• The art of borrowing chords

    in Chords & Progressions

    Here’s a topic I’ve never talked about before.

    And it’s powerful.

    It’s the idea of “borrowing” chords.

    But in order to understand it, let me teach you what the term parallel key means.

    Parallel major and parallel minor keys basically share the same tonic… or same “home base.”

    C major and C minor are parallel keys.

    Get it? The “C” is the same but they are totally different scales… totally different worlds — but they do have the “C” in common.

    Sort of like all the other people named “Jermaine” out there (including Jermaine Jackson, Jermaine O’neal, Jermaine Dupri). Just because we have the same name doesn’t mean we’re related or similar… but we do share the name.

    Now, of course, parallel keys are little deeper than that but this will hold you for the purposes of this lesson.

    So back to “borrowing” chords…

    Let’s say you were in the key of C major. The chords most associated with the C major scale are shown below:

    1st Tone: C / Chord = C major 7 (C E G B)
    2nd Tone: D / Chord = D minor 7 (D F A C)
    3rd Tone: E / Chord = E minor 7 (E G B D)
    4th Tone: F / Chord = F major 7 (F A C E)
    5th Tone: G / Chord = G dominant 7 (G B D F)
    6th Tone: A / Chord = A minor 7 (A C E G)
    7th Tone: B / Chord = B half diminished (B D F A)

    If you don’t know where I got these chords from, you’ll probably want to read this past lesson.

    Now, let’s go to the parallel minor, which is _____?????______?

    C minor

    (To understand where I get the following chords associated with the C minor scale, click here to view this past lesson). But here’s a hint… if you know the key of Eb major, the chords of C minor are the same).

    1st Tone: C / Chord = C minor 7 (C Eb G Bb)
    2nd Tone: D / Chord = D half diminished 7 (D F Ab C)
    3rd Tone: Eb / Chord = Eb major 7 (Eb G Bb D)
    4th Tone: F / Chord = F minor 7 (F Ab C Eb)
    5th Tone: G / Chord = G minor 7 (G Bb D F)
    6th Tone: Ab / Chord = Ab major 7 (Ab C Eb G)
    7th Tone: Bb / Chord = Bb dominant 7 (Bb D F Ab)

    So the idea of “borrowing” chords is just like it sounds.

    It’s when you borrow chords from the parallel major or minor key.

    Here’s one of my favorite examples (especially if you like gospel music).

    You can play this at the end of “O Come All Ye Faithful.”

    It’s basically a “2-5-1” chord progression.

    That is, a chord based on the 2nd tone of the scale going to a chord on the 5th — and finally ending on a chord on the 1st tone of the scale.

    Normally, you’d use the chords from the first chart above. The 2nd degree in C major would usually be a “D minor 7” chord. The 5th degree, a “G dominant 7” chord, and the 1st degree, a “C major 7” chord.

    But what I’m going to do is borrow a chord from the 2nd tone of the parallel minor key.

    So instead of playing a usual “D minor 7” on the 2nd tone, I’m going to borrow the “D half diminished 7” chord from C minor.

    Check out the results:

    Left hand: D /// Right hand: D F Ab C
    Left hand: G /// Right hand: E G C
    Left hand: G /// Right hand: D G B
    Left hand: C /// Right hand: E G C

    (This is a simple 2-5-1 chord progression with some suspended action on the “G”).

    I personally like to invert the “D half diminished 7” chord. I think it sounds better. And since I’m inverting it, I have to change the other chords (…I don’t “have” to but it sounds much better and flows more harmoniously):

    Left hand: D /// Right hand: Ab C D F
    Left hand: G /// Right hand: G C E
    Left hand: G /// Right hand: F A D *
    Left hand: G /// Right hand: E G C

    *I switched the second “G” chord a little bit.

    So the moral of this lesson is that you don’t have to play the chords as they’re written in the “textbook.” You can “borrow” chords. You can experiment with chords from other keys. You can alter chords.

    The possibilities are endless.

    Until next time —

    The following two tabs change content below.
    Hi, I'm Jermaine Griggs, founder of this site. We teach people how to express themselves through the language of music. Just as you talk and listen freely, music can be enjoyed and played in the same way... if you know the rules of the "language!" I started this site at 17 years old in August 2000 and more than a decade later, we've helped literally millions of musicians along the way. Enjoy!

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


    { 10 comments… read them below or add one }


    man when do you find the time!!THIS IS SOME GOOD STUFF


    2 p-rex

    Where did you learn all of this mister Griggs? If you don’t mind me asking. Its great stuff.


    3 jay

    nice one. def gonna try and use that. thanks jermaine


    4 Otienno

    Nice article Jermaine.. but here’s a question.. are there any guidlines as to when to borrow these chords.


    5 BrokenAway27

    The reason why you like the D half diminished in an inversion is because in four-part writing with good couterpoint, one should always play half dimished or fully diminished chords in first or second in version because a tri-tone is created between the bass note and the b5 (#11). This is why your ear perks up.


    6 Gabriel

    HI Minister Grigg, God bless u for always blessing our lives with ur teaching. please i am in africa anad iw ant to order sum of ur products but dont have a credut card. what can i do?


    7 Vine Ikpe

    I have just read your lessons Sir for the first time now and i’m really blessed by it; but i would love it, if you can please send general chords for gospel worship songs to my e-mail address. Thank you sir.


    8 Web Design Belfast

    I thought posting this pingback excellent feature


    9 Zarek

    Very nice!! Use the 6 to turn it around but don’t use a minor 6. Substitute For a dominant 7th #5
    Left hand A /// Right hand G A C# F
    Left hand C# /// Right hand G A E


    10 Tekena

    A short question… “C minor” can be said to be the aeolian mode of Eb, so err so can we also borrow chords from other modes
    E. g borrowing from C Dorian mode? If yes can C dorian mode be said to be parallel to C major scale or is there a rule to it? (I hope i put the question well tho)????????


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