Using a Flat-VII Chord in Your Song’s Progressions

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Guitar ChordsAltered chords are ones that don’t naturally exist in your song’s key. If you were writing them out using musical notation you would see that an altered chord always uses accidentals – sharps or flats. An altered chord adds flavour to the basic diatonic chord palette (i.e., the seven chords that naturally exist in a key), and almost every song in popular music genres will use them. The flat-VII chord (bVII) is a great one to mix in with basic diatonic chords. Here are some ideas for how to use the bVII.

The following progressions are in C major. In that key, the bVII chord is Bb. But of course, these will work in any key.

1) The bVII on its way to IV: The bVII works nicely as a chord that next moves to a IV chord. Some examples:

  1. C  Am  Bb  F
  2. C  G  Bb  F
  3. C  F  Bb  F

2) The bVII on its way to bVI: This makes a great descending-bass-line progression:

  1. C  Bb  Ab  G
  2. C  Bb  Ab  Bb
  3. C  G  Bb  Ab  (G)
3) The bVII on its way to bIII: When used this way, the bVII takes on the function of what is called a secondary dominant chord. It briefly makes the bIII sound like a tonic chord:
  1. C  Bb  Eb  G
4) Other miscellaneous uses: Here are some other ways the bVII can add some harmonic interest to your progressions:
  1. C  Bb  Fm/Ab  G
  2. Modulate to D major: C  Bb  Asus4  A  |D
  3. Modulate to Bb major: C  Bb  Db  F  |Bb

Written by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website
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  1. It’s worth noting I-iii-bVII-ii as well here; though not in as common usage as the examples provided, it deserves to be. The strong tension between the second and third chord (roots separated by a tritone) is what gives this progression its distinct character! The closing ii, of course, is readily swapped out with IV if one prefers.

    • Thanks for writing, Roger. That move from iii to bVII is odd, but familiar at the same time. Every time I play it, I feel that I’m recognizing it. Do you know a song that uses it?

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