Pairing Up Major and Minor Progressions

Moving from minor to major chords strengthens song structure.


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GuitaristOne of the nicest and easiest ways to create really nice contrast between verse and chorus is the place the verse in minor and the chorus in major. But this of course can’t be done randomly; the chorus needs to feel like a natural follower, not forced or contrived.

For every major key, there are 7 chords that exist naturally. You find those chords by playing a major scale and then building 3-note chords (triads) above each of those notes. If you do that in D major, for example, the 7 chords are: D Em F#m G A Bm and C#dim.

You’ll notice that some chords in that list are major, some are minor, and one is diminished. So the easy way to provide nice chord-based contrast between verse and chorus is to predominantly feature the minor chords in the verse, and then switch to focusing on the major ones for the chorus.

Here’s a short list to get your imagination going. The following five progressions use mainly minor chords which then switch to major for the chorus. Experiment with the progressions by repeating the verse progressions before moving on to the chorus, or repeat parts, or even shorten sections before moving on:

  1. VERSE: Bm  A  Bm  A  F#m  Em  F#m  A ||CHORUS: D  G  D  A  F#m  G  A  G  D
  2. VERSE: Em  D  Em  G  F#m  Bm  F#m  G ||CHORUS: D  A  Bm  G  D  D/F#  G  Em  D
  3. VERSE: Bm  Em  D  Em  Bm  Em  D  Asus4  A  ||CHORUS: D  Em  F#m  G  D  A  Bm  G
  4. VERSE: Em  D  Em  Bm7  G  F#m  G  A  ||CHORUS: D  A  D/F#  G  D/A  A  Bm  A
  5. VERSE: F#m  Bm  G  Em  Bm  F#m7  Em  F#m  ||CHORUS: Asus4  A  Bm  G  D  G  D  A

As you can see, just because you’re choosing to take advantage of the minor chords in the verse does not mean that you must limit your chord choices to only minor. But you’ll notice that in structurally-important spots (like the first and fifth chords of each progression, for example), the predominant feel in the verse is minor, and major in the chorus.


Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

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  1. What happens when the chorus contains minor chords? This is reinforced with some major chords but i have just written a song based on the Bm scale that seems to want to start off with minor chords. e,g, Verse: Em / Bm7 Chorus, after a link section (preChorus), of Bm / F#m / Em / F#m7 with a section of the chorus that follows the pattern Bm / F#m / Gmaj7 / F#7 etc. It still elevates the chorus yet the main chords are minor.

    • Hi Bo:

      There’s no problem at all with minor choruses, and I probably should have made it clearer that I was talking really just about songs that are mainly in a major key. For such songs, starting with the “darker” minor chords and then switching to major for the chorus adds nice structure to the design of the song. But some songs (such as yours) are in minor keys, and minor choruses are completely fine. They find their “lift” in other ways. Derek & the Dominos’ “Layla” is a good example of that.


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