Change the mood and spice up your tunes with parallel major and minor keys

Man playing Gibson ES-335 electric guitar
(Image credit: Future)

In this lesson, I’d like to begin discussing an intriguing type of chord change that many composers have put to great use in countless major-key songs. It involves borrowing a chord from what’s called the parallel minor key to create a temporary harmonic detour and a surprise shift in musical color and mood that’s often used to impart a touch of sadness or melancholy to an otherwise happy and predictable-sounding progression.

Let’s start with a theory primer. In any major key, you have a set of what are called diatonic triads, which are three-note chords based on the seven notes, or degrees, of that key’s major scale. Using the key of E to illustrate, FIGURE 1 depicts the triads generated by the E major scale, which is spelled E, F#, G#, A, B, C#, D#. 

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Jimmy Brown

Over the past 30 years, Jimmy Brown has built a reputation as one of the world's finest music educators, through his work as a transcriber and Senior Music Editor for Guitar World magazine and Lessons Editor for its sister publication, Guitar Player. In addition to these roles, Jimmy is also a busy working musician, performing regularly in the greater New York City area. Jimmy earned a Bachelor of Music degree in Jazz Studies and Performance and Music Management from William Paterson University in 1989. He is also an experienced private guitar teacher and an accomplished writer.