How to borrow chords from a parallel minor key and lend your songs a bittersweet edge

Man playing acoustic guitar
(Image credit: Future)

In the previous two lessons, we looked at celebrated examples of musically effective ways in which songwriters, when composing in a major key, have borrowed chords, specifically triads, that are generated from its parallel natural minor or harmonic minor key and scale. As you recall, we checked out uses of the sad-sounding and hauntingly beautiful iv (four minor) chord and the somewhat brighter but equally poignant bVI (flat-six major), which are typically, but not always, preceded by the IV (four major) chord.

Forging ahead with this fascinating topic, I’d now like to cite a few equally famous ways in which musicians have expanded upon this chord borrowing concept and used what would be considered the bVII dominant-7 chord, or bVII(dom7), which, due to its dissonance and more complex structure than that of a major or minor triad, creates a more sophisticated-sounding chord change and a dramatically bittersweet effect as it approaches the I (one) chord and resolves to it.

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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.