Scarborough Fair

Total newb here. My first question on this site. Please go easy on me...

Ref. page 179 of "Music Theory for Dummies," there is a lead sheet for "Scarborough Fair." A couple of experts tell me this is in a minor key, but the lead sheet in this book shows a blank key signature indicating either key of C major or A minor. A web search suggests it's A minor or D minor.

The melody (in the book's transcription) starts and ends with a D and D is identified as the tonic, so that would be D minor, right? In which case the B should be played flat, right? There is only one B note in the score, so that's good.

More hints: the lead sheet shows a Dm chord accompanying the first and last note of the tune, another hint (??) that this is in D minor.

What's weird is that the tune (well, the melody part) sounds completely off if the B is played flat, and perfectly OK (to my ears) if the B is played normal.

Where am I going wrong with this analysis?

3 Answers


Hi Rafe,

I'm not too familiar with Scarborough Fair's chordal structure, but it sounds to me that the tonal center of piece you're reading from is in fact in D minor. The raised B indicates that it's in the Dorian mode though. I'm guessing you haven't come across musical modes yet in your studies so this is probably throwing you for a loop. We don't have any write-ups yet on those on this site, but perhaps your book as some information about them. If not Wikipedia has a nice article on them:


Dec 23, 2015

I think you nailed it, thanks very much! And yes, you're quite right -- I'm as yet unfamiliar with these other musical modes. My naive ears still have trouble distinguishing major from minor scales at times. I may be a wee bit tone deaf. Ugh.

Dec 24, 2015

The melody of scarborough fair is indeed not actually in the key of D minor. Even though it sounds like your knowledge of modes is little to none. The melody is based off of the second mode of the major scale. Dorian mode. C D E F G A B C. If you spell a scale from D to D in the key of C major you get dorian. Ex. D E F G A B C D.

Jan 25, 2016

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