Changing the key of a song is not all that common. Most of the time a song will end in the same key that it started in. When a song does change key it’s often the case where the verse is in a minor key, and then switches to the relative major key for the chorus.
Carole King’s “You’ve Got a Friend” is a good example of this, with the verse in F minor and the chorus in A-flat major.
That kind of key change gives the song a strong sense of “brightening,” resulting in a verse that sounds darker, introspective and thoughtful, changing to a chorus that sounds lighter, positive and optimistic.
Sometimes a key change is added for technical reasons. When Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers sang “Islands In the Stream“, there’s a noticeable and abrupt key change between the first chorus and the second verse (where Dolly takes over.) She was uncomfortable with the key that felt right for Kenny, so a key change for verse 2 solved that issue.
Key Change After the Intro
And then once in a while you’ll find a song where the introduction is in one key, and then there’s a key change just as the first verse starts. For most examples of this you can find, the difference in key between the intro and first verse has a practical reason: the intro is in the key of the chorus.
In fact, “You’ve Got a Friend” does this. It uses an intro in the same key as the chorus — A-flat major — before beginning verse 1 in F minor.
With John Lennon’s “Strawberry Fields Forever“, the song starts with an intro that moves immediately to the chorus. The intro is in E major, jumping to A major for the start of the chorus. The verses start in E major and move to A major. So an intro in E major isn’t actually all that strange.
In any case, it might be worth some experimentation for you to consider an intro that changes key with the first verse.
Why might you do this? There’s something about a key change that demands some attention from the listener. Where one of the most common duties of an intro is to establish key, it comes across as a bit startling — and exciting, in a musical sort of way — when that key is abandoned with the first words that are sung.
That startling nature of key changes is only good, mind you, if it actually adds to the excitement and energy of the music. I love “Deep in the Motherlode” by Genesis from their 1978 album”…and then there were three…”, for which the intro starts in C major (F/A – C/G – F), then switches to G major for the first verse. That G major chord is the dominant chord of C major, and contains considerable musical energy for that reason.
If you want to consider a key change between your intro and verse 1, it’s often best if there is a reason that’s based in the key of each respective section. In other words:
- Write out the chord progression of the verse.
- Choose a chord from the verse to base a new chord progression on (for the intro).
- Create an intro chord progression that uses that chosen chord from the verse as a tonic.
At the end of your intro, you should be able to jump abruptly to the verse progression. The fact that both sections are related (by virtue of the fact that you based the intro progression on a chord from the verse) will tend to be enough to glue the two sections together.
And then, of course, you simply use your ears and your own musical judgment as to whether it’s working for you or not.
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