Extending a Melody With a Key Change

Changing key is a good way to keep song energy moving in an upward direction.


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GuitarHere’s a bit of an add-on to my recent post about chord theory. Let’s look at how to change key when the relationship between the old and new key is tricky to navigate.

It’s something I’ve written about before. Moving up by a semitone (from C to Db), a major 2nd (from C to D), and even up a minor 3rd (from C to Eb), are all relatively easy to do.

But what about changing from C major to E major?

Key changes are not actually all that common in pop music. It’s relatively common to start and end a song in the same key. Most of the time, however, a key change, particularly an upward one, is used if the songwriter wants to build a bit of musical energy. Here’s an example:

Key Change From C Major to D Major

That’s a typical way for music to change from C major to D major. At the end of the C major progression, you insert a transition chord that moves easily to D major — the A7. It’s the sort of change you might see at various possible spots in the latter half of a song: between bridge and final chorus, for example, or during the final chorus repeats.

But there’s a way to use a key change in the middle of a verse, and there is one main reason you might try one there: it can allow you to extend the length of a verse melody. Let’s say that your verse melody is short — 4 bars, for example. You can play through the 4 bars of music, bump the music up into a new key, and then you’ve got a way to repeat the same 4 bars without having it sound so repetitious.

And now for the tricky bit: getting from C major to E major. Those two keys are not particularly closely related. (If you know a bit about music theory, then consider this: the more different two key signatures are, the less related they are. E major has 4 sharps, while C major has no sharps or flats. So E major is, as they say it, “four sharps away,” and that’s a little bit distant.

What we want is a way to make the transition from C major to E major not sound so jarring. Here are some examples you can try, and feel free to experiment. In the suggestions below, try strumming each chord for 2 beats, with the burgundy-coloured chords strummed for 1 beat each.

  1. C  F  D#dim  E  B  |E…
  2. C  F  Dm  G  Am  F  G  G/F  |E  A  F#m  B…
  3. C  G/B  Gm/Bb  A7  Dm  C7  B7  E  B7|E….
  4. C  F/C  G/B  Bsus4  B  |E  A/E  B/D#  E…

These will also work as good pre-chorus options, especially if you consider changing the first C chord of each one to something like Dm or Am. As always, experiment with what you see there, and change them to suit the song you’re working on.

As you’ll hear, getting from C to E is a bit strained at times. Making the transition a bit smoother sometimes requires you to hold on to chords longer. You’ll also notice that tricky key changes happen easier with songs in a slower tempo.

If you’re changing key in the verse and you want to get back to C major from E major, try this for a smooth transition:

E  A  F#m  B  C#m  G#m  G  Gsus4  G  |C


Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

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