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Guest Article:  Marco Von Baumbach

Writing Songs with chords out of key

In this article I am going to show you how you can make your songs sounding different from what you are doing usually, by integrating chords from other keys into your pieces. I am also going to show you, how changing keys will make your songs more interesting.


Borrowing chords from other keys


If you want to add variety to your songwriting, you can 'borrow' chords from other keys. In order for it to sound good, you don't just want to take any random chord from another key and add it into your chord progression.


What you can do is to take a major chord you are playing in your chord progression and change it into a minor chord. What gives your songs a really cool vibe, is if you add this minor chord right after the equivalent major chord. If you are in G major for example, you can play a D major chord (which is in the key of G major) and right afterwards you are playing a D minor chord (which is the borrowed chord from another key).


Here is an example for a chord progression in G major, using the borrowed D minor chord, after a D major chord:


Am, G, D, Dm


Play this chord progression on your guitar. Sounds pretty cool, right? Observe what effect the D minor chord is causing. I would describe it's effect as if you are 'longing' for something. You can use this method in any piece of yours, where you want to convey this emotion.


You can use the same principle with minor chords and change them into major chords. Sticking with the G major key, we can exchange the E minor chord with E major. In the following example you see a chord progression in G major, with the E major chord (which is not in the key of G major) being played after the E minor chord:


G, Bm, Em, E, Am, D, G



Power chord Riffs with chords out of key



When you are composing a song with power chords the method above will not work, since you are not playing major and minor chords. However, you can add 'out of key chords' by filling up the gaps between a full step note in the respective major or minor scale you are in, to create chromatic runs.


For example in C minor you have the notes: C D Eb F G Ab Bb. To create a Riff with a chromatic run in it, you could add a E power chord between the Eb and the F power chord. You can see a simple example of a riff below that uses a chromatic run with the E power chord in the key of C minor:


You can also create single string Riffs with the principle of chromatic runs, by adding notes in between the spaces of the respective major or minor scale you are using. To give you an example of this, I am showing you the riff of 'sweet emotion' by Aerosmith which is in the key of D major. The Riff has a G# note added which is out of key between the G and A to create a chromatic run:

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