guitarist - songwriter

Using Chord Progression Sleight-of-Hand In a Song’s Bridge

This is a bit of an addition to yesterday’s post, in which I gave some thoughts on the melody and lyrics of Bruce Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart“. There’s one other aspect of this song that deserves a quick mention: the key change at the song’s instrumental bridge (at 1’38”).

The song is in C# major. We know that Springsteen’s voice was sped up for this song, so it’s entirely possible that the original key was C major or perhaps B major. At the bridge, there is an abrupt key change upward, to E major.

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I find this interesting mainly because most bridges will be followed by final chorus repeats, or occasionally by an extra verse. In this case, Springsteen opts for the extra verse. In either case, you’re likely going to want to return to your original key:

Key change in "Hungry Heart"

It’s a unique choice. It’s common to change key for a bridge, but the most likely choice would be to switch to the relative minor if the song is in a major key. But by choosing E major, the music bumps up a third, and that gives everything a good shot of musical energy.

The problem can be that during the switch back to the original key, the downward key change can sap musical energy: you’re going from E major down to C# major.

But you’ll notice that when the old key returns it actually sounds like there is an additional increase in musical energy. It sounds like the key is moving upward again, even though it’s moving downward. Why do we get the sense of a new upward movement of the key?

The answer is in the chords that lead to the change back to C# major. The E major chord progression is this:

E  C#m  F#m  B

When the key change happens, he actually changes key before that final B chord, and we get this:

E  C#m  F#m  G#||C#….

By changing key after the third chord of the progression, we hear these two chords in succession: F#m – G#. So while the key is moving downward, the chords that actually cause the change are moving upward: F#m up to G#.

Those upward-moving chord roots tend to mask what’s actually going on harmonically — that the key is moving back down. It’s a neat sleight-of-hand that allows you to have better control of the results of changing key.

I wrote about this before in a previous article, so if you’d like to read a bit more about giving the sense of moving upward while a key is moving downward, please read “How to Make a Downward Key Change Work.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary EwerFollow Gary on Twitter

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