Thousands of songwriters are using Gary Ewer’s “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6 e-Book Bundle to solve their songwriting dilemmas. Now with a 7th free eBook, “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro.” Read More..
A modal mixture chord (also called a borrowed chord) is a chord that normally belongs to the opposite mode. For example, if your song is in C major and you use an Fm in a progression, you’ve just used a modal mixture. That’s because the form of F chord that you normally use in the key of C major is F. Fm belongs to the key of C minor.
Modal mixtures are very useful so-called “colour chords.” A modal mixture chord will usually have the same function (purpose) as the native chord that it is replacing. For example, you might take this progression: C F G C [LISTEN], and replace the F with an Fm, giving you this: C Fm G C [LISTEN]. The Fm serves the same purpose as F, simply adding a bit of moody colour to the progression. They’re fun to experiment with.
One of the trickier modal mixtures to use is a minor I-chord. Because the I-chord so strongly defines our song as being in a major or minor key, it can be a startling substitution to try:
C F G Cm [LISTEN]
I IV V i
Here’s a more interesting and musically satisfying way to use a minor I-chord. In the progression, an uppercase ‘I’ refers to a major version of the I-chord, and a lowercase ‘i’ refers to a minor version (i):
C F C/E Cm/Eb Dm G C [LISTEN]
I IV I6 i6 ii V I
First, an explanation of the Roman numerals. An inverted chord with the 3rd in the bass — like C/E — is shown by placing a number 6 after the Roman numeral. So C/E is notated as I6. The fourth chord of that progression is the minor i-chord, also inverted: Cm/Eb (i6).
When you listen to the second progression, you’ll notice that the Cm/Eb chord sounds more natural and less startling than the Cm in the previous progression. It’s the bass line that makes it easier on the ears.
The bass jumps up from C to F when you play the first two chords. Then, as the progression moves from F to C/E, to Cm/Eb and then to Dm, the bass line is: F-E-Eb-D. That chromatic line is very easy for the ear to follow, and makes the progression easier to understand.
Normally, a minor i-chord in a major key sounds odd, as if you’re trying to pull the entire song into a minor key. But by inverting the minor i, and then placing it in the middle of a progression rather than using it as an endpoint, the minor i-chord can be a very useful passing chord that adds some interesting flavour to an otherwise rather ordinary progression.
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.
“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle looks at songwriting from every angle, and has been used by thousands of songwriters. How to use chords, write melodies, and craft winning lyrics. (And you’ll receive a FREE copy of “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro.“)