Chord boredom setting in? Playing the same progressions over and over? There’s an easy way to get outside your key and have access to new and different chords to spice things up.
“Borrowing a chord” is the idea of using a chord from another key so that you’re not stuck with the same seven diatonic chords all the time. “Diatonic” simply means the notes and chords that naturally occur based on the key signature. In C major your diatonic notes are:
C D E F G A B.
So, how do we escape from this 7-walled prison cell? Let’s start with the most basic borrowed chord, the V/V, “five of five”.
In the key of C you might have a progression that goes: C Am F G7
When we borrow a chord we’re going next door to another key and saying “Hey, I’ve got your I chord and I want to make you sound cool. Can I borrow your V chord?”
We’ll do it with the G7 first. If we pretend we’re in the key of G major for a second, what’s it’s V chord? D, and usually D7. (Side note: To learn all you need about 7 chords, check out another of my articles at: ezinearticles /?Understanding-Seventh-Chords-For-Guitar&id=3863018 )
Back to our progression, we’ll now take that D7 chord and put it just before the G7. Now we have: C Am F D7 G7. Try it on your guitar and see how you like it. You’ll find that you slide very easily into that final G7 sound. The D7 includes a non-diatonic (outside our key) note, the F#. In analyzing the progression we’d have: I vi IV V7/V V – with D7 being the V7/V
Notice that right after we use the borrowed chord, we resolve it to the G7, the chord we borrowed it from. Later on you can play around with delaying that resolution, but right now stick to putting it right after the borrowed chord.
V/V isn’t the only borrow we can make. Let’s drop another in. One of my favorites is to borrow the diminished vii chord. Let’s hook that to the Am. What’s the vii chord in Am? We can use either G major ( from the natural minor) or G#dim7 (from the harmonic minor). Since G major is already in our key, let’s use the G#dim7. And again, we resolve that right to the Am.
C G#dim7 Am F D7 G7
And we would analyze that as viidim/vi.
Let’s drop one more in for the F. Let’s try a borrowed ii chord. What’s the ii chord in the key of F major? Gm. We’ll drop that in right before the F. We would analyze that move as ii/IV. Below the chords, I’ve included the non-diatonic notes we’re using for that particular chord.
C G#dim7 Am Gm F D7 G7
G# Bb F#
With the addition of a couple borrowed chord ideas, now we’ve taken a boring old progression that’s been used thousands of times and spiced it up with some new sounds. You can borrow anything from anything as long as you resolve it correctly. Sometimes your borrowed chord will end up being the same as a chord you already have in the key. For instance, the ii/V ends up being the same as the vi chord.
One last thought. Could you possibly string together borrowed chords, each resolving into the next? Absolutely.
C E7 A7 D7 G7 C
This would be analyzed as (ready?) – I – V/V/V/V – V/V/V – V/V – V – I
So get out there and start playing with some borrowed chords. It will open up a whole new realm of sounds for you.