Guitarist - songwriter

Using a Minor V-Chord in a Major Key Song

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Good chord progressions take you on a musical journey that usually starts at “home”, wanders to some interesting place, and then returns home. Chord progressions don’t have to be particularly unique or creative because for most songs, the melody and lyrics are going to offer the unique bits that listeners can sing and remember.

So you can take a standard progression like I-V-IV-I (C-G-F-C in the key of C) and write hundreds or even thousands of unique songs.

But this is not to say that an interesting chord progression serves no useful purpose in good songwriting. Of course it can, and there are benefits to thinking about how you might take a standard progression and make it a bit more interesting.

One idea you can try is to take a V-chord (G in the key of C major) and modify it to be a minor chord. As you know, a V-chords in major key is a major chord:

Major V-chord in a major key

So take that G chord and make it Gm:

Minor V-chord in a major key

Because we’re expecting a major chord in that circumstance, its harmonic function actually changes, and sounds as though we’re moving to F as a new key. Try strumming through those chords and you’ll hear what I mean… the Gm sounds like a ii-chord in the key of F.

But as soon as we play the F chord, we follow it up with a C, and it sounds like we’ve returned once more to C major.

Progressions that Use a Minor V

Practically any progression that moves from V to IV (G to F in the key of C major) can be modified so that the V-chord is minor, as long as the melody note you’ve chosen still works: if you’ve got B as your melody note, you’d need to change that note to Bb if you want to experiment with a minor V.

So here are some sample progressions you can try:

  1. C   Am  Gm  F  C
  2. C  F  Gm  F  C
  3. C  G  Gm7  F
  4. C  Bb  Gm  F
  5. C  Gm  Dm  C

That final progression, C  Gm  Dm  C, was used in the chorus of “Tell No Lies“, by the Canadian 80s new wave band Spoons. You can hear the chorus at about the 55-second mark of this video.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary EwerFollow Gary on Twitter

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