Chord Tips to Learn from “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”

Chord Tips to Learn from “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”

“Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” is one of the Beatles most popular and well-known songs. Buried within this masterpiece are some truly amazing chord sequences! In this article, we’ll break down those chord sequences so that we can learn from them and use these tricks in our own songwriting.

This article is a summarised transcript of our video “These Beatles Chord Moves will Blow Your Mind”. Click here to watch the video for more details, explanations and examples.

Borrowing Chords from Outside the Key

Before we begin to discuss how The Beatles borrowed chords from outside the key, we must first understand the chords that the key contains. The following are the chords in the key of A Major, which is the key of the song:

The verse of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” contains the chord progression A A/G F#m F, which in chord theory is I I7 vi bVI. As you can see, F#m is not in the key of A, and this creates an element of surprise for the listener. So, this F chord really creates a sense of intrigue because we’re not expecting it.

If you need to brush up on what chords are diatonic to a key, then download this free PDF of the “Functions of Chords in a Diatonic System”:

Variation in the Chromatic Bassline

In the verse of the song, the chords are varied slightly the second time around, which creates this really nice descending bass line. When it cycles around to the A, The Beatles could have just used the same A chord in root position. Instead, they used an A/E, which created a descending bassline that goes from G to F# to F then E. 

This is an important lesson on how we can try to look for ways to create variation when a chord progression repeats. It keeps your listeners wondering what’s going to happen next.

Playing with Rhythm and Timing

Another detail worth mentioning in regards to the verse is how the F chord at the end is held twice as long as the other chords in the progression. This is such a great technique because we’re really expecting the sequence to be balanced or symmetrical. 

Prolonging the F chord creates instability because it makes the chord progression have an uneven number of bars. When you have instability or an odd number of bars in a sequence it creates forward momentum because it’s unresolved and you want to hear a resolution.

Modulation Using Borrowed Chords

The second half of the verse is almost exactly the same as the first half, except with the addition of Dm and Dm/C at the end. The Dm has the same borrowed chord sound as the F chord. But one important difference here is how there’s a new descending bass line which goes from D to C, and leads us towards the first chord of the pre-chorus, which is Bb.

In the context of the original key of A Major, Bb would be the b9, C would be the major chord of the b3 and as we’ve previously established, the F is a borrowed chord. When there are 3 borrowed chords in a row like this, it means that we’ve modulated keys.

Our ears will now tell us that Bb is the new key. The presence of the C chord might be confusing since it isn’t diatonic to Bb. However, when we listen to how the V chord ie the F brings us back to Bb, we can confirm that Bb is the new key. The reason our ears accept this key change  is because The Beatles have employed a technique known as priming.

Priming is the process of exposing your listeners to some of the sounds that they’ll hear later on in the progression so that their ears can accustom themselves to it first. So, since we’ve heard the F as a borrowed chord throughout the verse, our ears easily accept that F is the new key in the pre-chorus.

This happens again in the second half of the pre-chorus. We’ve already established that C is a borrowed chord since it’s not diatonic to Bb. The next two chords which are G and C, are also not diatonic to the key of Bb. And since there are 3 borrowed chords in a row, that means we’ve modulated keys again This change is once again, facilitated by the use of priming.

The C chord is easily accepted because a Dm/ C was used at the end of the verse. In addition, the G can be heard in the bass of the A/G chord. The D chord gets introduced to us just for a moment before we hit the F#m in the verse, through the use of the notes in the melody. The progression that is formed creates a modulation to the chorus, which uses the same 3 chords (C G and D) in a different order.

Time Signature Change

An interesting thing to note is that the chorus is in a completely different time signature compared to the rest of the song. Up till the end of the pre-chorus, the song is counted in threes. However when we get to the chorus, we notice that there’s a complete shift to straight fours instead. 

