Monday 26 April 2010

The Minor 4 Chord (pt.1)

"your song sounds like this"

Time to take a look at a classic Beatles Chord progression. One of the interesting things that Lennon & McCartney did in a majority of their songs was use at least one chord that didn’t belong in the key.

The minor 4 for instance (written like this – iv).

1 Minute theory lesson

(skip it if you know what a minor 4 is)

In major key you have 3 major chords built on the 1st 4th and 5th degrees (I, IV, V) of the scale.

In C that would give you C F G.

In the key of G that would give you G C D.

These all fit together rather nicely (you could even say blandly). But what many Beatles songs do is introduce the minor 4 chord (iv) as well as the major 4 (IV) so you’d have C F G and Fm in the key of C or G C D and Cm in the key of G. These particular minor chords don’t really ‘fit’ and sound a bit ‘spicy’.

1 minute musical history lesson

The Beatles didn’t invent this. They probably stole it from the rock n’roll subgenre called doo-wop. Here’s a typical doo-wop chord sequence

G  G7  C  Cm
G  D7  G  D7

You can hear the progression from IV to iv to I in the bridge of Devil In Her Heart

C I’ll take chances  
Cm for romance is  
G so important to me

and it also pops up right on the end of the fade out of Chains.

A word from Macca

Paul McCartney called going from C & F to Fm “the normal thing [to do]” 
(Many Years From Now p122).

So try using it this week. You don’t want your songs to be abnormal do you?

(Here’s the chord in some popular keys)

E A Am B 

G C Cm D

A D Dm E

C F Fm G

D G Gm A

Read pt 2 - major 4 to minor 4
Pt 3 - minor 6 to minor 4
Pt 4 - minor 2 to minor 4 
Pt 5 - 1 to minor 4

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  1. Matt that is great. I love playing No Reply from the Beatles For Sale album for exactly that reason. I love how they do that :-)

    Thank you. Made me smile and happy to read because I had that song in my head all the way through.

  2. Can't remember the progression to No Reply - (I won't get to that song for another year!)

  3. Got it mixed up for another song, but can't remember which one. :(

  4. Of course there is the classic change in the Cole Porter song Every Time We Say Goodbye, where you have the C major 7 to the C minor in the key of G major. Classic change that is even referenced in the lyric... "how F strange the Cmaj7 change Cm from major to F7 minor"

  5. That is really cool. If you play them fast it sounds like an early Beatles song. That as a straight progression just makes me want to smile.

  6. Using a 4 minor is, as Paul says, a normal thing to do but where the Beatles really innovated (to my now-66-year-old ears) was shifting the whole song between major and minor as in "I'll Be Back".

  7. I'm with you there Fender - that's a thing of beauty - and I can't wait to get to those songs!

  8. nofx and many punk bands do this all the time

  9. As Cole Porter once sang, "Using the change from major to minor", The Beatles most likely got that idea from Arthur Alexander. In "You Better Move On" there is a great bit where he goes from A to Am. The Beatles were definately fans of his as they did two of his tunes.

  10. What I love is how in she loves you, they go from the minor fourth to the fifth, rather than the usual major fourth to the fifth in the part where they sing " with a love like that, you know you should be glad." Just one of the many subtle changes John and Paul used to make this songs stand out amongst other songs of the time.

    1. Exactly John. And the icing on the cake is that they're singing a Bb over the D7 chord (V7) making it sound like a D aug7. Spicy!

    2. Spicy doesn't even begin to describe it.

  11. Actually, the major to minor transition traces back to Bach—centuries before Cole Porter. If you're going to steal, steal from the greats!

    1. And Cole Porter never had a knife fight with a bassoon player either!