Question, mainly (but not just) for the backers…

Question, mainly (but not just) for the backers…

When choosing what set of chords to use, is there any substantial difference between ‘Dmaj with some C naturals’ and ‘Dmix with some C sharps?’ If your answer is ‘it depends’ then what does it depend on?

Re: Question, mainly (but not just) for the backers…

There is a substantial difference between the two.
For me, the chords I use to accompany a tune depend totally on the tune, i.e., the melody.

Re: Question, mainly (but not just) for the backers…

Well sure, you follow the melody, I get that. What is the substantial difference though? Is there a different ‘pool of potential chords that might work’ for lack of a better term?

Re: Question, mainly (but not just) for the backers…

Elf, as someone who tries to arrange tunes and find suitable chord sequences, I’m interested in the question but don’t quite see exactly the distinction you’re making. Can you give an example of a tune (or phrase) with chord changes shown the two ways you mention, to make it clear to duffers like me?

As to the general point (‘… pool of potential chords?’) I’d say yes: I find that there are frequent points in scoring any accompaniment when you have a choice of chords that would fit. I often vary the chord sequence within a tune - for instance, when a melody phrase is repeated - so as to give a slightly different twist to it second time around. Examples at: http://www.rudemex.co.uk/library/RM_arrangements/01tunelib_RMarr.php. (Mind you, I’m not a trained or professional arranger, so my efforts are not to be compared with the work of people who know what they’re doing).

I find chords in sessions can be a tricky matter. If you’re the only accompanist among melody players, then you have a fairly free hand to choose chords that create an interesting sound palette. It can get messy if there is more than one backer, or if there are melodeons with a restricted choice of chords: then I think it’s probably wise to stick to simple chord sequences to avoid clashes that don’t work. But that’s just the Universal Rule In All Sessions: be aware of what others are playing and don’t get too clever.

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Re: Question, mainly (but not just) for the backers…

In my opinion, as a tune player that can, in theory (my hands don’t always comply), do backing, when it comes to Irish traditional tunes, modes are just a fairly convenient way of categorising tunes for analytical purposes; many tunes defy such rigid categorisation, or straddle more than one category. Knowledge of modes might help some people as a springboard for learning to accompany tunes, but it should not *dictate* how to accompany a given tune. It strikes me as a fundamental error to approach the backing of a tune on the premise that that tune is in a specific mode, therefore it requires the particular palette of chords ssociated with that mode.

Re: Question, mainly (but not just) for the backers…

"I’m interested in the question but don’t quite see exactly the distinction you’re making."

I’m not making a distinction, I’m trying to find out if there is one.

"Can you give an example of a tune (or phrase) with chord changes shown the two ways you mention, to make it clear to duffers like me?"

Sorry, I can’t give you examples of chord changes because that’s what I’m trying to suss out. I’m not trying to work out the chords myself, but I want to know how to best describe a given melody to a backer for best results.

There are a lot of tunes rooted in D that contain both a C sharp and a C natural. Off the top of my head
Garrett Barry’s Jig would be one example, Toss the Feathers (not the minor version) would be another. But there are tons of them, and I am wondering if some of them are ‘Dmaj with some C naturals thrown in’ and others are ‘Dmix with some C sharps thrown in’, or if in the end it’s all the same. If you look at the various settings here you’ll often the tune notated both ways, with no rhyme or reason that I can see.

Re: Question, mainly (but not just) for the backers…

Cross posted with CMO…

"It strikes me as a fundamental error to approach the backing of a tune on the premise that that tune is in a specific mode, therefore it requires the particular palette of chords ssociated with that mode."

Well, that certainly makes my part easier! Say nothing, start the tune.

Re: Question, mainly (but not just) for the backers…

Cheeky, if I’m backing I really don’t mind being told nothing, that way I don’t get distracted and can fully concentrate on using my ears.
If I’m told anything then I wouldn’t want it to be any more than the root note, if there is one. So, in the terminology used by Aonghas Grant, a tune might be "on A" - no major or minor or mode, just the root. Your ears should tell you the rest.

Re: Question, mainly (but not just) for the backers…

Cheeky Elf: "Well, that certainly makes my part easier! Say nothing, start the tune."

