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Methods for Changing Key

Is there any particular method to changing keys within a song? I noticed that or read it's good to change in the 5th position, e.g. C to G, but I was listening to Bobby Megge and noticed it changed from G to A for Keys.


There are a number of ways to change key during a song or chord progression. There's no right or wrong way to do it.

However, we can identify two main types of key change.

1) Key changes that use common chords of the original key.

I - ii - iii - IV - V - vi - vii

Using any of those chords as the "pivot" chord for changing key is an example of a common chord key change.

One way, as you pointed out, is to use the V (5) chord.

So, if we had a progression in C major, we could modulate to G major (the natural V chord in a C major key) and establish it as the new tonic (the tonal centre of the progression).

C major to G major key change

So we started on the tonic of C major and used its V chord, G major, to establish a new tonic of G major.

Because G major is a common chord of C major (i.e. they are both part of the same chord scale) the key change sounds very natural and seamless.

Another example of a common chord key change is to use the IV chord as our pivot chord...

C major to F major key change

The pivot chord doesn't always have to become the tonic (I) chord either. For example...

C major to F major key with Dm pivot chord change

There, the ii chord becomes the vi of the new F major key.

2) Key changes that use chords "outside" the original key.

You can have a lot of fun with these, but it takes a keen ear and a lot of practice to know which chord relationships work for key changes outside the standard diatonic scale.

A safe bet is to use the relationship between the ii and V chords to get into your chosen key.

For example, starting in the key of A major, here's one way we could get into the key of Ab major:

Amaj7 / Bm7 / E7 / Cm7 / F7 / Bbm7 / Eb7 / Abmaj7

That one, something you might hear being used in jazz, makes use of the ii and V chord relationships.

The V chord can be used as a gateway to get us into a new key, as it naturally resolves to its related tonic.

What the above example did was use the ii - V relationship to reaffirm a new key.

A good tip is to use 7th chords for these non-diatonic key changes as it helps to "soften" the key change and make it sound less abrupt or just randomly thrown in.

I'll be doing an entire series on key changes so you'll learn about all these methods in more depth.

As for the Bobby Megge example, changing from G major to A major (I presume you meant major), one example of how that could be achieved is the following...

G major to A major key change

All we did was turn that Em vi chord into an E7 V chord that naturally led to an A major tonic.

So you can also change chords from major to minor, or vice versa, as a parallel switch, to get into a new key.

Hope this has helped. As I said I'll be covering this subject in far greater depth in the near future.

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Methods for Changing Key
By: Al

Thanks for the help,,,I will have to look deeper into subject, there seems to be more ways of Key changing...so you can actually combine two keys to work as one...to have 14 or so chords from two scales...for one song?...never looked at it like that...

By: Mike

Sure you can. Many key changes use common chords (chords that exist in both keys) to expand the number of chord options in a progression.

For example, in the key of G major, the I chord, G major, is also the IV chord in D major.

The ii chord in G major, A minor, could also become the V of D major by turning into a major II chord.

So that's the way to think of it - each chord in a given key can act as a chord in a new, related key either directly or by modifying the chord slightly.

By: rae miles hanson

Ok I am ready to learn guitar theory. How much? Let's get rollin. I'm not as smart as I think I am so I need a great coach. Rae

non-diatonic key change
By: Alice

So, I get that in the example given above (Amaj7 / Bm7 / E7 / Cm7 / F7 / Bbm7 / Eb7 / Abmaj7) the last three chords are functioning as a ii-V-I, but how does that F7 relate to the other chords?

Natural key change between song sections
By: Dale B.

I have a long song in 3 long sections. The opening section starts in the key of A minor, and the second section needs to be written in either the key of C# or the key of D flat. Which is the more proper labeling for the key of the second section?

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