Eyes of the World – Grateful Dead

tldr: Primarily in E major. Intro is a I – IV progression of Emaj7 – A – Emaj7, but often with F#m7 or A6 or something else substituting for the A chord. The lead improvisation follows the E major scale. The verses are largely diatonic, but with a few alterations incorporating the flat 7 note, D as a passing tone — specifically, an Asus4 used to step down to an A chord and a Bm chord transitioning to an A chord. The chorus changes key to G major, consisting of the I, IV, and V chords. The solos are initially over a key-changing transition of Emaj7 to Bm, with the respective leads using the E major scale and B aeolian or dorian. (There’s a trick to changing between these scales that I discuss below.) Later solos add an A major chord after the Bm, and sticking with the notes of either B aeolian or dorian over the A major chord yields A mixolydian or A major, respectively, so you don’t need to change the scale pattern. There was a coda jam in 1973 and 1974 that starts in E major and then transitions to three dorian progressions/leads in G# minor, D# minor, and D minor. At one point there’s a D#°7 transition from D# minor back to E major. And the transition from D# minor to D minor is accomplished by a D#7 riff that acts as a tritone substitute for an A7 chord, which resolves to the D#m7 chord.

Eyes of the World Full Analysis

Eyes of the World is primarily in E major, but with multiple key changes that go back and forth with the lead. I think it’s worth separating the song into three parts:

  1. Intro, main verses, and chorus
  2. Solos
  3. Coda jam


1. Intro, main verses, and chorus

The intro progression is built around a I – IV chord change of Emaj7 – A – Emaj7, with a substitute chord typically replacing the A. Common replacements for the A, from what I hear in different versions, are F#m7 and A6 (which actually have the same notes and are inverted versions of each other), along with Amaj7. And sometimes the Emaj7 is voiced in different ways. As an example:

 Emaj7  F#m7   Emaj7


 Emaj7  A6   Emaj7

But there is a lot of opportunity here to find and experiment with other substitutes for the A chord. Some good examples are C#m, D#ø, Aadd9, E6, and E6/9. If you are interested in more on the substitutions, read on; otherwise skip the next subsection.

A-chord replacement

Some examples of how you can replace the A chord (or Amaj7) with something more interesting:

1. Substitute a diatonic chord with a different root that shares at least two notes with the chord you are replacing. Examples here for an A chord (the IV chord of E major) are F#m/F#m7, C#m, and D#ø (the ii, vi, and vii chords). These are actually pretty easy to derive from diatonic chord relationships. Think of how we construct an A chord from any 7-note scale that contains it, like E major (E F# G# A B C# D# E…). The A chord’s three constituent notes, A, C#, and E, are two notes apart, and we take every other note in the series to get it (see Building Diatonic Chords for more). You can continue that pattern, skip another note after the E, and take a fourth note, getting Amaj7 from the addition of G#.

Because of this every-other-note pattern, there is also overlap with the other diatonic chords starting two notes away. Just as the IV chord, A, has the 4, 6, and 1, the chord starting with the 6 note — the vi chord C#m — has the 6, 1, and 3, and thus shares two notes with A. Likewise, the chord starting on the 2 note — the ii chord F#m — consists of the 2, 4, and 6, and shares two notes with A as well. If you go to seventh chords with four notes, you can go one further in the same direction and still share two notes with the A chord — the vii chord, D#ø, consists of the 7, 2, 4, and 6. Also, while an F#m triad works, taking it to four notes as an F#m7 (sharing three notes with A) works even better here.

Compare their notes to see how similar they are and how they follow directionally from the way we construct diatonic chords:

D#ø:    D# F# A C#
F#m:       F# A C#
F#m7:      F# A C# E
A:            A C# E
Amaj7:        A C# E G# 
C#m:            C# E G#

2. Add tones to the target chord. For example, take an A triad and add the diatonic note F#, which makes A6. Sounds great, and it is actually an inverted F#m7 (compare A C# E F# to F# A C# E). Or add the diatonic B note to the A triad, which makes an A add9 chord.

3. Add tones to another chord. Take the E triad, which already shares one note with the A chord (the E note itself). Add a C#, which gives you two shared notes with an A chord, and you get an E6, which works great. (If you’re wondering about trying to add an A note instead, there’s some dissonance there from the G# and A being together, but an Esus4 works just fine because it omits the G#). Take that E6 and add an F# note (giving three notes shared with F#m7) and you get an E6/9, which sounds pretty cool.

Intro Lead

The lead over the intro chords uses the E major scale, with some chromatic passing notes mixed in. If you stick with diatonic notes for the A chord substitute (or just play an A chord), you don’t need to worry about alterations. But if you try some non-diatonic notes, that could affect the lead.

Main verse and chorus

The main verses generally have diatonic E major progressions, but with a couple of alterations in which a non-diatonic D note (a flat 7) is added in as a passing tone from a chord with D# (either Emaj7 or B) to the C# of the A chord.

