How to Use Parallel Key Changes in Your Songwriting
Similar to relative
parallel modulation is about changing between major and minor keys. So
its main function is to change the overall mood of the song with a
simple chord change - major
keys generally being upbeat and "light", minor keys generally
being ominous and "dark".
This gives you a number of possible
creative directions for your songwriting, both in the chord progression
and the song structure. Songs have the ability to take the listener on
a journey, through various emotions, and key changes are a powerful way
of doing this.
Watch the video below for an introduction to parallel key changes and
how you can use them in your music...
The Mechanics of Parallel Key Modulation
The idea of a key being
"parallel" comes from the fact we are changing the tonic (1 or I)
major-minor or minor-major on the same root.
This means if we started in C
major, its parallel key would be C
minor. We could therefore call Cm the "parallel minor" of Cmaj and Cmaj
the "parallel major" of Cm.
As covered in the video, the switch between keys is most effective when
you use a pivot chord
chord that facilitates or prepares the change into the new
key. Think of it as a signpost that tells you we're about to return
home, but that home can be a "happy home" (major tonic) or an "unhappy
home" (minor tonic).
The "strongest" pivot chord is the V
(5) chord, also known as the dominant.
In relation to Cmaj
chord would be Gmaj
entirely sure what these numerals (I, IV, V etc.) mean on
I highly recommend Jonathan Boettcher's crash
course in guitar theory.
The below table shows you this same relationship in several keys. Take
a listen to the audio (and play along if you know the chords), which
pivots between the parallel major and minor tonics, to help
internalize this important relationship known as dominant - tonic.
you can also use the audio tracks to practice switching between
parallel major and minor scales...
Over the major tonic and V
chord, play the major scale or major pentatonic. Over the minor tonic,
switch to natural minor (or any minor scale, such as Dorian or melodic
minor) or minor pentatonic on that same root.
For example, over Cmaj and G7 play C
major. Over Cm play C
By doing this, you can make that important connection between the chord
progression and melody (whether instrumental or vocal).
In a larger progression, we might incorporate this V
pivot chord as follows...
Abmaj was "borrowed" as the 6 (VI)
chord from the C minor key, so it prepares us nicely for a Cm tonic and
the establishment of the new parallel key of C minor. Use your ears to
judge whether the borrowed chord sounds natural as part of this
borrowed chords can be used more generally as a way to generate ideas
for your progressions. They don't always have to result in a key
change. For example, Abmaj could have simply moved back to Cmaj.
Let's listen to another example, this time moving from the minor key
into its parallel major key...
Fmaj is borrowed from the C major key as the 4 (IV)
chord, before resolving to the Cmaj tonic.
While many songs stay in one key, I hope you'll see how parallel key
changes can give you more freedom to take your songwriting in new
directions and turn a repetitive and predictable cycle of chords into a
more progressive journey.