Extending Verse Melodies With a Minor-3rd Key Change

Moving the key upward by a minor 3rd and repeating a melody is a great way to extend the length of your verse.


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Piano keyboardI wrote recently about the pre-chorus and how to effectively write one. One of the main reasons you might insert a pre-chorus between the verse and chorus is that it can extend the length of a short verse. If you feel that your chorus is happening too soon, a pre-chorus gives you a little extra mileage. There is one other way you can take a short verse and extend it, and that’s by making a simple key change and then repeating your verse once more.

Let’s say you’ve written a verse that uses the following chord progression in the key of A major:

Verse: A D Bm E A D Bm E, followed by your chorus: A E F#m D… etc.

As you can see, even if each chord lasts for 4 beats, it barely gives your verse enough time to happen before the chorus arrives.

It’s at this point that you might consider a pre-chorus, but why not consider this option as well: do an abrupt key change up a minor 3rd to C major, and then repeat the entire progression in that new key. That gives you this:

Verse: A D Bm E A D Bm E |C F Dm G C F Dm G, followed by the chorus.

To allow for the return of the original key (A major), you need to find a way to transition back. You have a couple of options:

  1. Stay in the key of C major for your chorus, end on the chord C, then insert a transposing chord that gets you back to A major. You might try Esus4-E, or even just simply E at the end of the chorus, which leads easily back to the verse’s A major.
  2. Do a quick modulation back to A major for the start of your chorus, again by using the E  chord as the transition.

It’s hard to say on a theoretical level why that minor-3rd relationship works, but you’ll find that the minor-3rd modulation creates a bit of musical excitement that gives your song some momentum. The new key adds freshness to your music, and it allows you to easily extend the length of a verse.

You can also do the same thing for a chorus, but it’s probably more effective in a verse because a chorus usually works better with strong chords and few surprises.


Written by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website.
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One Comment

  1. Transposing up a minor third is the equivalent of going from major to minor, scalewise. It creates a certain kind of tension where you want the major to come back. A similar effect can be seen with the common progression I – IV – IVm – I, which might be substituted by I – IV – VIb – I. I.e., either change the IV into minor or go up a minor third to VIb.

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