Over the first line, “Right outside this lazy summer home,” the chords are Emaj7 to A. In some versions I hear the A replaced with Asus4 – A (the sus4 replaces the C# note with a D note). Then, after quickly playing the intro chords again, there’s a quick, non-diatonic minor v chord, Bm, that also uses a D note instead of D#, and likewise steps down to an A chord, which has a C#. So you can see what I’m talking about with the D-note transitions:

Emaj7:    E G# B D#
Asus4:        A  D  E 
A:            A  C# E


Emaj7:    E G# B D#
Bm:            B D   F
A:            A  C# E

This sets up a theme we return to in the solos, which use Emaj7, Bm, and E.

At “Right outside the lazy gate, ” it’s A – C#m – B – Asus4 – A, followed by C#m – B – Asus4 – A, then Emaj7 – A. Mostly diatonic, and the D note in the Asus4 chord again transitions down from the D# of the B chord to the C# of the A chord.

After the quick intro progression again, we get a transition to the chorus, A – C – G. This effects a key change, as the C chord is the IV chord of G major. The chorus uses the I, IV, and V of G major (G, C, and D) and there’s a little riff from the G major scale here.

Finally, this section ends with the Bm – A transition back to Emaj7.

2. Solos

There are two solo variations. The first is over an Emaj7 to Bm chord change, back and forth, with the key changing from E major to B minor each time. The second variation adds an A major chord after the Bm. Note that this mirrors the same D-note transition from the main verses, where a chord with a D# goes to a chord with a D to a chord with a C#.

For the lead here, at a general level, it’s the E major scale over the Emaj7, then the B minor scale over the Bm — either B aeolian (natural minor) or B dorian. And over the A when it is played, you don’t actually need to change anything from B minor. Stick with the notes of the B aeolian scale over the A and it will turn into the A mixolydian scale, or the notes of B dorian which becomes A major.

There is also a trick here to soloing over the E major to B minor change. Notice that B minor’s relative major key is D major. Same notes, just played in the context of a different tonic chord (Bm vs. D). You won’t actually be playing in D major here, but the scale patterns for these relative keys are in the exact same place.

Why is this significant? D major is a whole step below E major, two frets to the left (for right-handed players). That means whatever major scale pattern you are playing over the Emaj7 chord, when the change to Bm happens, just slide two frets to the left and you can play within the exact same scale pattern. For example, if you are playing major Box 1 at the 12th fret over E major, move that entire pattern down two frets to the 10th fret over the Bm chord.

Here’s a short video illustrating this:

This trick is just something to fall back on to keep track of where you are on the fretboard, and will be unnecessary the more advanced you are. And to really make the solos pop, emphasize the D# note over the Emaj7 chord, the D note over the B chord, and the C# over the A.

3. Coda jam

The Dead played an interesting coda jam in 1973 and 1974. While I haven’t exhaustively researched all of the versions, and they played differently each time anyway, I have some general thoughts pulled from a few versions I referenced. One thing to notice is that the D# note, which is the maj7 note in Emaj7 and sort of defines the song in a way, serves as a pivot point for this entire coda jam.

If you don’t want to read through all of the analysis, the individual parts are as follows, with the Dead repeating and going back and forth between them:

  • Emaj7 to A vamp. Lead uses E major scale
  • Key change to G# minor (key of iii chord). G#m to F#maj7 (or A#m) vamp. Lead uses G# dorian.
  • Key change to D# minor (key of vii chord). D#m7 to Fm7 vamp. Lead uses D# dorian.
  • Transition chord of D°7/C resolving up a half-step to Emaj7. Lead traces the notes of the D°7/C chord.
  • Transition riff in D# mixolydian, using notes of D#7 chord. Effectively a tritone substitution for an A7 chord, resolves to Dm7.
  • Key change to D minor. Dm7 to Em7 vamp.

First, the coda starts with a E-major-scale jam on an Emaj7 – A vamp.

At some point, there is a movement from Emaj7 to G#m, the iii chord, and there’s a i – bVII vamp of G#m – F#maj7 (or A#m, the ii chord, instead of F#maj7). This changes the key to G minor, both from the focus on G#m and the fact that F#maj7 and A#m are not in the key of E major. In addition, the mode here is dorian, to which all of those chords belong. If we were in G# natural minor (aeolian mode), those vamp chords would be F#7 and A#ø. You don’t have to necessarily memorize that, but they set the mode for your ear, and as a result the note making the difference — the F note of G# dorian — works naturally in the lead and the aeolian note it replaces, E, does not work.

Note also that the G#m tonic includes that D# note I mentioned above. For the same reasons discussed in the chord substitutes section near the beginning, the E chord (I chord) is similar to the minor chords two scale notes away — the vi chord C#m and the iii chord G#m. Of those two, G#m is the one that contains the key D# note of Emaj7, and is essentially its minor chord equivalent:

Emaj7:   E G# B D#
G#m:       G# B D#

From there, the song goes back to the Emaj7 – A groove and the key of E major, and the band sometimes goes back and forth to G# major a couple of times.

