Using borrowed chords - introduction + examples

Thanks @Jeff
I think you may be right in thinking that many songs have been written spontaneously by instinct, by sound and by feel, and not with a specific aim of using clever chord choices. That said, having the tools and knowing what the tools are used for can only be to the good. As I said to Clint, knowledge is power.

Is it time for another little venture into the wonderful world of borrowing?
Yes, of course it is. Okay - here we go.

Example 4. Power chord rock in the key of E major

Note. As with Example 3, all chords are power chords based on major chords.

Once again we have a fairly routine and uninspiring rock rhythm that just bounces around between the tonic and the IV and V. The only difference between this and Example 3 is that the IV precedes the V here rather than following it.

We are in the key of E so what options do we have to borrow from the parallel E minor?

Let’s take the chord D and place it in the last two bars, replacing the tonic. We now have the bVII making an appearance again.

Hot ‘n’ Rocking?
Are your taste buds delighted?

Or do you want some more hot sauce on your BBQ Burger?
You do?

Right you are!

We can spice things up further if your needs are not yet met. Let us also bring in the C chord from the relative minor, placing it in bar 7 (before the D major bVII chord) so we have a B, C, D crescendo. We should know that the C major will be a bVI.

Has that got your ears and taste buds zinging?

Following the by now familar convention of sharing all links, here are all three mp3s of the E major progressions, side by side.

And here are the pdfs containing the tabs and the GP files.

What are we going to do to get benefit this time?

Learn in different keys?
Try different borrowed chords - including power chords based on minor chords from the parallel E minor key?
Switching the positions within the progression?

It’s play time folks!

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Pressing on a little further … Coming up, we will see and hear some examples of longer progressions with multiple borrowed chords.

Example 5. Playing a 3/4 progression in the key of G major

Our initial diatonic progression.

It’s pleasant enough right? But is it a little bland and lacking in excitement?

As we are in the key of G major, we take a look at the parallel key of G minor to see what we can borrow.

We will borrow two chords this time, both major chords again, Bb major and Eb major. We will place these in to bars five and six and we label them as bIII and bVI respectively. Our progression is now:

Let’s listen and see how our ears react.

Ooh. Ahh. It was good for me. Was it good for you?
If you liked it then you know what to do.

Here are all files for example 5.

Have fun playing around with this one. :slight_smile:

Was looking forward to this but way too small on my mobile. Will have to park up and wait for ethernet to return. :see_no_evil::cry::frowning:

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When I first posted this topic in the old JG forum, about this point in the proceedings, we had some willing participants contributing their own progressions. I do not think that David and Adrian have migrated their posts here so here are links to the originals.

@DavidP Borrowed chord noodling

@adi_mrok Borrowed chord #2


We have now seen five examples.

There is one notable aspect so far that that has not been made explicit, so it may have gone unnoticed. It is that in all the examples seen so far, only major chords have been borrowed, chords from the outer wheel of the Circle of Fifths. Hopefully, what we have noticed is that each and every one of these major chords is labeled as ‘flat’ when placed in a parallel major progression. We have seen the bIII, bVI and bVII.

Back in the early part of the introduction to this study was the notion of having six chords (we excluded diminished for the sake of simplicity) to choose from when borrowing. The question arises - where are the minor chords in all of this borrowing?

Let us pause for a moment and take a look at a pair of major-minor parallel key chords chosen at random. We will use D major and D minor.

Note that the three major chords in the key of D major (G, D and A) are matched (in terms of their root notes) by the three minor chords in the key of D minor (Gm, Dm and Am). Hopefully we can anticipate something when one or more of these minor chords are borrowed and used in ‘key of D major’ context. Their root notes are diatonic to the D major scale so in the process of recalssifing them, we will make use of lower case Roman numerals to indicate their minor quality, but they will be ‘natural’ and not ‘flat’.

