Chord Progressions - Part 4
we looked at creating minor key chord progressions, altering chords in
the scale and using "gateway chords" to make our melodies more
In this final part, we'll look
at the dreaded changing key. When you change key,
you effectively change the tonic chord.
So, if you started a progression in E major, and changed key to F#
major, the chord scale would be adjusted accordingly so F# major
becomes the tonic (I) chord.
It's not that simple though!
just change key to anything from
but most of the time it will sound so dis-jointed, so out of place that
you could ruin the "journey" of the progression. Changing key, in most
cases, has to be
smooth, logical and bring your song to the next level. This lesson will
show you how to accomplish this, with examples.
key in your chord progressions
First and foremost, bear in
mind that a lot of
the most widely loved songs don't change key at all! A lot of them just
keep it simple and stick to the chord scales we've been looking at. So
don't get the idea all the songs you write need to change key a hundred
times to be "epic".
Only change key when you want
a change of direction in your song. Key changes compliment the
following quite well...
Change in tempo or rhythm
When you switch a guitar
effect on or "up" the tone of your guitar
When the vocalist wants to
go for that climax (I mean like a crescendo or something...)
When you've been playing
the same progression for a while through a song and want it to sound
The scale/chord merging technique
The easiest way to plan a key
change is to first look
at the notes of the chord you're playing just before you change key.
So, if we started off in the B
major chord scale...
...we could use Bmaj7
as the tonic chord. (remember, it's up to you what extra tones you add
to the basic major/minor triads in the chord scale. This was covered
in part 1
We can also start on this
chord (although progressions
don't always have to start on the tonic chord as we saw in part 3) and
use the chord scale to build a simple B major key progression...
(Click the tabs in
this lesson to hear)
nice and simple at the moment. So, to inject a bit of journey into it,
can change key before we return back to that Bmaj7 tonic.
As I said before, the notes in
the chord just before you change key
and move out of the chord scale are important here. So if we look at
Emaj7 above, and where our index finger will be barred, we could keep
our index finger there and try moving to Ab major
(which is outside the B major chord scale) and make that the tonic for
key. Ab major can be barred from the E string using the index finger in
that same position as Emaj7 was in the tab above.
It's not so much that the
fingerings are similar, that's just convenient - what matters is that
you are "borrowing" notes in Ab major from that previous
Emaj7 chord so it smooths the key change out.
Once we've found our "key
change chord", we can
build a progression using that new chord as the tonic. So in this case,
Ab major becomes chord I, take a look and listen
Now, the red
in the tab on the first Ab
chord indicate the notes
that were also used in the chord before - it's these notes that make
the key change merge
smoothly. Once you have this
you can hunt around for different
voicings and inversions of that new chord (To learn about how to do
this, see the guitar chord theory section
Incidentally, by using
chord "merging" method above, you are in
fact borrowing notes from the scale of the original tonic chord. So, in
the example above, we started with Bmaj7
as the tonic, with B
Ionian/major as its relative note scale.
This scale can be
chords within that chord scale, but when we change key, the scale does
too. The "merging" notes above are essentially notes from that initial
Ionian/major scale! The non-merging notes are from the new scale which
when we change key.
Here's another quick example
of a key change using the note merging method (again, the merging notes
are highlighted in red)...
So, we started on the tonic of B
and merged nicely into a new tonic of
ii V I turnaround key change method
This is a technique used a lot
in jazz to change key and is quite simple.
Basically, from the
tonic chord, you change straight to the ii
chord of the new key. This naturally then leads on to the
tension chord of V
before the return to the new tonic.
The great thing about this
method is you can pretty much jump to any ii
chord as long as you use 7th chords (using this method to change key
from a triad to
another triad is often too abrupt - using 7ths "softens" it up). Below
is an example, starting on B
...and once you get to the new tonic you can continue the progression
from that new key.
Another way to change key and
mood is to switch a chord in the progression from its natural major
or minor voicing
to the other. The change can be with the tonic chord or any other chord
in the scale.
to major as
gateway into a new
minor tonic. So if we start in E major and start a progression in that
chord scale we can experiment with the switch...
In the above example, the ii
chord in the scale
became major and acted as a V
chord gateway into a new minor tonic. You may
that you have to "reinforce" the new
tonic by playing in that new chord scale for a couple of chords because
the listener's ears will still be adjusting to the key change!
Another example could be using
a parallel key change where the tonic chord changes from major
to minor or vice versa. So you
could start the progression, or even the whole
song, on the major tonic and switch it to minor. This can be effective
for catching listeners off guard...
really like using that one - you get this sense of comfort starting on
that major chord and then it all dissolves into minor misery!
(forgive me for being overly dramatic).
Just don't over
use parallel key changes in your songs. Keep them special.
Another great thing about the
major/minor switch is you can switch it right back to change the mood
Following these past 4
lessons, you should be aware of the most dominant tension
chords within a chord scale.
We learned that the V
chord in a progression is a key
tension chords for returning back to the tonic (I).
Let's take a closer look at
that V chord - we can use it to change key by
moving to the V chord of the new tonic.
Take a look at the examples
below and listen to how the switch to the V
chord positions us ready for the new key...
Using the sus4
version of the V chord (in the case
above, the V chord is B, so it's Bsus4
) this adds
to the tension before the new tonic. The added 9th adds yet another
layer of tension to the important V chord.
Let's look at it used in a
similar way in a (very crude) take on Jamiroquai's Space Cowboy...
So this time we've used a different key change interval
to get to the V of the new key, but the effect is similar.
The important thing is, it
doesn't sound too abrupt, like it's come from nowhere. It's a smooth
transition, highlighting the natural tensions of the chord scale!
Try your own "V chord
gateways". Start your chord
progression in one key and, where appropriate, position your new V
chord where you think it sounds good - you're now ready to re-affirm
the new key from that V chord.
That concludes the guitar
chord progressions series
If you've been following this
properly since the 1st
part, we've come along way and you should now be equipped to create
perfect song. String 'em all together - chord scales, gateway chords,
changes, major key, minor key etc. and you should be able to get very
progressive with your music (if you're a prog-rock fan, then all the
more to inspire you).
Also, don't forget that great
songs can be discovered
by just randomly punching out chords, placing your fingers in unusual
positions - don't completely restrict yourself to scales all the time.
If you like what you hear, play it for god sake!
Thanks for sticking with it, I
hope the rewards
are very clear to you now! If you need a more comprehensive guide to
songwriting on guitar, visit the chord
progressions section here. It's the perfect follow on from
Guitar Chord Progressions
| Like This?
Subscribe & Learn More...
Subscribe to the fretjam newsletter below for updates and extras, plus
grab your free
copy of Uncommon Chords:
101 Vibrant Voicings You Won't
Find on a Typical Chord Chart.