Then again, everyone is somewhere on the learning curve and having some prior warning of what chords a tune is likely to require might be helpful to a less experienced backer. (I’ve been contradicting myself on this site for almost 20 years - why stop now?). But the most useful thing in that context, it seems to me, would be to give them just the home chord, giving them something to orientate themselves by (This could, of course, be problematic when the tune starts on a chord other than the one it resolves onto, but there’s always a catch…).

In fact, I still stand by my previous reply (I reserve the right to contracontradict myself). Modes, keys, home chords or whatever vague idiosyncratic labels you wish to put on tunes can only ever be a rough guide to the backer. The most important thing about music is *what it sounds like* - how a particular chord sounds at a given point in a tune, how one chord sounds after or before another chord. As DonaldK says, "Your ears should tell you …"

Re: Question, mainly (but not just) for the backers…

Hello everybody!
This is my first post… Though I’ve lurked around as a non-member for ages.
I would say that the first of the two suggestions. If a tune’s announced as being in (say) D major, it might be obviously in that key and very major with C# or it might be modal with loads of C naturals. Either way, the tune will have a feel to it and "want" to resolve to a certain note, and that’s what I would call the "key". Looking at the settings of "Banish Misfortune" on here, for example, it makes more sense to me to see it written with two sharps instead of one. Even if C-natural is more common than C#.

Re: Question, mainly (but not just) for the backers…

When it comes to communication, my approach is to give the first chord of the upcoming tune, if I think it’s necessary - if it’s not a key change around the (whisper it) circle of fifths, basically. Gearbox changes, for example (G->A) or switching between parallel minor to major (Am to Amaj) can be clashy if your accompanist is not expecting it, so giving the first chord gets round that without having to work out and describe what’s going on.

I think Cheeky’s question is a good one, and it’s certainly a question that arises a lot in GHB music. A while back I was knocking out Scott Skinner’s Welcome to Inverness at a party with a good guitarist who knew nothing about trad, and said "man, that was so trippy playing a tune in D major that never resolves" or something along those lines. Although he was very well versed in modal theory, he hadn’t identified it as mixolydian at all.

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Re: Question, mainly (but not just) for the backers…

Strange that the guitarist couldn’t spot the Mixolydian nature of the tune. Mixolydian has been very commonly used over the years in pop and rock.

Re: Question, mainly (but not just) for the backers…

Thanks for the input everyone, and welcome to the session Jimi.

I’ve always been reluctant to start sets unless they were sets that the whole session knows and will jump in on immediately. However, now that we’re in the off season, so to speak, I am determined that when we start back up I will start more sets and introduce some of my favorite tunes that are not part of the local repertoire. So, not having all the melody players to hide among, I will definitely want the backers to help carry me along! Luckily they have pretty quick ears, but I want to be able to help them out as much as possible.

Re: Question, mainly (but not just) for the backers…

> Strange that the guitarist couldn’t spot the Mixolydian nature of the tune. Mixolydian has been very commonly used over the years in pop and rock.

I think he heard the double tonic initially as a repeating V-VI and went from there. One thing I’ve noticed playing with "other" musicians is that they tend not to have the innate sense of the 8 bar structure we do, so they have an expectation that it will somehow "go somewhere" and resolve what they’re hearing.

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Re: Question, mainly (but not just) for the backers…

Don’t you mean V-IV, Calum?

Re: Question, mainly (but not just) for the backers…

i think its a mistake to analyze the mysic in this technical sense. Its a matter of what sounds right, and how the tunesmith plays it. So frieze Britches is a good tune for this ,i play it with Cnat for the first three parts and shifting in to C# in the last 2 , so to back it would be D and C for the first 3 and shifting into DGA in the 4th and 5th part .
Clearly the first three parts couldnt use A maj therefore technicaly it would be mixolydian and in the last 2 parts no C nat .l so technically D maj structure .
Its the underlying structure , in mix its I and bVII in major its I IV and V…
So the only thing in common is the I chord.
Technically its key and mode, but i see it all as key, as in key/lock

So a Scottish example would be the Athol highlanders , the structure is A maj untill the last part where there is a G nat chord. But …there are no G’s untill then yet its clearly A major even without any G’# or b ….. its the underlying structure, how it sounds , the feel.
If i were to be helping a backer start off id just recommend they get the fiddlers fake book and use the chords there. Eventually after going through these fundamentals finding his own way would be a lot easier.
As a backer I started off by playing in a band, i had the chords written out for me taped to the top of the guitar, as long as there was light to see , i could play the sets . That was 1984. A few years ago i got a job playing swing jazz , same process……
The tunes are standards, each piece has a particular form structure and pattern, just like jazz standards . Would anyone be expected to just jam in to a jazz session never having heard or played the music before?!? Not much chance there!!!
Thats how id explain it.