The final trick that The Beatles uses in “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” is to hold the D chord for an extended period of time at the end of the chorus. D is the IV chord of the original key of A Major. So, by playing the modulated chords in the second half of the chorus then holding the D at the end, it makes us feel as if all these chords belong together. This is how The Beatles take us back to the song’s original key.

How to Apply this in Your Own Songs

Based on everything that we’ve discussed so far, the following are ways you can apply these chord tricks in your own songs:

  1. Write down the chords of the key you’re writing in then look for ‘borrowed chord’ options.
  1. Look for opportunities to extend the form by adding beats or bars at the end of a section.
  1. Consider a modulation (key change) as you move between sections – look to use your borrowed chords as ‘priming’ devices.
  2. Look for opportunities to change the time feel and use other rhythmic variations.

Conclusion: Chord Tips to Learn from “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”

An important lesson here is that Lennon and McCartney were always looking for these little variations and ways that they could surprise their listeners. It’s these changes that help keep our listeners interested and create a truly memorable song.

If you would like more details, explanations and examples, then be sure to check out the video now.

Level up your songwriting with five radically practical exercises used by professional songwriters around the world:

Learn to Turn Basic Chords Beautiful

Learn to Turn Basic Chords Beautiful

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with using basic chords. After all, they’re safe, reliable and well-known. However, to truly make the most out of your basic chords, you have to learn how to make them interesting. In this article, we’ll take some of the most common chords on guitar and transform them into beautiful and versatile voicings for your next song.

This article is a summarised transcript of our video “How to Make Basic Chords Sound Beautiful”. Click here to watch the video for more details, explanations and examples.

The C Major Chord

This is a really simple open chord that is often one of the first that beginners learn. The great thing about this chord shape is that you can do a lot simply by moving some fingers around.

For example, by moving your first finger off, you introduce the major 7 note, which turns it into a Cmaj7. Furthermore, dropping your little finger allows you to add the nine note which turns it into a Cadd9. Observe the images below, where from left to right, we have C Maj, C Maj7 and C Add9:

To learn more, click here to download a free chords PDF with 10 pages of detailed diagrams and photo demonstrations to help you make basic chords more beautiful:

The 6/9 Chord

The concept of adding little melodic lines on top of your chords helps take a static chord and introduce some movement to it. However, you can take it a step further and introduce a new chord called the 6/9 Chord.

A 6/9 Chord consists of notes 1 – 3 – 6 – 9. You can optionally add in the 5 on top if you’d like as well. The image below shows a C 6/9 chord, with the optional 5 on top:

The great thing about this shape is that it’s movable. For example, you could move the C 6/9 shown earlier up two frets to create a D 6/9 instead. If you wanted to get even more complex, you could lift your little finger to the #4 or #11 note. Observe in the image below a C 6/9#11:

The G Major Chord

G Major is another common open chord that beginners learn. It sounds great because it relies largely on open strings to create it’s sound. You can enhance that openness by removing all of your fingers and focusing only on the root note, like so:

This is useful because it allows us to hammer-on and pull-off certain notes as we play the chord. Country and folk music often use this technique. You can hear it in John Mayer’s song “Why Georgia” in which he uses a little riff with a hammer-on to set up the whole tune.

E Major and E Minor

The E Major chord on guitar in it’s original form uses all 6 strings, particularly the lowest one. We can augment this shape to create an E add9 instead, which has a really beautiful, and warm effect – especially if you use a backwards rake to help those open strings shine. Below, you can see E Major on the left and E add9 on the right:

We can then turn the E Major chord into an E Minor chord as follows:

And can even further augment this by adding a 9th note to create an E Min9, which sounds really beautiful, dark and mysterious. Here’s what that chord shape would look like:

A Minor and D Minor

You can also add a 9th to A Minor and D Minor to create A Min9 and D Min9 respectively. Have a look at the image below:

Similarly to the idea with the C Major chord earlier –  where you took your first finger off to make a major 7, and then dropped your little finger to create an add9 – you can do the same with a D Minor to create a melodic idea.

