You may be familiar with the term relative major — that’s the major key that uses the same key signature as a particular minor key. It’s a very common key relationship in pop songs, because if you’ve written a song that uses a minor key verse, and you decide to switch to major for the chorus, it’s probably the case that you’ve switched to the relative major.
For example, in Justin Timberlake’s “Mirrors” (2013), the verse is in the key of C minor, and then it switches to Eb major for the chorus. C minor is the relative minor of Eb major.
Songwriters are very familiar with the chorus hook, but there are other kinds to experiment with, and you will want to discover the power of layering various kinds of hooks in the same song. “Hooks and Riffs: How They Grab Attention, Make Songs Memorable, and Build Your Fan Base“ shows you how it’s done.
There’s another key relationship that’s worth trying, and it’s switching from a minor key to its parallel major. Parallel major means that it uses the same tonic note, but switches everything so that it sounds major instead of minor.
So if you have a song that’s in A minor for the verse, and then you switch to A major for the chorus, you’re switching to the parallel major (also called the “tonic major”). Both keys, A minor and A major, use the same tonic note: A.
Switching to the key that’s parallel is a bit more startling to the ears than switching to the key that’s relative. That’s because keys that are the relative major/minor of each other use the same key signature, so the transition from one to the other is usually smooth.
But switching from A minor, which uses no sharps or flats, to A major, which uses three sharps, is more noticeable. So it’s not something you want to do in many songs, because it draws a lot of attention to itself and will quickly become predictable.
Here’s an example of what a parallel key relationship might look like in your chord progressions:
Verse: Am Dm E7 Am F G C E7
Chorus: A D Bm E7 A…
You’ll see as you move from the verse to the chorus that the A major chord that starts the chorus is a bit of a musical surprise, but it can be quite nice. A song that uses this relationship is “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me” (Vicki Wickham, Simon Napier-Bell, Pino Donaggio, Vito Pallavicini), made most famous by Dusty Springfield in her 1966 recording. It moves from a D minor verse to a D major chorus.
You’ll also hear this parallel relationship in George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” It’s a 3-part melody that starts in G minor in this reworking for Cirque du Soleil, then switches to G major for the middle section.
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