How to implement key changes into your songwriting
by Marco von Baumbach
Changing keys in songs is a simple method to keep songs interesting and to add variation. If you have never used key changes before in your songs and you are not advanced yet don't worry, as long as you know major and minor scales and which chords are in which key (or you can figure it out), you are absolutely capable of implementing chord changes into your songs.
Changing Keys to reach a Climax
One way of using key changes, that is typically used at the end of pieces to keep the attention level high for the listener and to give it all, is to change to a key with a root note, that is usually a major second (whole step note) or minor third (whole step note + half step note) higher than the root note of the previous key.
So if you are in the key of C major for example, you would either change to D major (major second higher), or to D# major (minor third higher).
This concept is most powerful if you use it for the last chorus of your song. You can do so by either use it for the entire last chorus, or only for the second half to give it a special 'push' (especially if you repeat the last chorus). You can also use the key change twice, especially if you are using key changes at the interval of a major second. When you are in C major for example, you can play the first half of the last chorus in D major and than the second half of the last chorus in E major.
Here is an example How a chorus in C major with power chords would look like, if you transcribe it to D major and E major:
Another way to apply this concept is in solos, especially if the solo comes directly before the last chorus you can change the key in the middle of your solo a minor third higher (e.g. from A minor to C minor). This will make your solo sound really awesome and you also have a contrast in the last chorus to the previous ones.
Key changing tools
For changing the key in a piece, you can do so either immediately, by repeating previous sections in the target key, or you can use modulations. You use modulations if you want to have smoother transitions and not an immediate jump to another keys, as you usually have at the end of pieces as described above.
If you want to create a smooth transition, you can do so by finding chords that are 'common' in the key you are in and in the key you want to change to. When you've found the common chords in both keys, you can put them in between the place where you want the change to happen, to allow a smooth transition.
Here is an example: If you are in the key of C major and you want to change to D major, the common chords of these two keys are E minor and G major. So you want to put these two, or at least one of those chords in between the key change, for example:
C, Am, Em, C --- Em, G --- D, A, F#m, D... and so on....
I hope this article was helpful to you! The author of this article is guitar instructor and teacher Marco von Baumbach of Gitarrenunterricht in Wuppertal from GerWuppertal, Germany.