A Quick Key Change Extends a Chord Progression’s Life

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keyboard synthI really do believe that most songwriters worry too much about the possible banality of their chord progressions. It’s OK for a progression to be boring and predictable. In fact, in order for a progression to do its job properly, it needs to be in large part predictable. That’s because the repetitious nature of a progression adds an important sense of form and structure to a song.

There are times, however, where you may want your progression to attract just a little bit of attention. One thing to consider might be to use a quick key change between the verse and chorus. Here’s what I mean.

If your verse chord progression is identical or similar to the one you’re using for your chorus, you can make it sound new and fresh by switching rather quickly, or even abruptly, to a new key as your verse moves into your chorus.

Making that change of key, particularly if the chorus key is higher, injects energy into the chorus of your song.

Here’s an example. Let’s say that you’ve chosen the following progression for your verse and your chorus:

C  Dm  F  G  C  F  Am  G

That progression (considered to be strong, as it quite unambiguously emphasizes C major as the key) would work well in both the verse and the chorus.

But if you want to make it sound suddenly fresher, move the progression higher – say by a minor 3rd – and you’ve got the same progression, but on a higher plane:

Eb  Fm  Ab  Bb  Eb  Ab  Cm  Bb

This means, of course, that you’ve changed key (to Eb major), so the chorus melody will now be a minor 3rd higher, so just be sure that it’s still within your normal singing range.

To get from a verse in C major to a chorus in Eb major, you can either do an abrupt modulation, which simply means the change is immediate with no preparation, or you can change the final chord of the verse to a chord that moves easily into Eb major. For example, you may want to substitute that G at the end of the verse to be a Bb.

Moving the key up a minor 3rd is only one possible suggestion. There are many possibilities. Keep in mind that in order to boost the energy level of your song, you’ll want to strongly consider moving the chorus to a higher key. Modulating downward is possible, but it can sap energy.

Here are some other chord progression samples that modulate to other keys. Each sample uses a chord at the end of the verse that connects well to the chorus, and then a chord that pulls it back again to the original key:

  1. From C major to F major: C Am  F  G  C  Am  F  C7 ||F  Dm  Bb  C  F  Dm  Bb  G
  2. From C major to E major: C  F  Dm  G  Am  F  Dm  B7  ||E  A  F#m  B  C#m  A  F#m  G7
  3. From C major to G major: C  Bb  Ab  G  C  Eb  F  D7  ||G  F  Eb  D  G  Bb  C  G7
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Written by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website
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