Lady Gaga

When a Verse and Chorus Are In Different Keys

Having the verse and chorus in different keys is not rare if you consider the number of songs where the verse is mainly in minor, and then the chorus switches to the relative major.

Sometimes the minor-major relationship is a different one, like Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi” (Stefani Germanotta, Rob Fusari), which has a verse in C minor, switching to a chorus in Ab major. But the idea is the same: minor moving to major.

The Essential Secrets of Songwriting 10-eBook Bundle“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” eBook bundle comes with a free copy of “Creative Chord Progressions”. Learn how to take your chords beyond simple I-IV-V progressions. With pages of examples ready for you to use in your own songs!

I want to focus, however, on songs with a verse that moves from a major key to another not-so-closely related key for the chorus. A song like “Penny Lane” (Lennon & McCartney), with a verse in B major and a chorus moving down to A major. How do you get something like that to work?

Songs in which the chorus jumps immediately to a new key are not very common, and they require considerable experimentation to get them to work. So here’s a simple step-by-step that will help you create your own.

There are lots of ways to do this, but this method below makes the assumption that both your verse and chorus are going to use a short, strong chord progression. In effect, what you’ll be doing is making up a progression that will work for your verse, and then transpose it to a new key and replicate it for the chorus.

  1. Create a simple chord progression for your verse. Since most of the time a verse progression will work by repeating it several times before getting to the chorus, this can be short, something like: I  IV  I  V (C  F  C  G).
  2. Transpose the progression up to a different key. This will take some experimenting until you find something you like, but here are a couple of possibilities you might like:
    1. Eb  Ab  Eb  Bb
    2. G  C  G  D
  3. Think about how to make a smooth transition from verse key to chorus key. Let’s say you’ve chosen Eb as the chorus progression (Eb  Ab  Eb  Bb). Your verse progression will end on a G chord. You’ve got some options here. One is to do an abrupt modulation, which means you’ll simply jump directly into the new key, and I quite like that one. That would give you something like this: C  F  C  G||Eb  Ab  Eb  Bb… But you can also modify the final chord of your verse progression to give you something that will move into Eb major with a bit less of a bump. So changing the final G to Bb gives you a dominant chord of Eb, which will always make for a smooth transition: C  F  C  Bb||Eb  Ab  Eb  Bb…
  4. Think about how to make a smooth transition from the end of your chorus back to the original key (for your next verse). An abrupt transition might work here as well (Eb  Ab  Eb  Bb||C  F  C  G…), but you can change that final Bb chord to a G, which will make the switch back to C major easier. (Eb  Ab  Eb  G||C  F  C  G…)

Why would you ever think of changing key like this at all? The main strength of this technique is that it sounds like you’ve added a level of complexity to your chords, when in fact all the progressions are very simple ones. Changing key just makes it sound complex, and you’ve got the benefit of keeping all your progressions short and tonally strong.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

Fix Your Songwriting Problems - NOWGood songwriting is a kind of problem-solving exercise. Here’s a look at the 7 most common songwriting issues that most songwriters face from time to time, and more importantly, how to solve them. “Fix Your Songwriting Problems – NOW.” It’s part of the 10-eBook Bundle. Get it at the Online Store.

Posted in Chord Progressions and tagged , , , , , , , , , , .

One Comment

  1. Hi Gary, I wonder if you had any thoughts about these songs which I believe change key between verse and chorus:
    – “Baker Street” by Gerry Rafferty
    – “Wisemen” by James Blunt

    I’d be interested in hearing how you thought they made it work.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.