The next big change is that the song goes from the E major groove to a D#m7 – Fm7 vamp. This changes the key down a half-step to D# minor, and as mentioned above, the minor ii chord in a minor key means the dorian mode, which is what the lead uses. The band goes back and forth between this and the E major key and groove at will.

At some point while in D# minor, the band goes from the D#m7 to D°7/C (that is, an inverted D°7 chord with the C note in the bass) and the lead plays a diminished riff from the individual notes of the D°7/C chord. (Note that is a fully diminished chord, as opposed to half-diminished). Then the song returns back to Emaj7 and the E major groove. This isn’t as weird as it may seem. The D°7/C chord is just an altered version of the D#m7 chord we came from (the differences being that both the 5 and 7 notes are lowered by a half-step to make the diminished version.). And the movement from there back to Emaj7 works because the D# is the leading tone of E major. This concept is called a “leading-tone diminished seventh chord,” meaning that one of the constituent notes resolves up a half-step to the tonic.

Then more of E major moving to D# minor as before, but at some point there is a transition riff based in D# mixolydian, which equates to a D#7 chord. Something like this, played a bunch of times:


The difference from D#m7 is that the minor third is replaced by a major third. We were already in dorian, which has a major 6 instead of minor 6, leaving only the flat 7 of mixolydian, and the individual notes of the D#7 chord.

The rest of the song uses this riff as a pivot point moving a half-step downward to a Dm7 chord and the key of D minor, back and forth to this D#7 riff. What’s happening, I think, is that the band is using the ability of D#7 to substitute for A7, which is the dominant chord of the keys of D major and D minor, and resolving from it to a Dm7 tonic. This is called tritone substitution, and results from the fact that two dominant chords a tritone apart (three whole steps) have the same third and seventh notes, just reversed. Notice the bolded notes in the relevant dominant chords:

D#7:   D# G A# C#
A7:    A  C# E G

And those two notes happen to be the most functionally important notes of a dominant chord. Without getting into the mechanics of tritone resolution right now, this fact allows a substitution of one dominant for another a tritone away while preserving the tendency of the original dominant to resolve to its tonic in the manner of a V7 to I chord. So, just as an A7 readily resolves to D (or Dm, because the dominant function works for a minor tonic too), D#7 can substitute for A7 and likewise resolve to a D tonic (or Dm). In practice, this means the tritone-substitute dominant chord resolving down one-half step, like here from D#7 to Dm7.

Finally, in the D minor part, there is a vamp of Dm7 to Em7, with the lead using D dorian.

3 Responses so far.

  1. Clint Bright says:

    Hi, great analysis. Is that E maj -> B minor swing also what they do in Cold Rain and Snow? Granted from E maj to D maj? Been working through it recently for an upcoming gig and thought I was crazy until I read your analysis here.

    • mixedup says:

      Thank you for the comment.   You’re definitely not crazy.  I’m traveling at the moment without my guitar (much to my dismay), so I’ll have to confirm when I get back, but I think what you are hearing is a subtle version of the same thing.  Backing up a second, unlike Eyes, I don’t think there is a key change in Cold Rain.  I’ve always thought of it as a blues-based song in E, with the D being a borrowed bVII from E minor, and the bluesy flat 3 note added in transition.  (One could alternatively think of this as E mixolydian plus a flat 3).  E major with a flat 7 and flat 3 has the same exact notes as D major, so the line between this bluesy E scale and D major is a bit blurred.  Especially because in that cool lead solo riff, I think Jerry might even be just playing the notes of D major pentatonic (D E F# A B) over the D chord, all of which are included in E major, E mixolydian, and a hybrid E blues scale.  So one could say he’s just using one E-based scale the whole time.   But another way to describe it would be that Jerry plays D major (or D major pentatonic) over the D chord, and then uses the E major (or E mixolydian) scale over the E chord — that is, he’s playing the chord change — and it’s hard to tell just from looking at the notes because of their similarities.   I think this latter view is probably the better description of what is happening, and that this shift back and forth between D major to E major is in that way very similar to what we hear in Eyes, as you point out.  It’s just more subtle because, although we’re basing the lead in the home key of each chord, I don’t hear an overall key change in the song, which sounds to me like it always resolves to E.  That said, it’s hard to work through without my guitar, so I’ll have to check when I get back.

      • Clint Bright says:

        You replied! I really appreciate it. So that “playing to the chord” you mentioned essentially is what I have decided is the best way for me to approach it personally as a blues/major player. Is playing to that chord not changing the key with each chord change? The scale used for lead changes with it each chord, which would change the numerical order of the notes along with where your half steps are now right? Wouldn’t that fundamentally change the key of the song? Or is it now grabbing a mode within the same key but with the approach, practically, of coming from a different key.

        This song was really simple to me on the surface level until I started peeling back what I was hearing Jerry/John play over it to develop in my own playing. I appreciate the analysis and response. Hope you have a great trip! Where ever you are.

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