Estimated Prophet

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tldr: Estimated Prophet primarily alternates between the keys of F# minor and G major. The intro and main verse are in F# minor and center around an F#m chord and a riff from the minor pentatonic. The chorus (“California…”) moves up a half-step to the key of G major, mixolydian mode, with G, C, and F (I, IV, bVII) in various patterns. There is also a bridge that alternates between the v chord, Dm, and an E7, which suggests a resolution to A or Am (as a V/V chord), and arguably moves the key to A minor before a minor chord pattern that transitions back to the chorus chords.

Estimated Prophet Full Analysis

Estimated Prophet opens in F# minor, with the rhythm vamping on an F#m chord, adding in a quick Bm as a counterpoint (i – iv), along with notes from the F# natural minor scale. Working in a dorian natural 6 note (D#) can sound good too. The lead riff over this part is directly from the F# minor pentatonic scale. The main verse continues over this vamp.

At the chorus (“California…”), the key suddenly changes to G major, in the mixolydian mode. The chord progressions in this section are various combinations of G, C, and F (I, IV, and bVII). Jerry’s lead over this part follows G mixolydian, hewing closely to the underlying chord tones.

After this section, which ends on a C chord, there is a bridge that starts with a back-and-forth between Dm, the v chord of G mixolydian, and E7. I hear the Dm alternating in a sus2 (an E note) and the E7 alternating in a sus4 (an A note), like this:

55-5-5--55-5-5--77-7-7-7-7--7-
66-5-6--66-5-6--99-9-9-9-10-10
77-7-7--77-7-7--77-7-7-7-7--7-
77-7-7--77-7-7--99-9-9-9-9--9-
55-5-5--55-5-5--77-7-7-7-7--7-
------------------------------

An E7 chord is the dominant chord (V7 chord) of the keys of A major and minor, and it suggests a resolution to one of those chords. While a resolution to A or Am does not immediately come here, I think this bridge makes the most sense as being in the key of A minor (and, I admit, I’ve changed my mind on this a few times). The notes of A natural minor are actually identical to G mixolydian, so it’s a subtle shift, but to me the focus has shifted away from a G tonic here, and the E7 (combined with Dm) points us to A minor. Thinking of it this way, one would play lead by using A natural minor over the Dm iv chord and A harmonic minor over the E7 chord, which means raising the 7th note of the minor scale (this one change accounts for the V7 chord when a natural minor scale would normally have a diatonic minor v chord). And then there is an F chord that follows, which would be the bVI of A minor.

We might then expect a resolution to an Am (i chord), and that does actually sound fine if you play it next. But the song has an interesting transition back to G major that kicks off with a Bm chord, and instead of Am, the F of the bridge moves to an A chord, which adds a chromatic transition to Bm with the notes C – C# – D:

F:    F  A  C
A:       A  C# E
Bm:       B  D  F#

The Bm kicks off a minor chord pattern that doesn’t belong to any particular key, but simply transitions back to G major. The underlying chords are Bm Dm Am Cm Gm Bbm Fm, and then a chromatic transition from the Fm to G:

 Bm Dm Am Cm Gm Bbm Fm      G  
-7--5--5--3--3--1--1--1--1--3
-7--6--5--4--3--2--1--2--3--3
-7--7--5--5--3--3--1--1--1--4
-9--7--7--5--5--3--3--3--3--5
-9--5--7--3--5--1--3--x--x--5
-7--x--5--x--3--x--1--x--x--3

Two things to discuss here. First, the descending pattern is up a minor third, down a fifth, which you can see by looking at the bolded root notes above. Or you can view it as pairs of chords a minor third apart that move down in whole steps (see the 7 – 5 – 3 – 1 on the E string). We’re essentially moving through keys on every chord, and the lead work is from the minor scale that matches the chord (B minor over Bm, etc., D minor over Dm, etc.) . Second, notice the action on B string (bolded as well). The pattern creates a chromatic walkdown of 7-6-5-4-3-2-1, which then walks back up to the G chord.

The individual notes added to the Fm to move to the G chord create inverted Db and Bb7 chords, which creates a relatively smooth transition with some half-step note movements from C to D, A to G, and Bb to B:

F:     C  F A   [] 
Eb:    Db F Ab
Bb7:    D F Ab Bb [] [] [] 
G:      D  G    B []

(brackets show where note was moved for illustrative purposes)

As I mentioned earlier, the lead follows the key for each chord — partly minor pentatonic and partly minor scale. It sounds more complicated than it is, because you’re just using a few shapes/patterns and moving them down a whole step each time. There are improvised chromatic notes in between, but the basic gist is:

 F        A         Bm
------------------------
---------------------7--
-------------------7----
-------------7---9------
--0-3----4-7------------
1------5----------------
   Dm       Am      Cm
---------5--------8-------3
10-8-6-8-------5----6-4-6--
-------------5-------------
-----------7---------------
---------------------------
---------------------------
  Gm     Bbm
---------6------------
-----3-----6-5-4------
---3-------------6-5-3
-5--------------------
----------------------
----------------------
  Fm    Eb   Bb7
----------------------
--1--1--2--2--3--3----
---1--1--1--1--1--1---
-3--3--3--3--3--3--3--
----------------------
----------------------

And that’s pretty much it.

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