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?

newb key signature minor scales

Dec 22, 2015

3 Answers


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

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

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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