• An Introductory Lesson On The Pivot Chord

    in Chords & Progressions,Piano,Theory

    If you’re interested in learning about the pivot chord, this lesson is for you.

    We’ll be looking at certain chords in the key that are described as pivot chords, then we’ll discuss their relationship with other keys. before rounding up with the role of pivots chords.

    But before we go into all of that, permit me to refresh your mind on the concept of modulation.

    Short Note On Modulation

    There are 12 major keys in tonal music. The key of C major:

    …is just one out of the twelve major keys:

    The key of C major:

    The key of Db major:

    The key of D major:

    The key of Eb major:

    The key of E major:

    The key of F major:

    The key of Gb major:

    The key of Ab major:

    The key of A major:

    The key of Bb major:

    The key of B major:

    The change of key in tonal music is known as modulation. Let’s say the prevalent key a particular song is on is the key of C major:

    Modulation is concerned with the change from the prevalent key to any other key (be it a foreign, relative, parallel, or related key).

    “Check These Examples Out…”

    Modulation to a foreign key:

    Modulating from C major:

    …to F# major:

    Modulation to a relative key:

    Modulating from C major:

    …to A minor:

    Modulation to a parallel key:

    Modulating from C major:

    …to C minor:

    Modulation to a related key:

    Modulating from C major:

    …to G major:

    Let’s take a break from the concept of modulation and go right into our goal in this lesson — the pivot chord. In another lesson we’ll do an in-depth study on modulation.

    Attention: To learn more about this, I recommend our 500+ page course: The “Official Guide To Piano Playing.” Click here for more information.

    The Pivot Chord — Defined

    There are basically two chord types in any key: diatonic chords and chromatic chords.

    Diatonic chords. These are chords that are formed from the scale tones in the prevalent key.

    Chromatic chords. Chords that are foreign to the prevalent key.

    Any chord shared by two different keys; that serves as a link in the course of a modulation is classified as a pivot chord.

    In the key of C major:

    …the C major triad (which is the 1-chord):

    …is a diatonic chord in two other major keys:

    In the key of F major:

    …where it functions as the 5-chord.

    AND

    In the key of G major:

    …where it functions as the 4-chord.

    So, the C major triad:

    …can be considered as a pivot chord in the key of C major and G major, or the key of C major and F major. Also, the C major chord is a pivot chord in the key of F major and G major.

    Pivot Chords: C Major And F Major

    The key of C major and F major:

    C major:

    F major:

    …have a couple of diatonic chords in common. Check them out:

    The C major chord:

    …which is the 1-chord in the key of C major and the 5-chord in the key of F major.

    The D minor chord:

    …which is the 2-chord in the key of C major and the 6-chord in the key of F major.

    The F major chord:

    …which is the 4-chord in the key of C major and the 1-chord in the key of F major.

    The A minor chord:

    …which is the 6-chord in the key of C major and the 3-chord in the key of F major.

    These diatonic chords are shared by both keys. Consequently, when modulating from the key of C major to the key of F major (or vice-versa), they can be used as pivot chords to connect both keys.

    Attention: To learn more about this, I recommend our 500+ page course: The “Official Guide To Piano Playing.” Click here for more information.

    The Role Of The Pivot Chord

    When modulating from one key to another, modulation is smoother when both keys have a diatonic chord in common.

    A common chord that is used to link two keys in the course of modulation is a pivot chord and the role of a pivot chord is to connect two keys that have a chord in common.

    The relationship between the C major triad:

    …and the following keys:

    Key of C major:

    Key of F major:

    Key of G major:

    …is that the C major triad is a diatonic chord in all the keys — C major, F major, and G major.

    The pivot chord (the C major triad) makes the following modulations smooth:

    1. From the key of C major to the key of F major or G major. In this modulation, the C major triad (which is the 1-chord in the key of C major) becomes the 5-chord in the key of F major or a 4-chord in the key of G major.
    2. From the key of F major to the key of C major or G major. In this modulation, the C major triad (which is the 5-chord in the key of F major) becomes the 1-chord in the key of C major or a 4-chord in the key of G major.
    3. From the key of G major to the key of F major or C major. In this modulation, the C major triad (which is the 4-chord in the key of G major) becomes the 5-chord in the key of F major or a 1-chord in the key of C major.

    …and that’s because the C major triad is a common chord in the key of C major, F major, and G major.

    Attention: To learn more about this, I recommend our 500+ page course: The “Official Guide To Piano Playing.” Click here for more information.

    Final Words

    Having understood what pivot chords and their function, it’s always important to consider using pivot chords while modulating from one key to another.

    There are other types of modulation that don’t require the use of a pivot chord and we’ll be covering them in the next lesson.

    All the best.

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    Hello, I'm Chuku Onyemachi (aka - "Dr. Pokey") - a musicologist, pianist, author, clinician and Nigerian. Inspired by my role model Jermaine Griggs, I started teaching musicians in my neighborhood in April 2005. Today, I'm privileged to work as a music consultant and content creator with HearandPlay Music Group sharing my wealth of knowledge with thousands of musicians across the world.

    Attention: To learn more about this, I recommend our 500+ page course: The "Official Guide To Piano Playing." Click here for more information.




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    { 2 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 James Singer

    I just reviewed “pivot chord”. The information provided gives strategic awareness of interacting between key signatures. The pivot chord explanation gives an important formula of connecting tonal activities. The pivot chord is a resourceful component needed during musical transactions. Thank you GMTC for strengthening our strategic thinking.

    Reply

    2 Carolyn

    Thanks very good information.

    Reply

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