Re: Question, mainly (but not just) for the backers…

Calum and DonaldK have set me thinking!
Tunes in the mixolydian mode e.g. in D (Dmix) are usually notated in with two sharps (D major) but with all the C’s that need to be (often all of them!) naturalised. This has often raised the question why not just notate in G?! With one sharp. But I suppose because of a strong desire to feel the root we prefer D major, BUT (!) as mentioned above, if one thinks of the harmonic feel revolving around a IV and a V instead of I and bVII notating in G makes absolute sense!

Re: Question, mainly (but not just) for the backers…

I think analysing the traditional tunes of any culture in a musicological way is absolutely essential. Otherwise there are no ways of understanding what it means in relation to all the other music. I know some hate this notion and would prefer it stayed being played isolated in a bothy somewhere by someone who’s never heard Ravi Shankar, Beethoven, Dizzy Gillespie, the Damned, Gershwin, Public Enemy, Scott Joplin, Terry Riley et cetera! But there you go!

Re: Question, mainly (but not just) for the backers…

> Don’t you mean V-IV, Calum?

I absolutely do, Donald! You can tell how often I have cause to write this stuff down.

> i think its a mistake to analyze the mysic in this technical sense. Its a matter of what sounds right, and how the tunesmith plays it.

I think the mistake is to take music theory as a body of rules, and then say, well, we must make the music conform to these rules. The point of theory is to *explain* the music. Cheeky’s original question - is there a line and if so where is it - is exactly where theory is useful.

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Re: Question, mainly (but not just) for the backers…

Yes I appreciate theory to explain, but as regards modes, structures, the whys, standard theory seems to be lacking IMO , so experience and the ear are still the two most important facets.
IMO the right chords include the melody and vice versa, its a matter of discovery.
The brain needs to be trained to hear, just as in tuning an instrument it takes time to build the neural network , to learn to listen and identify.
Just as the uneducated ear can hear ‘ they played the same tune all night, then did it again for the encore!’
Its a matter of fine detail.
So the route I took , haveing the right chords to start , to understand what is happening has stood me in good stead over the last decades . It allowed my reactions to what is happening in a set of tunes to become automatic . Though like any skill , if its not done often , those skillls need polishing and warming back up. As primarily a tune player i dont back unless im in sessions and thats rare enough these days .
So this path is all I know so I recommend it to other backers. Learn 40-50 chord patterns to standards , the names of the tunes, so if The tune player says kid on the mountain, you know what’s happening….

Re: Question, mainly (but not just) for the backers…

> standard theory seems to be lacking IMO

I wouldn’t disagree - standard theory doesn’t have much to say about the ghost D, say, or "blunt" notes - but that doesn’t mean we can’t come up with our own theories. The point is to identify commonalities and then figure out what we can say about them.

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Re: Question, mainly (but not just) for the backers…

Calum, what is the "ghost D" ? Is that the D chord with root, 5th and octave?

Re: Question, mainly (but not just) for the backers…

I’m chiming in from three perspectives - bass player, new player, and classical/jazz trained musician.

Last first: In jazz real books, as well as others, you’ll get the key and the chords and the "head" or melody. When soloing you can use the chords, the key, and substitutions implied by melody and related polychords/modes (e.g. shifting the focus over a ii chord to emphasize a dorian sound by hammering its 6th, which also implies the 3rd of the V). Knowing the rudiments and the theory give a map, as it were. It’s *not* the territory, to butcher the aphorism, but if you’ve never been there before (i.e. new tune, new setting) knowing these sort of landmarks is helpful in arranging.

As a bass player whose first gig was getting thrown on stage with a band who never used a set list, regularly capoed and changed tuning, and had no formal training in music (I was lucky to get the key), knowing things by ear yet having that informed by a familiarity with theory and structure was essential.

Last, as a new player, who is entering the world of making chords instead of finding the warm comfort of playing roots - and making it look like I meant to play a non-root note if I missed - having some formal pattern at start is helpful too.

