Balancing the Major/Minor Focus of Your Chord Progressions

Written by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website
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One of the more important preliminary decisions you make as a songwriter is to settle on a key. And that means you’re either going to choosejordin major or minor. But why not try something that the writers of Jordin Sparks’ latest hit “Battlefield” have done: Choose major, but allow the chord progressions of the verse to focus on the minor side of that key, and the chorus to focus on the major.

“Battlefield” is in G major, but the verse primarily focuses on the relative minor of that key, E minor. The opening progression is Em C D Bm, always returning to Em. It gives the verse a darker, more pensive feel. Songwriters usually choose minor keys for that reason.

The problem with minor is that a song can sound persistently gloomy or ominous if you don’t find ways to brighten it up. So for the pre-chorus bars, the songwriters alter the focus of the key, moving toward G major (Am – G – D), and this change of focus has the primary responsibility of lightening the tonal mood, and making the key suddenly feel fresh. The chorus then gives us C G D Em, which makes the G major feel even stronger.

So often, we look for ways to add that sense of freshness to our music, and we often resort to a key change. But the simple altering of tonal focus in “Battlefield” is a great alternative. It’s more subtle than an overt key change, because the tonal focus is all that’s changing, not the actual key.

If you’re looking for ways to use this tonal device in your own songs, try taking a song that you’ve harmonized in a major key, but change the verse chords to focus on minor chords. For example, if your song is in E major, try substituting the E chords with C# minor chords (in other words, replace I-chords with vi-chords in whatever key you’ve chosen.) Then in the chorus, allow E chords to take precedence again. You’ll love the brightness that results.

By the way, it’s certainly worth experimenting by doing the opposite: try allowing the verse to be primarily major in focus, and then darken the mood suddenly by focusing on minor.


6 Songwriting E-books“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” shows you how to write great songs. It’s just one of a suite of 6 songwriting e-books written by Gary Ewer. (His newest e-book, “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting- Chord Progression Formulas” is being offered for free when you purchase any other of his songwriting e-books.) Let these six e-books show you every aspect of how to write great songs! Read more..

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