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Amorphous Chords and Changing Keys

Reputable Member
Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 297
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I've been inspired, and I hope I can explain this well, but, I had been playing around with dissonance in chords and me and my friends started using something we call amorphous chords.
It has to do with changing keys, you let one major chord(without the third) ring throughout, and on a second intrument, you change the key with whatever method works(we use a walking bassline). It takes a few fairly horrible sounding attempts before you get it to harmonize right, but when you do, the original major chord takes on a whole new structure(which is a lot easier without the third), and you can continue to do this for a pretty long time, making some nice psychedelic sounds.
Anyway, since this, I've been experimenting with changing keys constantly, and I was wondering if anybody else has come up with any other original concepts behind changing keys.

I don't know where this started in my brain but
I'm guessing Relayer by Yes

I don't follow my dreams, I just ask em' where they're going and catch up with them later.
-Mitch Hedburg
Did you see that!

Estimable Member
Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 222

I don't have any original ones. The only ones I can think of offhand are:

The pivot ones (ie | G Bm C D | A F#m D Bm | D F#m D A | E A B C#m | A etc) where a chord found in both keys is used to connect two keys together. The new tonic is found at the start of each progression (G, A, D, E and A respectively).

Another is just by using a secondary dominant or ii-V-I (almost the same as two secondary dominants). For example: | C C Dm G7 | C C G#m C#7 | F# F# Em A7 | Dm Dm D7 G7 | C etc...
Again, the new tonic is found at the start of each progression (in this example, C for the first 6 changes, then F#, then Dm, then C). The ii can become II7 because it is followed by a chord a fifth lower (ie it acts as a dominant to the dominant).

Yet another is switching to the parallel minor. This one is very easy, as you can use the V to connect the two. For example: | B G#m E F# | Bm.
The Picardy Third is the reverse of this. It ends a minor song on a bright note. IE: | Am C F E7 | Am C F E7 | A

Note to budding pop stars: A common modulation is to move up one and a half steps for a chorus or bridge (ie from A to C). This can be viewed as using the relative major of the parallel minor, but as Freud once said "Sometimes a modulation is just a modulation". No method here, just a tip. Steely Dan use it a fair bit, and you can hear it on "The Last Mall" "Everything Must Go" and "Bad Sneakers" (and probably countless others I can't think of offhand, like "Bodhisattva"). It's MUCH less common to have a chorus or bridge modulate down by one and a half steps, as it doesn't feel as bright.

Another method is using the tritone substitution. I don't have my guitar on me right now (we're waiting for the locksmith to open my room), so this is purely in the realms of theory...
See if you can figure out what's going on here: | C G7 C G7 | F# C#7 F# C#7 | C
Yep, it modulates up or down by a tritone. Why? The G7 can be considered as a tritone substitution of a C#7 as they both contain B and F as their 7 and 3 (albeit inverted, and with different names). The C#7 naturally moves to F# (V-I), making the G7 to F# change a bII-I. This change is sometimes heard when people pretend to play Spanish music (they'll play lots of F-E changes to be cool).

That's all I can think of right now.

Estimable Member
Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 222

I put together a quick example of one way that I modulate. It uses both ii-V-I (circle of fifths) and secondary dominants, modulating up a b3 every four chords.

Just for the sake of completeness, here's the chords.

C C7 Fm Bb
Eb Eb7 Abm C#7 (also known as Db7)
F# F#7 Bm E7
A A7 Dm G7

Repeat a few times and end on C.