Downward Key Changes Might “Brighten” a Song – Here’s How

If you’re looking for ways to brighten the feel of a song, moving the key downward might (paradoxically) work. Read on..


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Electric Bass GuitarI’ve written about the matter of changing key within a song before, and most of the time I talk about ways to raise the key. That’s because lowering a key in the midst of a song can be tricky, for the reason that downward-moving keys can sap song energy. But there are times when changing key downward can act like a breath of fresh air. It really depends on the chord progression you use.

I’ve mentioned the song “Soon We’ll Be Found“, by Sia, and posted a YouTube video describing melodic design, where the key moves (modulates) upward from C minor to Eb major. The brightening that results comes from not just the upward movement of the key, but also from the change of modes – from minor to major.

Paradoxically, you can achieve this same brightening affect by moving the key downward, particularly if the last chord of the old key is lower than the first chord of the new one.

Let’s say that you’ve created a verse that uses the following chord progression: C F Dm G C…

It’s fine – it works well. But two play-throughs of that progression leaves you wondering what to do next. It doesn’t feel like it’s time for the chorus yet, so you need something more. One consideration is to switch to a new key and try the progression again.

In the case of the upward-moving progression, you might consider jumping immediately to the key of Eb major – a minor 3rd higher than the original key of C major. That certainly gives us a brightening:

C  F  Dm  G  (repeat, then..)  Eb  Ab  Fm  Bb…

But now consider something else: moving down a minor 3rd, to the key of A major:

C  F  Dm  G  (repeat, then)  A  D  Bm  E…

What happens here is that the last chord of the old key is G. The first chord of the new key is A. So the audience hears a G followed by an A. And even though the new key is lower, the actual change happens right at the spot where we hear two adjacent chords where the second chord is higher.

That results in a brightening, an increase in song energy. And it works quite well.

So if you’re looking for ways to change key within your song, you’re probably going to opt for rising keys. But there’s a whole world of possibilities that exist, as long as you closely examine the actual moment of modulation, the spot where the key change actually occurs. If where the two keys are joined result in two chords, the second of which has a root that’s higher, you’ve got a great possibility of pleasantly rising energy.


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


  1. A great example of this type of modulation (V chord to major key down a minor third) in The Beatles’ “The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill”, in the chorus.

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