These ways of playing chords are useful because they allow songwriters to have chord progressions that aren’t particularly complicated, yet still create a lot of movement, and motion.

The F Chord

Instead of playing F Major in it’s standard form with a mini barre across two strings, you can leave the last string open to form F Maj7. Doing this also frees up your little finger to potentially add a 9th to form F add9. Below you can see F Maj, F Maj7 and F add9:

F Major can also be played in a split voicing form where you take your first finger and come across to the sixth string, then put your third finger on the third note to create a sort of tenth voicing, like so:

This voicing is super useful if you’re not comfortable with barre chords because it can be moved up and down the neck while still providing you opportunities to engage the open strings. However, it should be noted that the chords you form with this technique won’t work in every key.

Experimenting with Bass Notes

So far, the main method we’ve been using to create different chord voicings is to use the fingers we have available to create some melodic movement on top of the chord. Another way we can make these chords interesting is by using bass notes that aren’t the root of the chord.

The basic construction of chords is usually 1-3-5 for major chords and 1-b3-5 for minor chords. We can use either the 3 or 5 as the bass note of the chord, instead of the root as usual. 

Let’s use D Major as an example. You could take a finger off to create a D Sus2 or add a finger to create a D Sus4.

The above two forms of D Major sound great but what we’re going to do now is instead put a F# on the top instead of a D, to create a D/ F#. This is a really rich sounding chord and the chord shape would look like this:

You could also use this technique to create smooth transitions between chords. For example, if you went from F/C to C, the C bass note becomes the common note between the two.

Conclusion: Learn to Turn Basic Chords Beautiful

The great thing about guitar is that it has the ability to let open strings ring, and we want to search for those opportunities as often as possible. To help us, we can use techniques such as changing the bass note or adding extra notes on top of our chords. This way, we’ll be able to make the most out of the open chords we know, and create interesting chord progressions for our songs.

If you would like more details, explanations and examples, then be sure to check out the video now

Level up your songwriting with five radically practical exercises used by professional songwriters around the world:

Chord Tricks to Learn from “Something” by The Beatles

Chord Tricks to Learn from “Something” by The Beatles

George Harrison’s song ‘Something’ (on The Beatles’ iconic 1969 album Abbey Road) contains 4 exquisite chord moves – once you know what they are and how to use them, you can use them in your own songwriting to create some of the same harmonic sophistication that characterizes so much of The Beatles’ music.

This blog post aims to summarise our video “4 Chord Tricks The Beatles Knew (and you should too!)’’. Click here to watch the video for more details, explanations and examples.

Tip #1: Major Line Cliché

The first chord move we encounter in “Something” is called a major line cliché. ‘Cliché’ here isn’t derogatory – it’s just the name that is used for it. To examine this tip, we’re going to be looking at the first verse of “Something”.

This technique involves taking a major chord and moving one note in the chord by semitones. For example, in the key of C, starting with C Maj, we can move the higher C note down by semitones. If you move it down once, you create a C Maj 7, and moving it down again creates a C Dom 7. 

This line cliché is great to use in your songwriting, but it’s important to try and change it in different ways so that we’re not just stuck in the reference song. Some things that you can try are as follows:

  • Change the tempo of the progression.
  • Change the key.
  • Change the time signature.
  • Change the feel/ groove/ style of the way that we’re playing.

Two more songs that use the major line cliché are “Michelle” by “The Beatles”, and “Kiss Me” by Sixpence None the Richer.

Click here to download the free PDF I created which contains major and minor line cliches in 2 positions:

Tip #2: Minor Line Cliché

The minor line cliché is exactly the same concept as the major line cliché, but instead of starting off on a major chord, we start off on a minor chord instead. This can be observed in the second half of the verse of “Something”.

Since we are In the key of C, we start off with the relative minor, which is A Min. If the higher A note is moved down by a semitone, you get an A Min Maj 7, and moving it down another semitone creates an A Min 7. This creates an incredibly wistful, emotive and sophisticated sound.

