You know that for most songs, you’ll either be writing in a major key or a minor key. But did you know it’s possible to mix the chords from major and minor keys together? Such chords are called borrowed chords, or modal mixture chords. Here’s how that works:
Chapter 4 of “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” tells you all about harmonies, and how they’re created in any given key. When you take a C major scale and build chords (triads) above each note of that scale, you get the following chords:
C Dm Em F G Am Bdim
If you build triads on top of the notes from a C minor scale, you get these ones:
Cm Ddim Eb Fm Gm Ab Bb
(The minor key chords assume the natural minor scale.)
Normally, when you choose to write in a major key, you use only the chords from that major key. But it creates really interesting colours to “borrow” chords from the minor, or vice versa.
Take, for example, this progression [Listen to sound samples at: “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website
C Dm/F G C
This is a common progression from C major. (The Dm/F means a d minor chord with F as its lowest sounding note.) Now, let’s substitute the second chord, Dm/F, with a chord from the minor side of the key: Ddim/F:
C Ddim/F G C
Changing the Dm to Ddim makes a really interesting break from the kind of chord that was expected, and so it’s a great way to inject some interest into an otherwise common progression.
Here are some other modal mixtures you can try:
C Fm G C
C Ab Bb C
C Fm Ab G7 C
There is no theoretical reason for making this kind of chord substitution… they just sound good. Click on “Post a Comment” below to submit your own borrowed chord progression.
-Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website.