Creating Good Transitions from One Key to Another

Finding a chord that pulls a song successfully into a new key can be a challenge. Here are some ideas that might help.


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Synthesizer keyboard playerThere is of course no rule that says that all songs have to start and end in the same key. And many songs make great use of the effect of starting in a mainly minor key for the verse, transitioning to a major key for the chorus. Justin Timberlake’s “Mirror” is a good example of this.

It’s usually between the verse and chorus that a key change will happen if at all. The nice thing about a key change is that it can inject a nice shot of energy, and that’s why many songwriters do it. But getting that transition right usually means finding that one chord that works well in the old key and the new one.

Here is a list of possible key changes you might consider for your song. Everything is given in either the key of C major or A minor, but are transposable to any starting key you wish. For each key change, you are given an example of what a good transition chord might be – the chord that bridges the two keys.

The example progressions are just that: examples. You’ll notice that each sample progression is in two parts: a first part in the starting key, then a vertical line that shows where the new key area starts. What’s most relevant to your needs as a songwriter are the chords right at the transition. Otherwise, you can modify the progressions for your own use.

Transitioning from one key to another

If you want a PDF of this chart to print, click on the link below:

Transitioning from one key to another

If you have another key change in mind and can’t get it to work, please feel free to post your idea below, and I’d be happy to help.


Written by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

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    • A transition from major to minor shouldn’t be problematic. Generally, whichever chords get you back to the tonic chord of A major will work for A minor, so you can do an abrupt modulation. For example, something like this would work:

      A D Bm A E E7 |Am G F E Am….


  1. Hi there,
    Thanks for offering to help us.
    Last Chord in the Worship song at Church is BEG# / E…………….we need to smoothly get to the first Chord in the next song which is CEG / C. Havent been on this road long,so you have a brother here that really needs help on this one. THANKS SO MUCH……………Regards, Max

    • Hi Max:

      That last chord is an E chord: E-G#-B over an E in the bass. So to get to a C chord, try this: 1) Follow the E chord with Am (A-C-E / A), then with G7 (G-B-D-F / G). The C chord should follow it nicely.

      Hope that helps,

      • Hi!
        Thank you for this great post! It’s very helpful. I’m currently struggling with how to transition from A to Db, but truly just what a good transitional progression in general is a good one to use. If you wouldn’t mind sending some ideas my way, I’d be so grateful!

        • Often, the best chord transitions happen when you’ve got a chord from the old key that’s in common with a chord from the new key. A good example of this might be changing key from A major up to D major. Let’s say you finish the chorus, which has been using this progression: A D Bm E7 A. Your new key of D major would have D in common, of course, but also the A chord. So when you get to the final A of your chorus, you could play A7 instead of just A, and now you’ve got a nice transition to D major.

          To get to Db major from A, think of the Db as actually a C# chord. When you get to the new key, you can start thinking of it as Db. In A major, the C# chord would be minor, so try this for a transition from A to C#:

          A Bm E7 A ||C#m Ab7 ||Db Ebm Ab7 Db…

          I hope that helps.

  2. Sir, please help…I am learning to play the song SKYLARK in the key of C on the guitar and wish to modulate up to the key of E (the wife prefers the one and I the other so I’m trying to compromise here)..Which bridge chords would work for this. Thanks in anticipation…. A.

    • By “bridge” chords, I assume you mean that you’d like chords that will help you change key from E to C. Without knowing your vocal arrangement, I can’t make specific recommendations. But I can tell you that getting from E to C is a bit tricky. You might try this sort of thing:

      E Amaj7 G13 G7 C

      The progression keeps the note E as a constant while the progression changes key. Then the E of the G13 becomes a 4-3 suspension when it moves to G7.

      Hope that helps.

  3. Aaah Gary, you never commit. You said, “It’s usually between the verse and chorus that a key change will happen if at all.” so this would therefore be unusual.

    • Ha! 🙂 It’s not an issue of committing, since in music anything is possible. I think my statement in this blog post more pertains to the kind of modulation I was talking about – the one (as in the Justin Timberlake tune) where the song moves between major and minor. In such songs, it usually will start in minor, then change to major as it switches from verse to chorus. I probably should have been clearer in the post, and will edit it to make that clear.


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