Songwriting theory questions?

I’m currently trying to nail the opening Riff to Justin Bieber’s love yourself. I was thinking of a video question for this just in case it’s not a familiar track to some. However I’m hoping it will be known to most on here.
The riff is played throughout the verses and has such an iconic feel to it you just know what’s coming next.

My question surrounds the chord progression.
The song is written in the key of E major and all of the progressions in the rest of the song make sense to me.
It’s the second chord in the intro/ verse riff that confuses me.

E, Eb minor, c#minor, F# minor, E

How and why does Eb minor work in that progression and how would you ever come up with the idea of putting that into the mix?
I remember Richard’s writing on borrowed chords from parallel keys but that doesn’t seem to be what’s going on here.
Just wondering if there is a formula for adding these rogue chords into progressions?
I’m waiting for someone to say if it sounds good it is good!
And If thats all there is to it then fine :grin:
I think this tune was written by Ed Sheeran and it’s an amazing song.


I don’t know the song, but am afraid to google it, as I might be flooded by a Belieber-bonanza of titles I might also be ‘interested in’… :rofl:
I should bookmark this though, even if just to remind @Richard_close2u to translocate some of his theory from the old forum to our lovely new home :smiley:

1 Like

I know, it’s always getting pushed down my to-do list … I will one day … honest!

@Strummer_of_69 I’m coming along with some response soon…

1 Like

Hi Jason it is a great song even though it goes through my lips with teeth closed as its Bieber :grinning: as you say it’s written by Ed Sheeran and one can clearly tell, shame he gave it away to someone else to sing.

I am quite keen to what Richard will say, my preliminary theory is that it is a borrowed chord off G major mode (relative is Emin) that contains b6 note? So either Phyrgian, Aeolian or Locrian? Not sure so happy to follow it!

It works because its not Ebm it’s D#m.
Theoretically You can’t mix sharps and Flats. But you can use
a minor chord to replace a diminished chord. D# is the 7th of
the E Major scale


Isn’t E minor scale relative to G major therefore no D#?


Edited my post for typo said minor. Should have been Major
The song in question is in E Major. Sorry for the typo

1 Like

Thanks Stitch theory is a very thin ice for me so I prefer to double check to make sure I understand it correctly. :slight_smile:

@stitch makes a good comment here. Think D# not Eb.

First up here is an mp3 audio sample of the main intro riff simplified and played without the octave repeat of the root note for each chord so you are hearing just two notes for each chord. Plus, I have taken the liberty of adding a full E major chord at the end to give it a definite resolution to the tonic.
Love Yourself Intro Riff mp3

Next, here is a tab of the same simplified version.

If we are happy that E major sounds like home and continue by working on the basis that this is in the key of E major.

E major scale
E, F#, G#, A, B, C#, D#, E

Harmonised E major scale

E, F#m, G#m, A, B, C#m, D#dim

Chord tones & formulae
E = E, G#, B = 1, 3, 5
F#m = F#, A, C# = 1, b3, 5
G#m = G#, B. D# = 1, b3, 5
A = A, C#, E = 1, 3, 5
B = B, D#, F# = 1, 3, 5
C#m = C#, E, G# = 1, b3, 5
D#dim = D#, F#, A = 1, b3, b5

Now taking just those in the intro riff.
E = E, G#, B = 1, 3, 5
F#m = F#, A, C# = 1, b3, 5
C#m = C#, E, G# = 1, b3, 5
D#dim = D#, F#, A = 1, b3, b5

Compare the chord tones with the tab.
Chord 1
This can be seen and heard as E major though it is just the 1 and the 3 (no 5th).
Chord 2
This can be seen and heard as D# minor though it is just the 1 and b3 (no 5th).
Chord 3
This can be seen and heard as C# minor though it is just the 1 and b3 (no 5th).
Chord 4
This can be seen and heard as F# minor though it is just the 1 and b3 (no 5th).

There is a clear and obvious pattern. These are all chord ‘fragments’ and none has the 5th.

Turning our attention now to just the chord being questioned - the D# minor chord. Or is it a D# minor? It has only two notes (again, a reminder, I simplified and removed the octave repeat of the root note in my transcription). Those two notes are the root and the flat 3rd. The lack of any 5th means the actual nature of the chord is ambiguous. It could be a plain and simple (and very diatonic) D# diminished chord or it could indeed be a D# minor chord. Replacing a diminished chord with a minor having the same root does work in some instances (as @stitch has stated above) and involves just one note being replaced effectively. If the minor is played without its 5th then no non-diatonic note is being introduced whatever.
It is impossible in this song example to say whether the chord is truly D# diminished or D# minor unless other instrumentation comes in and plays either the note A (diatonic, making D# dim) or the note A# (non-diatonic making D#m).

The direct question about borrowing would require quite some explanation beyond this point. If the D# root chord is D#m then it is possible to create a line of argument that it has been borrowed not from the relative key of E minor, but by use of modal interchange where it could be seen as borrowed from any or all of E Lydian, E Phrygian or E Locrian. If you really want it I will go through that thinking but am inclined to leave it unless specifically requested.

I hope that makes sense.

Nice one superman to the rescue! Thanks for clarification Richard, I remember early days in 2020 I tried to figure out chords by ear just for fun and I was mostly using 2 notes as you say. When Jason mentioned chord names I started doubting myself and mu very brief adventure with the song and I assumed that perhaps they do play full chords in verses.

And he’s back !! :smiley:

There’s no Eb in the Key of E major, but there’s a D#. Since the key is E major, that’s what this chord should really be called. Does that help?

Edit: (Whoops – should’ve read the responses, first. I see this has already been pointed out.)


Also, note, there is nothing new under the sun.
And, with these comments about artistic stealing fresh in my mind …

I have transposed the Intro riff up by four semitones so it is in the key of G major, repeated the first two bars and made every other bar a bar of 3/4.
Listen here for a version with the notes played at a higher pitch.

Now compare and contrast with this vocal harmony.

Fascinating eh!



I had never heard the song either but, with an adventurous spirit and an open mind I took the leap of faith haha :wink: :rofl:


Thank you! That is an amazingly detailed response. I really appreciate your time.
And yes it makes perfect sense.
I could have just learned the chord shapes and picking pattern but I always like to break things down and make sense of them.
Things like this intrigue me.
I can now make sense of the entire composition and play like a proper Belieber! :joy:

It is a great song Adrian, although I’m not sure our enthusiasm is shared on here!:joy:
I’m getting along with it quite well.
We’ve both learnt something here.

1 Like

Wow! Ed’s been at it again by the look of it. Great spot!
It’s the same tune.
One more point Richard
I’ve recently come across the term half diminished chord.
I’ve no idea what the difference is between a dim and half dim Chord?

The simple answer is.
A half diminished chord is a diminished b7th
It is the R b3 b5 b7 also known as a m7b5 chord

Understood Rick
Thank you :+1: