Jeremiah Williams in Studio
Jeremiah Williams in Studio

What Key Is This Song In?

“Sweet Child Of Mine” by Guns and Roses

What key is “Sweet Child Of Mine” by Guns and Roses?

Well the sheet music says D, however, the notes of a D scale include a C# and the song has a C in the chord progression how does one understand how to communicate to your band what key the song is in?

This seem to spell out G major, but this is not what the ear hears. The ear hears a pull to D. How’s that possible? Let’s take a deeper look.

How could such a simple 3 chord progression cause so much confusion? Let’s take “Sweet Child of Mine” by GNR. The verse goes D Major – C Major – G Major – D Major . To a lazy theorist, this seems like it’s all in the Key of G Major. But upon further investigation, this is not the whole story.

If we analyzed the song in G in Roman Numerals diction it is V IV I V. Yes, all the notes would fit, but playing a G Major scale (G Ionian mode) from G to G doesn’t quite fit the tonality closely enough.

Now let analyze the song in D Major. But wait, you say there is a C# in D and there exists a C in the Chord Progression. This stumped me a bit as well. But on further inquiry, I have found the answer.

If we analyze this in Roman Numerals, we get an ( I – bVii – IV – I ) progression in D Major. Wait? That doesn’t exist in any Diatonic chord progression, but yet in rock and roll music, it is fairly common, so there must be an answer as to why it sounds so awesome when it resolves to D Major.

If you said it’s a Plagal Cadence congratulations you are a not a lazy theorist. It definitely is a Plagal Cadence.
( IV – I ) But then how can you explain the C chord since D Major has a F# and C# so it obvious that a C chord wouldn’t belong diatonically they since it must be sharped?

According to my in-depth sources, it is considered a double Plagal Cadence. This is something I have not yet come across although I have been playing the song for 20 years. I thought it was in G Major my whole life. Why not?

After All, the notes of G Major do fit properly over the chords. But it doesn’t resolve to G, it resolves to D. And the answer to the 10 million dollar question is this:

The C Major chord is an ( IV/IV ) which in layman’s terms means it’s a 4 of a 4 chord. So to re-analyze correctly in the key of D. We have an ( I – IV/IV – IV – I ) progression.

Therefore to solo over this progression, one simple answer would be to use the D Mixolydian mode from D to D because it contains the following notes ( D, E, F#, G, A, B, C ).

Most importantly the ear should be the final say in these situations and you can hear the song pulling to the D.

Enjoy the song in a new light if you haven’t already. To me. It’s one of the coolest songs ever written.

So what key is Lynrd Skynrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama in?” Lol

– JW