Again, it is important for us to discuss ways in which we can make this chord progression our own, instead of just mimicking the original. One neat trick is to start the minor line cliché with a chord that’s completely different to A Minor, but is still in the key of C. Examples of this are either the ii or iii chord, as they’re both minor in a major key.

Another great way to deal with this is to move the chord progression to a different part of your song. So, instead of putting it into the verse of “Something” like George Harrison, perhaps put it in the bridge instead.

A song that I love which also uses the minor line cliché, is “Nothing” by Bruno Major. You can check out this video here to see me elaborate on that, and teach you how to use a minor line cliché in the bridge of a song.

Tip #3: Secondary Dominants

Secondary dominants are chords that add complexity and interest to your progressions. In “Something,” we encounter a secondary dominant chord halfway through the verse. Here, D7 precedes the G, and thus the relationship between D7 and G is known as the secondary dominant relationship.

A secondary dominant can be summarised by 3 main characteristics:

  • It is always a Dom 7 chord. 
  • It is always a perfect fifth above the target chord. 
  • They always precede the target chord.

Note that you don’t always have to use the V chord as the target chord. You can even use the vi, ii or IV chords.

Tip #4: Magic Chord Modulation

We can observe what I call the magic chord modulation, by examining how we get to the new key in the key change that takes us into the bridge of “Something”.
This technique involves using a pivot chord, which belongs to both the original key and the key you want to transition to. In this case, the G major chord acts as the magic chord, functioning as the flat seven major chord in the new key of A major.

Although the flat seven major chord doesn’t actually belong to the key of A Major, it works because in any major key, we can swap out the seven diminished chord with the flat seven major chord. This means that we take the root of the diminished seventh chord and flatten it by a semitone, thus creating either a major chord or a dom 7 chord, depending on how you voice it.

You can also hear the magic chord modulation in “Natural Woman” by Carol King and Jerry Goffin, and made famous by Aretha Franklin.

Conclusion: Chord Tricks to Learn from “Something” by The Beatles

Now that you’ve learnt 4 different cool chord techniques from “Something” by The Beatles, it’s time to turn them into your own. Experiment with these techniques, adapt them to different keys and sections of your song, and watch as you bring a new level of depth and emotion to your chord progressions.

If you want to explore some of these musical concept in more detail, click here for a playlist on how to adapt chord progressions from other songs in really creative ways.

If you would like more details, examples and explanations, then click here to watch the full video. 

Turn your inspiration into beautiful songs with step-by-step guidance through two professional songwriting methods. By the end of this course, not only will your tool belt be stocked; you’ll have a plan and a method for finishing your songs – all of them.

Song Analysis – ‘You Oughta Know’ by Alanis Morissette

Song Analysis – ‘You Oughta Know’ by Alanis Morissette

Alanis Morissette’s 90’s smash hit ‘You Oughta Know’ has three weird and wonderful musical moves that make it totally unique. This blog post, for songwriters and musicians, dives into the musical concepts, and shows you how to use them in your own songwriting.

This blog post is a summary of our video ‘This 90’s Hit is Far Weirder than You Thought (Modes, Modulations and more)’. Click here to watch the video for more details, explanations and examples.

Exploring the Dorian Mode

The verse and pre-chorus sections of “You Oughta Know” are both in the Dorian mode. This can be explained by examining the chord progression in both the verse and pre-chorus. In both sections, the chord progression just moves back and forth in between F# Minor and B Major.

The following are the chords usually in F# natural minor:

F#min  G#dim  Amaj  Bmin  C#min  Dmaj  Emaj

And the following are the scale degrees:

1  2  b3  4  5  b6  b7  1

In comparison, the following are the chords usually in F# Dorian:

F#min  G#min  Amaj  Bmaj  C#min  D#dim  Emaj

And the following are the scale degrees of F# Dorian:

1  2  b3  4  5  6  b7  1

The Dorian mode is a minor mode characterized by a raised sixth scale degree (natural six), which distinguishes it from the natural minor scale. 

