Changing Key, and Then Changing Back

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Piano Keyboard - Chord SubstitutionsChanging key in the middle of a song is one way you can boost musical energy. More often than not, you’ll move the key higher, since downward-moving key changes are tricky to do as they tend to sap momentum. There are lots of options available when deciding where in a song to change key. But most of the time, it’s during the second half of the song that you’ll find works the best. A key change during the bridge or instrumental solo (Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart”), or as a setup of the final chorus repeats (Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror”) works really well.

Another great idea is to consider doing the verse in one key and the chorus in another. Doing so, however, presents you with a problem to solve: how do you move up to a new key for the chorus, and then move back to the original key for the verse?

I’ve created a chord progression (see below) that does just that. (Click the image for a larger view)

Click here to listen to the progression. (Opens in a new window)

There are several methods of changing key: common chord, common tone, etc. In this case, I’ve used what’s best described as an abrupt modulation, by using the Eb chord as a bVII of the original key of F major. That Eb gets reinterpreted as a bVI in the new chorus key of G major. Using the suspension (Dsus4) helps to smooth the transition to the new key.

To return to F major I used a Gm chord with a Bb in the bass. The Bb gets the bass back into F major, and following it with a C chord gives me the dominant chord of F major.

As you can probably tell, there’s a bit of an energy drop when you return to F major, which comes from the key moving downward. But that’s usually fine if you’re preparing for a verse, since verses tend to be less energetic than choruses.


Written by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website
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Posted in Chord Progressions, Modulation (Key Change) and tagged , , , , , , , , .

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