In this free guitar lesson, you get to know how the chords in “House of the Rising Sun” by The Animals fit together. This includes a discussion on parallel scales, modal interchange, and voice leading.
Greetings, guitar engineers. I’m Desi Serna. In this free guitar lesson, we have another installment of How does this song work? featuring “House of the Rising Sun” by The Animals.
House of the Rising Sun Chords
Am C D F Am E Am E
House of the Rising Sun Key
OK. Let’s dive in. Since the main chord in the songs is Am, the music is considered to be in the key of A minor. The key of A minor implies A Aeolian mode, aka the natural minor scale. A Aeolian is the 6th mode of the C major scale, so the key of A minor uses notes and chords from the C major scale but beginning on the 6th degree, A.
But wait a minute… The A minor scale has a Dm and Em in it, but House of the Rising Sun has D and E MAJOR chords. So what’s going on here?
What’s happening is modal interchange (or modal mixture). This is when you combine notes and chords from parallel scales. It’s a common composition technique. It works like this…
Modal Interchange or Modal Mixture
You see when you play music that centers on an Am chord, the notes and chords can be drawn from different types of minor scales. Aeolian mode, the natural minor, is the obvious choice. But, other options include A Dorian mode, A Phrygian mode, A harmonic minor, and A melodic minor.
A Dorian Mode
In A Dorian mode, you center on the 2nd degree of the G major scale. And A Dorian mode has a D major chord in it.
A Harmonic Minor
In A harmonic minor, you raise the A minor scale’s 7th degree from G to G#. This changes the Em chord to E major. An Em chord has a minor 3rd, G in it. E major, has a major 3rd, G#.
So, between A natural minor, A Dorian, and A harmonic minor, you get all the chords used in House of the Rising Sun. Am and C can be thought of as natural minor, D major is A Dorian, F brings you back to A natural minor, and the E major is A harmonic minor.
I think this is the best way to interpret the chord changes, however, you could also view the D and E chords as coming from A melodic minor, which is an A minor scale with a raised 7th, G#, and raised 6th, F#. The G# makes an E major chord, and the F# makes a D major chord.
I also hear House of the Rising Sun as using voice leading. The chords D-F-Am include chromatic half-step movement in the upper voice of the chords, F#-F-E.
So, that’s how the song House of the Rising Sun works. The chords fit together because they are drawn from parallel A minor scales.
Music Theory For Guitar
Would you like to learn more about music theory and how it relates to familiar songs? Visit my website GuitarMusicTheory.com. Answer the questions I ask you about your playing and I’ll send you a free 6-step lesson series on scales, chords, progressions, modes, composition techniques and more.