In the case of ‘You Oughta Know’, we can see this in the F# Minor and B Major chord progression. This combination creates a classic and characteristic Dorian sound, where the dark tonality of the minor chord is complemented by the brightness of the raised sixth scale degree.

You can also hear how Alanis Morissette picks the notes of the Dorian scale to use in the melody, particularly in the pre-chorus. 

Studying Parallel Modulation

The chorus of “You Oughta Know” introduces a significant musical shift through a technique known as parallel modulation. 

Instead of starting on an F# Minor chord like the verse and pre-chorus, the chorus begins with an F# Major chord. This change in tonality signals a transition to F# Mixolydian, another mode with a unique sound. Mixolydian is essentially a major scale with a flattened seventh scale degree (b7). For reference, the following are the scale degrees in a major scale:

1  2  3  4  5  6  7  1

And the following are the scale degrees in a mixolydian scale:

1  2  3  4  5  6  b7  1

In the chorus, the E chord, built from the F# Mixolydian scale, adds the flat seven major chord, enhancing the Mixolydian flavor. The combination of the one major (F#) and flat seven major (E) creates a distinctly Mixolydian chord progression, which adds brightness and complexity to the song.

Examples of some other popular songs that use the Mixolydian scale are:

  • Norwegian Wood by The Beatles
  • Sweet Child of Mine by Guns n Roses
  • Royals by Lorde

Click below to download the free PDF ‘3 Chord Progressions Using Parallel Modulation’.

Modal Borrowing

Once Alanis is in F# Mixolydian in the chorus, she also uses chords from a different F# mode as well. Below are the chords in F# Mixolydian:

F#Maj  G#Min  A#Dim  BMaj  C#Min  D#Min  E

And below are the chords in the chorus:

F#  E  A  D

The chord progression is using the AMaj chord, which does not exist in the F# Mixolydian scale. That AMaj chord is a flat three major chord (bIII) in reference to the tonic of the key i.e. F#. When a chord is used that is not from the scale, this is known as modal borrowing, and that chord is known as non-diatonic.

It is important to be careful when using non-diatonic chords, as too many of them will cause the song to lose track of its tonal centre. When we lose track of the tonal centre, we also lose the ability to create resolution and meaningful tension. So, the key is to be sure to use just enough non-diatonic chords to add colour to a song, or to really put a spotlight on specific moments.

Conclusion: Song Analysis – ‘You Oughta Know’ by Alanis Morissette

‘You Oughta Know’ is a lot more interesting and complex than you might think on first listen. There are three particularly unusual and usable chord moves at play: Dorian mode, parallel modulation and modal borrowing. Try using these chord techniques in your next song!

If you would like more details, explanations and examples, then be sure to check out the video now.

Turn your inspiration into beautiful songs with step-by-step guidance through two professional songwriting methods. By the end of this course, not only will your tool belt be stocked; you’ll have a plan and a method for finishing your songs – all of them.

How to use simple chords to write great songs

If you want to learn how to write a song, understanding how chords work is essential and in this video we look at how you can create interesting and impactful chord progressions using the basic concept of HOME and AWAY functions.

This fundamental piece of music theory is a valuable tool for songwriters of all levels, and requires nothing more than the basic major and minor chords of a major key.

Key Takeaways:

  1. The ‘I’ chord, also called the tonic, is our ‘home’ chord. It has the most weight of all the chords in a key. We can think of it as the center of the solar system in the major key.
  2. All the other chords are ‘away’ chords; they create tension, where returning to the tonic feels like resolving. It is the musical equivalent of a full stop.
  3. Since the tonic creates the strongest resolution, leaving the tonic OUT of a Verse section, and then using it as the first chord of our Chorus will actually create an incredibly strong impact. It is like night and day.
  4. By leaving the tonic out of the Verse, the impact of introducing it as the first chord of the Chorus is amplified. It can really make the chorus pop, and feel like it is landing with so much power and impact.

