Moving Your Song’s Key Upward For the Chorus

I remember a while ago listening to someone’s song, trying to analyze what the problem with the chorus was. The songwriter had sent it to me, telling me that she felt the song started with great promise, but halfway through the chorus, everything sounded underwhelming.

In that particular song, we diagnosed the problem as being one of melodic range. Both the verse and chorus melodies sat in the same basic range, using the same notes, meaning the audience was hearing the same 6 or 7 notes throughout the entire song.

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The solution was surprisingly simple: we found a spot near the start of the chorus where she moved one of the notes higher. With the inclusion of that one higher note, there was a noticeable bump-up in musical energy, and the chorus now sounded more exciting.

There’s another solution to consider as well: moving the key of the chorus upward. In other words, find a way to change the chord at the end of the verse so that it connects to a chorus that’s in a higher key. That puts all your melody notes higher, and may be what your song needs.

Here’s how you might do that:

Let’s say that your verse is in C major, and that this is the progression at the end of the verse:

Verse: Dm Am F G||

Chorus: C  F  Dm  G…

You can change your chorus to be in any key that suits you, but let’s say that you want to change your chorus key to be one whole step higher: D major. So the first step is to re-do your chorus progression to be in D major, which means moving all your chorus chords up by 1 whole step:

Old progression: C  F  Dm  G  becomes:

New progression: D  G  Em  A…

There are several ways to make this new key of D major sound like it’s coming out of C major in a satisfying way:

1. Change the final chord of the chorus.

You want to change it to something that a) connects well with the first chord of the chorus, and b) fits the last note of your verse melody.

Finding a chord that connects well to the D of your new chorus progression might mean changing the G chord — the last chord of the verse — to something like A7, Em, or perhaps even Gmaj7. Any of those chords will transition well to D.

2. Do an “abrupt” modulation.

This means not worrying at all about how easily the old key moves to the new one, but simply jumping to that new key. In this example, abrupt might work nicely because G moves well to D. That gives you this:

Verse: Dm  Am  F  G  ||Chorus: D  G  Em  A…

Abrupt modulations are exciting, but you have to use your ears to determine for yourself if it really works for your song. Sometimes the change can be too jarring — too abrupt. As I say, in this case it works quite well.

Whether you choose to modulate smoothly or abruptly, the end result is a chorus that’s higher than the one you wrote originally, and that may be all you need to make that chorus sound more exciting.

Once you’ve finished the chorus, you’ve got to find a way back to the verse key, and so you’ll find that either the abrupt change will work, or else you’ll be looking for a good transition chord that gets you from the end of the chorus to the start of the verse.

If you’re looking for more information on changing key, try these older blog posts:

Using Abrupt Modulations to Generate Song Energy

Changing Key Using A Common-Tone Modulation

Gary Ewer video - How the Rhythm of a Melody Changes as a Song ProgressesWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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