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On a Songwriter's Mind This Week #11 (tips on changing key)

Heya folkies!

Today I'd like to let you in on a few more secrets that I've come across during my time writing songs. They all relate to key changes (another word for it is modulation). Many of you will know what I mean by that, even if you aren't musical - if you've ever listened to a Westlife album, it's usually the bit about two thirds of the way through the song when they get up from their stools and bear down on their unsuspecting audience :P A key change can, at least, give a song a bit of freshness. Sometimes it can make or break a song. Can you imagine hearing the Gambler (by Kenny Rogers) without that half step up key change for the second part of the song? Nope, me neither. That's one way of changing key, to move the whole song half (or a whole) step up. Or down. In fact you could go more than that. I've found a nice trick is to go UP by 3 half steps (that's 3 black or white notes on the piano). Elton John did it - Brownie points if you can name the song(s)!!!

Another trick you might like to try is starting off in a minor key (like A minor) and then moving into the relative major key for the chorus or the bridge. The relative major is always 3 half-steps higher than your minor starting point. A very good example of a song that does something like this is Iris by the Goo Goo Dolls. It starts with a riff in the minor key (B minor), then moves into the relative major key (D major) for the verse, then BACK into the relative minor (B minor again) for the chorus. See me perform it on piano (oh yeah baby, let's mix it up!!!) here. Here's one more for you, for luck. Try starting out in a minor key, such as E minor, and then moving into the same tonic major key, i.e. E major (and likewise from A minor to A major etc). This can be a really effective way of changing the mood of a piece of music. I tried it in a piece of music I wrote called On The Run I recorded on Instagram recently, you can watch it here. So there you go! Some of you may have already tried these at home, but if you haven't, give it a go and let me know how you get on. If you don't play an instrument, see if you can spot the key changes in the songs you hear on the radio etc. And let me know how you get on! See you next time!


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