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You’re likely aware that moving from a minor key verse to a major key chorus is a very popular characteristic of pop music. A classic example is Carole King’s “You’ve Got a Friend”, for which the verse is F minor, then switching to Ab major for the chorus. In music theory terms, that’s called moving from minor to the relative major. That term, “relative”, tells us that the two keys (F minor and Ab major) are related by virtue of the fact that they use the same key signature.
That minor-to-relative-major feature works well because it has a way of brightening the overall musical sound. And because both keys are “related”, they both use the same set of chords; it’s just the sense of tonic that shifts:
F minor: Fm Gdim Ab Bbm Cm Db Eb
Ab major: Ab Bbm Cm Db Eb Fm Gdim
So the two keys move back and forth quite easily, and rarely startles the listener to do so. Listen to Justin Timberlake’s “Mirrors” for another example of a song that moves from minor to relative major between the verse and chorus.
But there are other ways to move from minor to major. Try this:
- Build the chord list for C major: C Dm Em F G Am Bdim
- Now create a chord progression that focuses on the ii-chord (Dm) as a kind of tonic. This will work well as a verse progression (Example: Dm Am7 G Dm Am7 G |F Am Dm C/E F G) [LISTEN]
- Now using the same list of seven chords, create a progression that focuses on the I-chord as a tonic. This will pair up well as a chorus (Example: C F G C F G Am Em F C Dm F G) [LISTEN]
As you can see, in this kind of plan, it’s fine to use major chords in a primarily minor progression, and vice versa. That’s why you’ll see G, F and so on, in your verse progression, and Am and Em in your chorus.
The end of the chorus example (G) will move well into another verse progression: Dm Am7… etc.
You get the same kind of benefits by focusing on the ii-chord for the verse as you would if you focused on the more common vi-chord relative minor: mainly that same brightening effect as you move from verse to chorus.
You can also try using the iii-chord as your tonal focus, with something like this for a verse: Em F Dm Em, etc.
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.
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