In this example :-

G major = IV and Gm = iv

D major = I and Dm = i

A major = V and Am = v

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So we progress and arrive at a sixth example. This one is yet another major key progression but, as just alluded to, this example will go on and borrow one of the three minor chords from the parallel minor key.

Example 6 A progression in the key of C major.

Are you ready? Give this a spin.

It’s a bouncy little ditty, for sure. Give it some drums and bass and a decent mix and it could get any number of people up out of their seats and dancing.

But … it screams at me, demanding it be made to tell a different story.
It is just too darn upbeat and chirpy.
Too sickly sweet.
Some mild peril, a slight sombre moment, is called for to improve the taste and texture.
What do we do?


We look next door at the parallel key of C minor.

There are two consecutive bars of F major (the IV) leading back to the tonic chord C major. This next trick has been done a million and one times so why don’t we do it too? We swap the second F major in bar four for a borrowed F minor. Note that the two chords together, F then Fm, are labeled IV then iv.

Give this one a listen.
As soon as you hear it (the minor iv) you’ll know it.


There it is.

Just one borrowed chord – yet what a classic.

Going from the diatonic major IV chord to the borrowed minor iv chord. This appears in many, many songs and you will have heard it hundreds of times, perhaps without knowing or understanding what the trick was.

A certain Mr N. Gallagher knows it very well – having half-inched it from the works of Lennon & McCartney no doubt.

It is often employed right before the progression ventures back to the tonic chord and that is what we have just heard.

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The full array for example 6.



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So, without delay or hindrance, why not set to.

Learn this progression, transpose it, mess around with it, try it in your own musical creations whenever you identify a major IV chord, look and listen for the trick in songs you have already learned to play, chart those out in chord / Roman numeral formats, record and upload something for us all to enjoy.

Ready, Steady, Go!


Example 7. A progression in the key of A major played in 6/8.

Note that it is written as an 8-bar progression that appears to end on the dominant V chord. Because it loops the dominant chord at the end does provide the resolution back to bar 1 in the repeat. Plus, once the entire progression completes, there is a final, additional bar of the tonic to finish. If that additional bar was absent it would sound somewhat strange and unresolved.

I don’t know about you but I find that soothing and serene.
From bar 2 there is a satisfying descending movement in the root notes from F# down to E down to D down to C# down to B.

But can we bring a little zesty tang to add to this taste?

We do what we do.
We look at the parallel minor key, A minor in this instance.
We eye up the goods displayed in the shop window then we smash and grab.
Let’s take a peek, see what might be in store.

So many choices … mmmhh …

First, let’s remove the C#m in bar 6 and replace it with a C major – which will be notated as bIII.

Then, in bar 7, we will employ the minor iv trick again. This time it fits in and functions slightly differently to Example 6. Notably it does not follow the diatonic major IV so we do not get the major-to-minor that is so common with the minor iv. Also, it does not lead directly back to the tonic chord. Instead, it simply replaces the Bm chord at bar 7 and it pushes us back up to the dominant E major chord. This gives a strong resolution to finish the overall progression with.

Listen now.

The whole progression remains pleasingly sweet and mellow, though is now subtly altered.
Notice how that descending bass line formed in the root notes has been shifted with a significant impact.
Instead of starting on the F# and falling, falling, falling to ever lower notes, once the sequence reaches C# it bounces back up, giving a little energy and vitality to lead upwards again to the E chord that resolves to the tonic.

We had 5 descending chords before the dominant:
F# - E - D - C# - B - E

We now have 4 descending chords that do a 180 degrees turn to climb back up to the dominant:
F# - E - D - C# - D - E


In what is becoming tradition, here is the full collection.

This is spooky, when I watched the insightful Amy Shafer yesterday ended up taking another spur which popped up.
He’s talking about music STUFF using a Lennon and McCartney song. Fascinating. I’ll post a link if that’s okay to post in here . Good video and well worth watching. But as I said, it’s a little gibberish ATM.

A Beatles link about song construction,.
I can’t help but feel that I’ve missed sooooo much in not learning theory. !


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