The Musical Power of a Major Chord in a Minor Key Song

A major chord tossed into a song that uses all minor chords is a powerful attention-getter.


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Cage the Elephant - Come a Little CloserA while back I wrote a post about the first single off Jack Johnson’s new album “From Here to Now to You”, called “I Got You.” Specifically, I mentioned that for songs with a simplistic design, moving into a new key for the bridge might be over-kill, and that a better solution might be what Johnson did, which is to simply start the bridge on a minor chord, but keep everything in the song’s original key.

That does seem to be a newish kind of trend in pop songwriting: simplicity of formal design and simplicity of chord choice going hand-in-hand. A more recent example of this can be seen in Cage the Elephant’s latest hit single, “Come a Little Closer“, from their recently released album, “Melophobia”.

The song is in C# minor, with the verse comprised mainly of three chords: C#m (i)  G#m (v) and F#m (iv). Many songs that start in a minor key will switch to the relative major key for the chorus, brightening the overall sound and helping to increase song energy.

But in the case of “Come a Little Closer”, the song continues in the key of C# minor, but adds in a new chord: A (VI). In minor keys, the VI-chord is naturally major. So instead of switching to the key of E major (the relative major of C# minor), they get the similar “brightening” effect of a major key by simply starting the chorus on an A chord, but continue with chords mainly in C# minor.

In other words, it’s a similar decision that Jack Johnson made regarding his song bridge: rather than switching key, he simply inserted a chord that hadn’t been heard earlier, and that was enough to add a fresh element to the music.

Major chords that happen in songs that are minor have a powerful effect, and draw considerable attention to themselves. They work very well in choruses, but you might also try throwing a major chord into a pre-chorus. It’s a great way to keep audience attention firmly on your song, and works especially well in songs with a simple verse-chorus design.


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