So I guess this is a lot of words to say that there seems to be a place for both theory/formal and by ear/winging it. The ratio of the two swings to the latter eventually. To draw on the bass experience, it got to the point where I could end up at a show with someone showing up with pipes playing a song I’d never heard, and plucking out a line. I think of the theory as scaffolding - useful for when you’re building, but something to get past.

Here’s a writeup that seems to relate to this thread as well: http://www.capeirish.com/ref_lib/harmony0419.pdf

Hopefully all this helps! Thanks.

Re: Question, mainly (but not just) for the backers…

> Calum, what is the "ghost D"

It’s the sort of D# sound you’ll sometimes hear Uilleann pipers play - eg the Merry Blacksmith is usually

A2| d2 dA BAFA |

but you’ll often hear pipers play

A2 | d_edA BAFA |

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Re: Question, mainly (but not just) for the backers…

Think the warbling theme from ¨The Twilight Zone¨.

Re: Question, mainly (but not just) for the backers…

Yes "ghost D" is the D# (or Eb) on the uilleann chanter.

Why they don’t just call it D#, who can say.

It’s a quirk of the uilleann chanter. On flute or whistle you have

xxx xxx D
xxx xxo E

but the fingering that gives D on flute and whistle gives D# on uilleann pipes, which have a 4th lower-hand hole that must be closed to give D

xxx xxxx D
xxx xxxo D# (Eb)
xxx xxoo E

So normally on the pipes you’re moving the lower-hand ring finger and little finger as one, because you’re usually going from D to E.

But it’s tempting for pipers because you have D# literally under your fingers and you’ll hear pipers throw D# in here and there. It’s very effective if done in the right spots.

In any case much of this thread seems to be about what key signature to put a tune in.

The fact is that accidentals are very common. In particular C fluctuates between natural and sharp so often, especially on the uilleann pipes, that a D tune could be equally well written in two sharps or one. Either way, half the Cs will have to be marked as accidentals.

As a melody player, the melody dictates whether C will be sharp or natural.

BTW Breandan Breathnach writes about this, how in certain melodic contexts C is usually sharp while in others it’s usually natural. He calls the process "inflection". For sure it’s not random. I’d bet that if you have ten pipers learn the same tune separately the preponderance of them would make the same choices as to which Cs are sharp and which natural.

I feel that there are times when which C is used does dictate which chord a guitarist should play, that there are times when a phrase uses C# and the guitarist should use an A Major chord (in its role as the Dominant) but there are other times when a phrase uses C natural and a C Major chord is called for.

It’s not something you can look at the key signature and decide a priori about.

Why C? Because on the pipe you have both C natural and C# right under the fingers.

All these things apply to the note F also, but F natural requires a bit more work on the pipes, and there are melodic contexts where hitting F natural is awkward. So you’ll often hear pipers, whistle players, and keyless flute players play F# where people playing other instruments are hitting F natural.

With both C and F it’s easier to hit them from the next note below, and easier if the C or F is a long note and/or in an emphasized place in the melody.

Re: Question, mainly (but not just) for the backers…

Thing is its deeper than just whether a VII is sharp or nat. Its to do with the chordal structure.
Thats why I use Athol highlanders as an example. There is no G# in the tune, yet its in A major, modulating to A mix for the 4th part. Its totally A major tune and chord pattern, until that big G nat! Which i love!!
I cant explain it, but id love to hear someone do so! Ive tried to find stuff on Mode theory and had no luck so links would be appreciated.
Why is a tune in A major despite no G#s?

Re: Question, mainly (but not just) for the backers…

There are loads of Highland pipe tunes that use the gap scale

A B c# d e f# a

in other words there’s no 7th degree present.

It’s not just Highland pipe tunes, there are old Hymn tunes and Irish tunes that also lack the 7th.

I think our ears tend to hear these tunes as "Major" because the notes we do hear are members of the familiar Major scale, and our ears expect the sharp 7th. So in Atholl Highlanders when the flat 7th appears it feels like a accidental…though it was actually lurking there under the piper’s fingers the whole time.

On the other hand, there are plenty of Highland pipe tunes that lack the 3rd degree

A B d e f# g a

or both the 3rd and 6th degree

A B d e g a

and people tend to feel these tunes as being "minor", and I typically hear accompanists doing them as if they were minor.

