even biological response, but, they shouldn’t be a goal. Emotions should.

Peace :v:

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Here is every note used in the song:











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Well, I appreciate your comment and am not angry at all :slight_smile:
She has always asked me to make any suggestions I could on improving the song so, that is why I made the suggestion

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OK, from just a quick overview, minus the Bb and Eb, you have A natural minor (w/ the G natural) and A harmonic minor (w/ the G#) Now, with the the three flats to take the place of their natural counterparts, you have a C natural minor/Eb Major scale. So you could modulate the song from A minor to C minor.

That’s the easiest way of looking at it, but any combo of notes you have there could be a different scale/mode. If you wanted to maintain a root center of A, you could also get A Phrygian or A Phrygian Dominant and those two scales, especially the Phrygian Dominant, will maintain that exotic Middle Eastern/Arabian sound you would get with the Hungarian minor you mentioned. That scale would be A Bb C D E F G for Phrygian and if you use the Dominant version you’d need to add a C# and would be A Bb C# D E F G#

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I wouldn’t worry about each song having to be in a certain key. Plenty of songwriters don’t know theory.

Don’t forget secondary dominants and parallel scales.

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