For 3 other variations on how to use simple chords to create great songs, check out our mini course, ‘The 5 Most Powerful Songwriting Exercises…Revealed!’ right here:

14-Day Songwriting Challenge: DAY 2

#2. Starting in motion.

Write a verse (with lyrics and melody). Instead of I V vi IV (the most used 4-chord progression in pop music of the last 40 years), try IV I V vi.

In the key of C, this would be:      F    C    G    Am
In the key of A:                             D    A    E    F#m
In the key of D:                            G    D    A    Bm

Meta: This is a gentle chord-based way to start down a less obvious road. It starts your song on a chord that is not ‘home’, so the song starts in motion. The last chord, the vi, is also a motion chord, so the progression itself, though simple, has a lot of movement and tension in it. 

I enjoyed this David Bennett video analysing the chord progressions of Taylor Swift’s songs (there are some she’s used more than 20 times…), and seeing this one feature heavily. 

Get a free copy of the 14-Day Songwriting Challenge eBook

What I’m listening to and why.

I got a phone call from my friend Benny the other night (Benny, who I make videos with on all things songwriting). He was very excited: “Kep! You have got to listen to the new Sam Smith song! It’s in…Phrygian!”

What the hell is Phrygian, and why is this so exciting?

Well, music nerds, Phrygian is a mode, which means it’s a scale that is not your average minor scale or major scale. This particular mode is a minor scale, yes, but it has a crucial note that gives it its own special dark sauce: it has a b2.

For a more in-depth look at Phrygian (and also the wild extra note that makes the Chorus pop), check out this video on the channel:

The b2 note in the scale makes it very dark, and also totally unique among the songs on the charts right now.

In fact, it makes it unique amongst almost all Top 100 songs from the past decade or more.

But why should we care what’s on the charts? Well, I have it on very good advice (John Mayer told me this himself…) that a very good practice as a songwriter is to listen to the Top 10 on any day, without judgments of good and bad, but instead with this question in mind:

Why do millions of people love this?

And secondly: Can I use that thing in my own way (regardless of whether I happen to ‘like’ this particular song? Which, incidentally in this case, I very much do).

The video above gives some tips in the second half about ways you can take the musical concepts that make this song a standout, and apply them to your own song, without ripping it off.

For another example of how to take a cool musical idea you hear in a song, and apply it to your own songwriting, you can check out this video from the archive, on adapting this beautiful neo-soul progression.

And for a more structured and in-depth guide to taking a music idea, and turning into a full song, with step by step tools, techniques, and strategies, check out our brand spanking new Online Mini Course: The Songwriting Process Start to Finish!


Music Theory Fundamentals–Major, Minor, and Diminished Chords

A little bit of music theory goes a long way – in this video, I explain the difference between the major, minor, and diminished triads, and show you how to find them anywhere on the keyboard.

Ready to take your songwriting further?

How to Write Great Bridges

Three chord strategies for creating satisfying contrast and variation in the bridge section of your songs. We first start by defining what a bridge is – then look at 3 chord-based (or harmonic) approaches, in increasing levels of harmonic complexity, for creating a sense of contrast, variation, and movement in the bridge section of your songs. We look at songs by The Beatles and Bruno Major that put the concepts into context.

Ready to take your songwriting further? Join us on Patreon:

Upcoming live online workshops:

For once-a-month tips, tools and tidbits on songwriting from Keppie, subscribe to the newsletter here:

Major 7 Vs. Dominant 7

In this video, we examine the differences between Major 7 vs Dominant 7 chords – specifically focusing on how they are constructed, how they are labelled, how they differ in sound and how you can utilise both with great effect in your songwriting process.

For exclusive content, free workshops, live Q&A sessions and advanced downloadable material, join us on Patreon!

Upcoming live online workshops.

For once-a-month tips, tools and tidbits on songwriting from Keppie, subscribe to the newsletter here.