The Atholl Highlanders effect, where a note that was lurking on the chanter all along sounds like an accidental when it appears, happens in some of these A gap scale tunes such as

The Knightswood Celidh

Pipe Major Calum Campbell’s Caprice https://thesession.org/tunes/18998

In both tunes the first two parts have no 3rd and feel like A minor, but unexpectedly the note c# appears in the 3rd part and feels like an accidental.

There are also tunes in B that lack the 3rd, having the scale

B d e f# g a

yet feel minor, like Paddy’s Leather Breeches. Some pipers play it in A, works better actually.

Re: Question, mainly (but not just) for the backers…

I just added The Knightswood Celeidh, a march by Donald MacLeod, which feels A minor/A dorian until in the 3rd part the tune suddenly walks up the A Major scale
A B c# d e
With Wee Donald you have to be ready for the unexpected.

https://thesession.org/tunes/19257

Re: Question, mainly (but not just) for the backers…

It’s named after my neighbourhood in Glasgow.

Re: Question, mainly (but not just) for the backers…

When did you move to "Celeidh" ? 🙂

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Re: Question, mainly (but not just) for the backers…

I want to thank Richard and Will for particularly interesting comments.

I’m an inexperienced backer, but I once took a great workshop from Matt Heaton. As far as he was concerned, he treated all tunes as either major or minor, then let his ears find the right accompaniment. In other words he was tracking the melody and intuiting the chords.

Re: Question, mainly (but not just) for the backers…

Richard, do you not mean B C# E F# G A?

For the GHB, in the "key" of A you have these two common pentatonic scales:
Major: A B C# E F# (1 2 3 5 6)
and
Minor: A B D E G (1 2 4 5 b7)

Equivalent major scales can be played in D and G:
D E F# A B
and
G A B D E

Equivalent minor scales can be played in B and E:
B C# E F# A
and
E F# A B D or A B D E F#

So for example, as Richard mentioned above, in "Bm" tunes C# is often used as a substitute minor third even though the D is playable.

Re: Question, mainly (but not just) for the backers…

Definitely some interesting stuff here, thanks everyone!

Re: Question, mainly (but not just) for the backers…

The one thing i learnt long ago from A grumpy old fiddler 🙂 was this ; “ there is no substitution in traditional Irish Music .”
Now obviously these days that rule seems to be unknown or simply broken. But its a rule that has stood me in good stead.
Playing with a player influenced by other genres, French or Jazz etc , will mean they bring their influences with them , so at that point i will defer to the ofher player and modify my voicings and chords to reflect what the other player is doing, for instance a box player or a second guitar backing . So its good to be flexible .
At the end if the day its what sounds good, so it has to sound good to the tunesmith and obviously to myself .
So I recommend that saying as being a fundamental one which can of course be broken, but first ….. play within the tradition befor stretching boundaries. I know all sorts of people use jazzy voicings but they would have got the evil eye from that aold fellah with the fiddle! 🙂 keep it simple , support the tune, play the tune!!
The right hand is as if not more important than the left here. Could easily just be 2 chords; Am and G , or 3 DGA …..
so its getting the right chords in the right place with the right rhythm, supporting the tune player so they can relax and just do their thing knowing that if they change tune and key, so do you….

Re: Question, mainly (but not just) for the backers…

Let’s go back 50 years. Couldn’t one just as easily say "there is no backup in traditional Irish Music"?

One book I recommend for those interested in learning backup is:

"Celtic Backup for All Instrumentalists" by Dr. Chris Smith
https://www.amazon.com/Celtic-Back-Up-Instrumentalists-Chris-Smith/dp/0786640650/ref=sr_1_2?crid=A6P8DWL1NAK5&dchild=1&keywords=celtic+backup+for+all&qid=1589731808&sprefix=celtic+backup+%2Caps%2C193&sr=8-2

It does require a modest understanding of music theory, but I think is one of the best tutorials on the subject.

For guitarist, I also recommend John Doyle’s Drop-D backup course on Homespun:

https://www.homespun.com/instructors/john-doyle/

Re: Question, mainly (but not just) for the backers…

Let’s go back 50 years. Couldn’t one just as easily say "there is no backup in traditional Irish Music"?

No not by a long shot.

Re: Question, mainly (but not just) for the backers…

I’m practically a lifelong accompanist (started with "continuo" in harpsichord and its improvisatory nature got me hooked for all time - and lots of gig requests too), and my mentors both there and in ITM told me repeatedly that you can know the modes backwards and forwards, be able to analyze the hell out of the topic, but the final thing is always LISTENING to the music… and learning, for starters, the traditional ways of accompaniment in whatever genre we’re in. I may have 40 years in ITM, but still learning - not to mention "stealing" those progressions that I run across (and being "stolen from" in return).
When I’m the only backup artist in a group, that’s one thing, and they often let me get away with substituting and such experiments, too. When with the guitarist(s) I often play along with, then, we take turns being primary backup, often within the sets themselves and we follow each other in that role. But you gotta listen, and listen quick, and anticipate where the tunes are going…

Re: Question, mainly (but not just) for the backers…

Very interesting discussion and a really good question. Since guitar and bouzouki were the main instruments I would go back and forth on when we were preforming, I know my Classical education heavily influenced what I did backing the fiddler’s, flutists, vocals and so forth. Also, I did not come from a Sessions tradition, but a purely performance orientated background, which has both positive and negative values that differ from a purely Sessional background. Backing is support for the lead voice(s), whatever the lead instrument is, in my mind, and as such, it should both rhythmically and musically support the melody. Whether through harmonization (within the chord) or through a counter-melody ( a non distracting counter-melody), either should lift and accentuate the melody. Occasionally as we arranged a tune, a backing with a straightforward I, IV, V pattern of chords were all that was needed, and although such was musically boring to play, anything more complicated would have detracted from the melody. In such cases, differing rhythm accents could play a big role in support. More often though, looking over our old set lists, I arranged the backing with harmonization and counter-melody within the chordal structure, which often relied on the use of differing chordal support structure that made use of more minors, alternate root, augmented and diminished chord forms.
Thanks to all who responded to the original question, and the questioner too. I enjoyed reading all of your comments and analysis, as I lack the Session oriented background any of you have. It’s been enlightening to look at this from the various different perspectives.

Re: Question, mainly (but not just) for the backers…

Chuck Cochrane, thank you. Once upon a time, I lacked the seisiún background, too. Keep at it, mate!

Re: Question, mainly (but not just) for the backers…

Great comments from both of you!!
Thing is the backer is such an essential part of the ‘ modern sound’ that a lot of people will be happy to have a backer, and one who is aware and sensitive is a real plus. They can really help pull together a disparate bunch of people instruments and sounds cresting a cohesive whole. And as good backers are fairly rare in comparison to fiddlers fluters etc tunesmiths will put up with all sorts and certainly dont want to piss the backer off!!
But we certainly dont want one who doesn’t understand the music , rhythms modes and structure !!
Nothing worse than playing with someone who doesnt get 9/8 !!! Or even 6/8 !!! Aaagh
Personally my preferred backer is a good bodhran player, because good guitarists in this genre are so rare!
For anyone learning this game get the fiddlers fake book and use the chords there, preferably without the substitutions in brackets.
The melody’s are moving so fast that trying to extemporise or improvise without knowing the tunes is not recommended. Get 40-50 tunes under your belt and thats s good start.

Re: Question, mainly (but not just) for the backers…

"When did you move to "Celeidh" ? "

When the composer, a native Gaelic speaker, spells it that way!

Re: Question, mainly (but not just) for the backers…

"Richard, do you not mean B C# E F# G A?"

Yes, thanks for catching my typo!

Yes there’s no third, which would be D.

Re: Question, mainly (but not just) for the backers…

In the American old-time world, and not being a backer myself, I will tell backers the tune is in D major and if you hear anything that sounds weird, it’s probably a C chord so try that first. But I think I get what you are asking. Sometimes there are tunes that it just sounds like a D major tune all the way but then there’s a strange C chord in there. Other tunes sound like the C chord has to go there, just has to, there’s no other choice that would make sense. I’m not sure what the technical term for the difference between the two is, but it is there. I admit to being frustrated by backers who don’t have a gut feeling for that sort of thing, but since I lack any vocabulary to explain it, I don’t really have the ability to criticize them constructively. I’m not even sure explaining things technically is all that helpful but I guess some people approach music mechanically or theoretically. I’m not one of those people.